NYPD Declines to Charge Cop who Threatened Brooklyn State Senator During 2020 Protests 

The cop who allegedly threatened state Sen. Zellnor Myrie with pepper spray during a May 29, 2020 protest was let off the hook last week after a CCRB trial. Photo: Julianne Cuba
The cop who allegedly threatened state Sen. Zellnor Myrie with pepper spray during a May 29, 2020 protest was let off the hook last week after a CCRB trial. Photo: Julianne Cuba

The cop who threatened a Brooklyn state senator with pepper spray during a George Floyd protest outside the Barclays Center two years ago has been let off the hook by an NYPD judge despite a finding of “abuse of authority” by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The senator, Zellnor Myrie, had tearfully testified during an in-house trial over the summer about officers’ excessive use of force with department-issued bikes, and singled out Police Officer Michael Kovalik, a member of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group.

But the judge, Assistant Trial Commissioner Josh Kleiman, who is an employee of the NYPD, sided with Kovalik, clearing him of any wrongdoing. Myrie, who says he remains traumatized to this day by what happened, fumed over the judge’s decision.

“This ruling is EXACTLY why New Yorkers have zero faith in the system. From the beginning I have maintained that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I felt compelled to attend this protest both as a Black citizen of this country and as a State Senator. While carrying this out and peacefully exercising my (first amendment) rights, I was met with shoves, pepper spray, (and) arrest why would any person in this city have faith in a system that can allow a public official to be assaulted by law enforcement with no consequence?” said Myrie in a series of Tweets after he learned of the ruling on Jan. 26. “What happened to me pales in comparison to what has happened — and continues to happen — to so many others. ‘Bad apples’ do not rot in isolation; they are allowed to pervade the batch by the barrel they are in. Our system is rotten. We have to keep fighting.”

Video footage shared during the hearing last June confirmed that cops from the SRG — once dubbed “the goon squad” because of its aggressive conduct — also shoved their metal bike frames into then-Assembly Member Diana Richardson, who is seen on tape toppling to the ground. Myrie is seen attempting to protect his colleague before officers detained him with zip ties. The two pols have also filed a separate federal lawsuit against the NYPD in relation to that incident.

A Civilian Complaint Review Board investigation at the time found that Kovalik abused his authority for threatening individuals, and specifically Myrie with a can of pepper spray during the protest on May 29, 2020.

“I felt what felt like bike tires on my back and on my arms and I was incredibly confused as to why there was any force being used when I was walking away and trying to comply,” Myrie said during his testimony back in June. “And at some point I recall seeing an officer with a canister and recall pepper spray leaving the canister, and excruciating pain, and fear of what could come next.”

Kovalik — who has another allegation against him from 2013 that’s been substantiated, according to records of police misconduct — was not the officer who sprayed the irritant in the pol’s eyes. But those members of the NYPD have either not been charged, or have not been identified. Myrie was ultimately released shortly after he was cuffed.

At the center of the trial was whether Kovalik threatened Myrie with the canister of Oleoresin capsicum by swinging it around his head. Myrie’s attorney, CCRB prosecutor Andre Applewhite said it was clear, after reviewing dozens of videos from officers’ body-worn cameras, that he did.

But Kleiman determined otherwise.

“(Kovalik) is otherwise depicted in the video evidence as polite and professional when interacting with protesters. He is not depicted as using profanity with civilians, nor using excessive force, and does not appear to use unreasonably aggressive tactics,” Kleiman wrote in his decision to the CCRB. “The evidence fails to support either of the specifications with which Respondent is charged. Respondent is, therefore, found Not Guilty of the charged misconduct.”

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who has the final say in the matter, signed Kleiman’s ruling, signifying her agreement with the judge’s decision.