A coalition of law-enforcement unions, including all five representing city police, has filed suit against the de Blasio administration in a bid to overturn a law prohibiting the use of chokeholds and other restraints.
The suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court Aug. 5, alleges that the law is unconstitutional since it is preempted by a similar state statute. It also claims the law is unduly vague “because it does not enable police officers to adequately discern the scope of prohibited conduct.”
The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio signed into law July 15, makes it a misdemeanor to use restraint that restricts the flow of air or blood “by compressing the windpipe or the carotid arteries on each side of the neck, or sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm, in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.”
Conviction carries with it a maximum 1-year jail term and a $2,500 fine, or both
The city’s statute “already has had a chilling effect on the ability of officers to carry out their functions consistent with their Department’s procedures and State law. This chilling effect places officers and the public in harm’s way and has imposed an immediate and particularized injury on officers unable to carry out their duties out of concern for an unintentional violation” of the law, the suit said.
It contended that the law “has been met with great alarm by a number of District Attorneys, Police Chiefs, Commissioners, and Sheriffs, who also have questioned its validity.”
NYPD officials have been hypercritical of the diaphragm portion of the law, with Chief Monahan calling it “insanity.” Some precinct commanders have suggested that their officers have been reluctant to engage with suspects for fear of running afoul of the legislation and finding themselves prosecuted. Some neighboring police departments, including those of Yonkers and Nassau County, have ordered their officers to stay clear of enforcement actions in New York City because of the law.
DAs Also Have Doubts
The city’s District Attorneys have also expressed misgivings about the legislation, most prominently Staten Island’s DA, Michael McMahon, who last month said it was drafted in a “reckless way.”
The law, he said, “goes well beyond addressing those issues and actually defies common sense in the restrictions it places on police officers who we expect and need to respond to dangerous and critical life-and-death situations.”
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. noted the legislation’s ambiguity and said that it was drafted in such a way that it risked a successful challenge on constitutional grounds.
He alluded to the law’s formulation as a “strict liability bill,” meaning that it does not differentiate between intent and accidental application. The lawsuit makes a similar argument, alleging that the statute “lacks any intent or other mental-state requirement.”
Lancman: Suit is Bogus
The legislation’s chief sponsor, Councilman Rory Lancman, dismissed the basis for the suit, saying he was confident the new law would be “upheld in its entirety."
With regard to the diaphragm portion of the city statute, Mr. Lancman said in a statement, the suit’s preemption arguments “fail as it relates to the City law’s ‘sitting, kneeling, or standing’ provisions because state law says nothing about that technique whatsoever.”
About the law’s chokehold provision, he wrote, “Are the cops really saying the state law is a license to choke people so long as there’s no “serious physical injury or death,” a license which the City’s absolute ban on chokeholds interferes with? Prohibiting all chokeholds cannot be said to inhibit a law that prohibits some chokeholds."
Mayor de Blasio said he had not seen the lawsuit and would refrain from commenting on it until the city’s Corporation Counsel, James E. Johnson, had a chance to read it.
State Law 'Protects Cops'
Noting the NYPD’s concerns about the legislation, he said, “I agree on only one point, which is evident, that there is State law that protects officers who are duly and appropriately doing their job.”
A spokesman for the city Law Department, Nick Paolucci, said the department was reviewing the suit.
Besides the five city police unions , Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police unions, the Supreme Court Officers Association, the New York State Court Officers Association, the MTA Police Benevolent Association and several others are also parties to the lawsuit.
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