Police Commissioner Sewell justifies their choice to not participate in the NYC Council hearing regarding the Strategic Response Group

On Friday, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell defended the decision of NYPD leadership to not attend the City Council hearing on the department’s crowd control unit, which has faced accusations of excessive force and misconduct during the George Floyd protests.

Sewell said the NYPD couldn’t testify Wednesday because “we are involved in mediation in that case and we signed a confidential agreement so we would not be able to speak about the facts of that case.”

Sewell was discussing an incident that occurred on June 4, 2020 during a protest in Mott Haven, located in the Bronx. Officers from the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group were accused of “kettling” protesters, which involves preventing them from leaving and subsequently arresting them, as well as using their batons to physically assault some of the demonstrators.

The day before the hearing, on Tuesday, the city made a settlement agreement to pay $21,500 to over 300 protesters who were involved in the incident, which could cost taxpayers as much as $6 million.

There are other ongoing lawsuits related to the actions of the Strategic Response Group. When asked if the NYPD could have participated in the hearing to provide general information about the SRG, Sewell maintained their stance.

“We are not permitted to talk about any of the aspect of the case during negotiations,” she said. “But we do look for to being able to do that in the future, when it’s appropriate.”

On the day of the hearing, the NYPD provided written testimony from Michael Clarke, the director of Legislative Affairs, who referenced the same “confidentiality agreement.”

City Council members expressed outrage and threatened to reduce funding for the NYPD, as well as use their subpoena power to compel police officials to attend future hearings if they refuse to do so voluntarily.

Later that day, the police released a statement indicating that a gag order had been issued by the court, which mandated confidentiality regarding the matter.

However, the New York Civil Liberties Union has disputed the existence of such an order, and on Thursday, it requested that the city’s Law Department provide them with a copy of the gag order or acknowledge if it doesn’t actually exist. As of now, they have not received a response.

“The NYPD is using settlement negotiations as a smokescreen for answering questions from their oversight body about widespread abuse,” said Molly Biklen, the NYCLU’s deputy legal director. “New Yorkers are still waiting for the SRG to answer for their conduct.”