New York county passes measure allowing police officers to sue in cases of harassment, assault

Cities across America were rocked in the summer of 2020 by massive and often destructive protests ostensibly meant to oppose alleged police brutality. But as demonstrations devolved into riots nationwide, it was law enforcement officers themselves who often became the targets of threats and even full-fledged assaults.

Now, one county in New York is taking steps to allow officers the chance to fight back — in civil court, that is. According to BizPacReview, the local legislature in New York’s Nassau County voted 12–6 on Monday to allow police officers to “civilly sue protesters who menace or injure them.”

The vote came down largely along party lines, BizPacReview reported.

The details

Specifically, the new local law designates police officers and other first responders as part of a special class of citizens protected against discrimination by the Nassau County Human Rights Law.

With that, it is now unlawful in the county for a protester or rioter to act discriminatorily against law enforcement and other first responders by way of acts that constitute harassment, menacing, assault, or cause injury. An aggrieved first responder can file a civil liability claim through the county attorney seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief,” as well as the recovery of “compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees and costs,” in addition to any other relief a court may determine is necessary — and those awards can be tripled if the incident occurred during what’s later formally declared a riot.

On top of that, the individual who committed the discriminatory acts against an officer or first responder would also be held liable by the county to the tune of up to $25,000 per incident — $50,000 if a riot is declared — that would be payable to the aggrieved party.

Free speech?

While the law passed by a wide margin, it wasn’t without controversy. According to Long Island’s News 12, the Monday meeting lasted hours as activists voiced their opposition to the ordinance.

Civil rights attorney Fred Brewington called the measure “an enormous grant of power to police who don’t need to have this power and also don’t need to try to utilize a lawsuit that will basically silence individuals by threatening them that they could lose their livelihood, lose their property and their bank accounts.”

Other critics of the bill argued that it would suppress activists’ free speech rights, though it should be noted that concerted harassment and threats don’t typically fall under that umbrella.

The legislator who sponsored the bill, Josh Lafazan, told News 12: “There is no justification for violence against law enforcement officers. And these bills will add further protections in law to protect Nassau County’s finest as they protect us.”

In a statement, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran promised to “continue to stand against defunding the police.”

“My administration is committed to protecting the brave men and women of law enforcement who keep us safe,” Curran added, as News 12 reported. “There were many speakers today who questioned this legislation. Now that it has been passed by the Legislature, I will be making an inquiry to the Attorney General’s Office to review and provide some advice.”

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