NYPD Officer Who Brandished Gun at BLM Protesters Avoids a Trial
The City declined to represent the officer, but taxpayers are still on the hook for his bill.
12:00 PM EDT on August 10, 2022
An NYPD officer who pulled his gun on a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who asked him to wear a mask has settled a lawsuit brought against him. In a legal proceeding that echoes a recent case brought by legal observers arrested by the NYPD, the judgment was reached through a federal rule allowing the City to cut a check without going to trial.
Sergeant Artem Prusayev appears to have faced muted professional consequences for pulling his weapon on peaceful protesters. The Civilian Complaint Review Board's Administrative Prosecution Unit describes the "abuse of authority" complaint related to the incident as substantiated and closed. The penalty listed is command discipline, for which an officer can lose up to ten days of vacation. The NYPD did not return a request for comment on the case.
According to Civilian Complaint Review Board data, Prusayev has been the subject of five complaints comprised of 18 allegations since 2017, including one complaint that is subject to additional pending litigation.
In January of last year, Prusayev was confronted by protesters for not wearing a mask during a Black Lives Matter protest near Myrtle and Flatbush Avenues. In videos taken at the scene, Prusayev appeared to respond by unholstering his weapon before glancing at his partner and placing it back. Video of the encounter went viral and sparked at least one further protest demanding the officer be disciplined; as Keith Ross, a former master instructor at the NYPD police academy, told PIX 11, “This wasn’t really a permissible time to take out his firearm.”
According to a complaint filed in March of this year by the law firm Cohen & Green and the attorney Gideon Orion Oliver, the three plaintiffs—Angie Velez, Megan Heckard, and Hillary Wright—had joined a march near the Barclays Center to protest the recent police killing of Andre Hill in Columbus, Ohio. When the group encountered Prusayev and asked him to put on his mask, they allege, the officer pulled out his firearm and Heckard pulled out her phone to record.
As the complaint details, once Prusayev holstered his gun, he then pulled out pepper spray as well as a baton, which he swung in the direction of the assembled as he yelled at protesters. (The complaint also notes he wore a patch on his uniform that read "Caution: Does Not Play Well With Others.") Eventually, according to the complaint, the officer was led away by other members of the NYPD. As he was leaving, Velez told Prusayev she would hold him accountable. "Eh, I don't think so," he allegedly replied. "I'm pretty sure I'm fine."
So far, Prusayev has proven mostly correct: According to the Rule 68 judgment, the plaintiffs "release and discharge defendants; their successors or assigns; and all past and present officials...from any and all claims." In return, they will each receive $3,000.01 and reimbursement for their legal fees. As Hell Gate previously reported, Rule 68 judgements, made under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, often act as a way to deter plaintiffs from taking cases to trial by resolving cases in their favor without the messy yet illuminating spectacle of discovery or jury proceedings.
But despite the deployment of a Rule 68 judgment, the City appears to have understood Prusayev was in the wrong: Citing the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigation, the City’s legal department ultimately declined to represent the officer. He instead retained a private attorney, a relatively rare occurrence. As Remy Green, a lawyer for the plaintiffs noted, the deployment of a Rule 68 judgment shielded the officer and the department from meaningfully engaging with the violation even as the City declined to stand by Prusayev; it will be taxpayers, and not Prusayev, who will be paying the settlement amounts.
"Even after the City's Law Department determined it could not ethically represent the City and Officer Prusayev at the same time, it continued to run interference—requiring plaintiffs to release their claims against the officer to settle with the City,” said Green. Green noted it's unclear why the City allowed Pursayev to skip trial at all.
"Rule 68s are a tool—the only tool—to stop the churning of attorneys' fees on a given Section 1983 case," said Nicolas Paolucci, a representative for the City's law department. "They are served early to get the maximum impact in stopping the cumulation of fees in an attempt to save taxpayer money." He went on to note that the officer had been disciplined after the Rule 68 was served, and that the plaintiffs accepted the money.
In court documents, Prusayev's attorneys argued the officer "reasonably felt threatened by the close proximity and angry character of a crowd."
The incident was one among thousands of instances of NYPD officers allegedly intimidating protesters or using violence during the Black Lives Matter protests, incidents that spurred the state attorney general to launch an investigation into the department in early 2021. One NYPD officer plowed his police-issue SUV into a crowd of protesters in May of 2020, and in a separate gun-related incident, an officer was captured on video pointing his gun into a crowd assembled outside of the Strand bookstore. The NYPD has paid out $115 million in settlements so far this year.
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