A New York State Supreme Court judge on Thursday rejected a petition seeking the immediate release of hundreds of protesters who had been held by the New York Police Department for more than 24 hours, ruling that extraordinary circumstances justify indefinite detention.
“It is a crisis within a crisis,” wrote Justice James Burke in his ruling. “All writs are denied.”
Burke’s decision was met with alarm by New York lawmakers and activists who immediately condemned the ruling as an unlawful suspension of the right of habeas corpus, which requires the government to justify detention of a person before a court. Hundreds of New Yorkers have been arrested in recent days during mass protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
“Civil liberties protect ourselves from governments using ‘crises’ and ’emergencies’ as justification to dismantle our rights,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “This is a suspension of habeas corpus, it is unconstitutional, and it is deeply disturbing that both NYPD is seeking it and a judge rubber-stamped it.”
The Legal Aid Society (LAS), a non-profit organization that sued (pdf) the NYPD on Tuesday over the prolonged detention of protesters, accused the department of violating New York’s “24-hour arrest-to-arraignment requirement.”
But Burke ultimately agreed with the NYPD’s claim that arraignment delays are justified “because we are in a crisis caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic which prevents live arraignments, which in turn causes virtual arraignments.”
Marlen Bodden, senior staff attorney with LAS, rejected that argument during a court hearing Thursday.
“The NYPD has no excuses with its 38,000 police officers and the best technology in the world, with all the money they are being given,” said Bodden. “They have no excuse to not process them in a timely manner.”
In a tweet late Thursday, LAS said it “strongly” disagrees with Burke’s ruling.
“As of 6 pm tonight, 160 NYers citywide remain in custody 24+ hours after their arrest, which is some progress, but 160 NYers too many,” the group said. “We’ll continue to monitor this situation and we are ready to appeal if necessary.”