Protester Alleges NYPD Stripped Her in Public

Issue 264

“He pulled my pants down to my ankles and then made me walk across the Brooklyn Bridge naked,” she says.

Olivia Riggio with Amba Guerguerian May 25, 2021

A protester is accusing NYPD officers of publicly stripping her naked while arresting her during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge last month. 

Demonstrator Maila Beach, 27, said that during an April 24 protest on the Brooklyn Bridge against NYPD misconduct, male Strategic Response Group (SRG) officers pulled her shirt over her head and her leggings down to her ankles while arresting her. Beach said the officers severely beat her with their fists even after she informed them of her epilepsy before forcing her to walk from the center of the bridge to the Brooklyn side and wait outside the police van naked for 10–15 minutes while she and others asked for the assistance of a female officer and yelled for them to put her clothes on. 

She said the officers also fastened her zip-tie handcuffs so tightly that her hand went numb and turned purple, and waited hours before finally providing her with water to rinse out the Mace that was sprayed in her eye. 

Beach went to the hospital after the incident, where the said the staff was alarmed by the severity of her injuries from the arrest.

“The doctor said that if the nurse hadn’t given him the rundown of what happened first and he hadn’t noticed … all the marks against my wrists that correspond with being arrested, he would’ve thought I was coming in from a bad car accident because I had severe whiplash and a severe concussion,” she told The Indypendent. 

Three other protesters are reported to have been publicly stripped by the NYPD this spring.

Beach says that not only did officers offer no reason for stripping her, but also didn’t even search her. Beach, who is pressing charges against the NYPD, is represented by Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi. The  two detailed the incident at a May 6 press conference on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

“Going out to marches, it’s understood that you could get arrested, but sexual assault never came to mind,” Beach said at the conference. “This is not okay. Male cops should not be undressing women, whether it’s in public or at a precinct.”

• • •

Beach was demonstrating as part of a group led by organizer Terrell “Relly” Harper, who also spoke at the press conference. Since January, Harper’s group has been marching to the 84th Precinct near downtown Brooklyn every week, calling for the firing of NYPD officer Artem Prusayev. Prusayev was caught on video pulling a gun on protesters after being asked to put his mask on during a demonstration in response to the fatal police shooting of Ohio man Andre Hill. 

Beach, who was fired from her job as a commercial auto parts driver due to her arrest, says she is one of four women who have had their clothes pulled off in public at the hands of the NYPD in recent weeks. She is currently the only victim of these strippings speaking publicly. 

Harper told The Indypendent that one week prior to Beach’s arrest, the police pulled another young protester’s pants down to their ankles and left them in zip-tie handcuffs lying on the ground for several minutes, exposed. This occurred at another “Fire Artem” demonstration held at Barclays Center. 

“They’re saying, ‘Relly, Relly, look.’ I look down — they’re on the ground and they’re handcuffed, and their pants are to their ankles … They’re just like, ‘What the hell is going on?’,” recalls Relly. 

Harper said the other two victims have been associated with a group called The Stonewall Protests, which has been marching weekly since last summer to advocate for Black transgender and queer liberation. He said one of the demonstrators who police publicly stripped was a trans woman who police sent to an all-male unit despite her I.D. listing her sex as female. 

The Indy was unable to interview the other victims who wish to stay anonymous at this time.

News of Beach’s experience spread on Twitter after Hillary Wright, who is active in the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City, was at the April 24 protest. She shared an account of what happened through screenshots of texts from Beach recounting the brutality. 

• • •

The night of April 24 began with the protesters marching over the bridge to the 84th Precinct near Brooklyn Heights. After the group’s demonstration, officers began pushing the group back over the Bridge’s roadway toward Manhattan, Beach said. 

Strategic Response Group (SRG) units arrived on bicycles, nipping at the heels of the protesters, forcing them to hurry their pace, despite the protesters informing them that some people in the group were moving slowly due to disabilities and injuries. 

The cops then allegedly kettled the protesters, demanding they get on the sidewalk, despite there being no sidewalk on the bridge. 

Another video Hillary Wright shared on Instagram shows protesters locking arms and walking backwards to face the SRG officers on bicycles. About five minutes and 20 seconds in, an SRG officer can be seen macing the protesters. 

Beach, who isn’t in the frame in the video, said the mace blurred her vision, causing her to walk between another officer and someone else he was trying to arrest. She said the officers then grabbed her instead, forcing her to the ground and putting her hands behind her back. 

