New York City NY June 5 2017 A federal judge is requiring the New York Police Department to face assault charges for using a potentially deafening sound cannon during a 2014 protest.
U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet ruled against the NYPD on Wednesday in giving six plaintiffs the go-ahead to sue the city over its use of a military-grade noise weapon known as a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD.
While the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies have deployed LRADs for more than a decade, the lawsuit being considered in a Manhattan federal court involves a protest held on Dec. 5, 2014, two days after a grand jury declined to bring charges against an NYPD officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed in police custody five months earlier.
Photographer Anika Edrei and five co-plaintiffs, including activists and journalists, sued the city last March after they allegedly suffered lingering injuries as a result of being subjected to the NYPD’s sound cannon solely for “lawfully and properly exercising” their First Amendment rights, according to their lawsuit.
The city argued sound “cannot be considered ‘physical contact’” because the LRAD is “not an instrumentality of force, but a communication device,” and sought the suit’s dismissal. Judge Sweet ruled otherwise, however, and issued a 41-page ruling Wednesday giving the plaintiffs permission to pursue allegations of assault and excessive force.
“This is force, and the kind which could be used excessively,” he wrote of the city’s sound cannon.
“Literally the city argued that loud sounds can’t constitute a use of force,” Gideon Oliver, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Gothamist. “At the bare minimum, the judge has clarified that this isn’t factually or legally correct and that should guide the police department going forward.”
“This is a decision that we are very proud of that we think has national significance,” he added during a Thursday press conference. “And it puts police departments on notice that they can no longer treat LRADs as glorified bullhorns.”
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, defended the LRAD in a statement as “effective and safe” and said the city is “reviewing the decision and evaluating our next steps,” Fox News reported.