Long Island: First Responders Allowed To Sue Public For Harassment, Attack or Injuries While In Uniform
[guest post by Dana]
From New York, a Democratic-sponsored bill is ruffling feathers on Long Island:
County lawmakers in Long Island, N.Y., passed a bill Monday night that allows first responders to sue any person who harasses, attacks or injures them while they are in uniform.
Its proponents argue the Nassau County bill offers additional protections to officers in the face of “destructive riots and lawlessness” targeting law enforcement officials following George Floyd’s death in police custody last summer. Its critics say the bill comes as “retaliation” for Black Lives Matter protests against police abuses, and warn it could suppress demonstrations.
The bill — which was passed with 12 votes in favor, 6 opposed and one absent — will allow police officers and other first responders to seek and collect financial and punitive damages, with civil penalties of $25,000 to the “aggrieved” first responder and up to $50,000 in the case the violations happened during a riot, according to the bill.
In 2019, the Nassau County Legislature gave first responders protected status under its Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination against them.
The new law filed in June and authored by Nassau County Legislator Joshua A. Lafazan proposed expanding the local human rights law by allowing the county to sue on behalf of police officers for discrimination if they are harassed, menaced or injured.
The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Arnold W. Drucker and Ellen Birnbaum, cited a “widespread pattern of physical attacks and intimidation” against the police since the protests over the killing of Floyd, although the protests were largely peaceful.
Civil rights groups are upset over the bill’s passage, saying that the bill sets a “dangerous” precedent. Moreover, they believe that it offers to police more protection and less accountability, will hinder the exercise of free speech and that the law will jeopardize even peaceful protests.
First responders would be allowed to sue for damages, punitive damages and legal fees. If the incident occurred while the officer was responding to “a riot,” then the payout would be triple. If a first responder does not wish to pursue action under the law, it directs the county attorney to sue on their behalf.
The New York Civil Liberties Union also voiced their opposition to the law:
The New York Civil Liberties Union is strongly opposed to the law. The NYCLU also says the bill conflates a chosen profession with being a member of a protected group — such as a racial or religious minority or a member of the LGBTQ community.
According to the NYCLU, police officers and first responders are already protected under the law, and crimes committed against them already come with steep penalties. The NYCLU also says the “irrebuttable presumption” clause is “flatly unconstitutional,” making it so that people accused of targeting first responders don’t have an opportunity to prove their innocence. It also gives first responders more rights than the citizens they’re sworn to protect.
Interestingly, one of the sponsors of the bill, Arnold Drucker, pulled his support from the bill after listening to constituents push back against it.