A year after a New York City police officer pulled off Andrew Smith's mask during a rally for George Floyd and pepper-sprayed him at close range, the protester is suing the police department.
The incident was caught on video last summer and Smith argued in the lawsuit filed this week that NYPD Officer Michael Sher assaulted him as he was protesting peacefully, not only violating his right to free speech but also racially discriminated against him because Sher didn't attack other protesters, many of whom were white.
Footage of Sher snatching Smith's mask and pepper-spraying him in Brooklyn on May 30, 2020, quickly went viral and it was among dozens of unreasonable force incidents that were being investigated by the New York Attorney General. Earlier this year, the Office of the Attorney General found that officers struck protesters with blunt instruments at least 50 times, unlawfully deployed pepper spray against protesters in at least 30 incidents, and used unreasonable force through pushing or striking protesters at least 75 times amid last year's protests.
In an interview with NBC New York on Tuesday, Smith says he's disappointed but not surprised that officer Sher has yet to face any criminal charges.
"There's an opportunity to hold people accountable," Smith said about the lawsuit. "My emotions are… there's others who's been wrong and murdered, who won't get their day to speak."
Following the incident, Sher was suspended for 30 days without pay, according to an NYPD spokesperson, and departmental charges were brought against him. The case is still ongoing and there has also been no determination yet whether Sher will face charges by Brooklyn's District Attorney Office.
Meanwhile, the NYPD says it will review the lawsuit when it's served.