Beach sid she first felt a slight tugging on her shirt that she thought was an accident. Then her shirt was pulled up completely above her chest. When she tried to pull her hand out from behind her back to pull her shirt down, the officers accused her of resisting arrest. She said they then began beating her with their fists.

“I tried to tell them then that I had epilepsy and I said it extremely loud. I know that they heard me and they kept hitting me in the back of the head,” Beach said. 

After she allowed them to fasten the zip-ties, the officers pulled her up from the ground. Then, Beach claims one pulled her shirt behind her head so the front of it was against the back of her neck. Her leggings began slipping down when the officers pulled her up from the ground. She informed them that she wasn’t wearing underwear. 

“One of them grabbed hold of my pants,” she said. “I thought, ‘OK, he’s going to be nice and keep them up for me.’ Instead, he pulled them down to my ankles and then made me walk across the Brooklyn Bridge naked.”

At one point, Beach recounts, a male officer asked a female officer to put Beach’s clothes back on, but the female officer either did not hear him over the commotion or ignored him. Either way, Beach remained unclothed.

Beach said she had to walk from the center of the bridge to the Brooklyn side completely exposed. She then sat at the van with a handful of others who were being arrested as they all pleaded with the officers to put her clothes on. Finally, after close to 15 minutes, a different female officer approached other officers and told them to put Beach’s clothes back on and said, “you aren’t supposed to undress them,” then remarking that they could face a lawsuit, Beach recounted.The officers then pulled Beach’s clothes back on and placed her into the van.

“I know that they heard me and they kept hitting me in the back of the head.”

After a few minutes of sitting in the van, Beach noticed her wig and glasses were gone, and that her left hand was hurting because of how tight the zip-ties were. It then went completely numb. It wasn’t until an hour of pleading with the officers to adjust her handcuffs that they pulled over and readjusted them, Beach said. She said they allowed her to move her hand before re-cuffing it about as tightly as before. She pulled her hand in front of her and noticed it had turned purple. 

Beach said she was pulled so aggressively from the car when she arrived at the precinct that her pants began slipping again. After several minutes, another woman officer pulled them up for her, this time high enough so they wouldn’t slip again. Beach said the same officer also advocated for her to have water to rinse out her eye, which had had pepper spray in it for hours. The officer asked one of the others to give Beach the water, which she did not receive it until nearly 40 minutes later when the officer came back and noticed she still hadn’t received any. 

Upon Beach’s discharge, another officer told her there was a “change of plans” — she couldn’t leave unless she let them take her to the hospital. The officer that had been advocating for Beach all night told him to “stop messing with her,” Beach recounts.

“She was the only one who was actually trying to follow the rules. All the rest of them did not care,” Beach says. 

The NYPD responded to The Indy’s request for comment with the following statement. They also said over e-mail that they’d review Beach’s lawsuit when served.

Police Officers work to ensure every New Yorker is treated safely and respectfully regardless of whether it is someone who has called for help, or someone who is being arrested. A preliminary review of the incident indicates that officers made every effort to ensure the individual remained clothed during the arrest, including asking for the assistance of a female officer in the process. This person was arrested and later issued a summons as part of a group of people who had announced they were going to block the Brooklyn Bridge for an hour while thousands of people were stuck in residual traffic due to the roadblocks and detours resulting from the DMX memorial service. A series of announcements were given before any arrests were made of persons who refused to comply with the instructions to leave the Brooklyn Bridge roadway. The individual arrested in this incident was released after receiving a summons for blocking the roadway.

• • •

Tahanie Aboushi. Photo: courtesy.

“Even if she wanted to obstruct traffic. Even if she was resistant — which she wasn’t, she complied,” Aboushi told The Indy. “They beat her up when she was on the floor, they beat her up when she was handcuffed. Even whatever they’re accusing her of doing wrong, it doesn’t warrant that brutality. It doesn’t warrant stripping a female and having her exposed to the public.”

Additionally, Aboushi maintains that the officers did not make any effort to keep her client clothed, and that several witnesses can attest to that. 

“The reason why the NYPD feels so comfortable displaying their complete disregard for the law in front of cameras, in front of witnesses, is because they have been able to rely on the special treatment of those who have represented these offices in the past,” Aboushi said at the press conference. 

When asked to speculate why the NYPD is conducting these public strippings — note: Beach said the officers did not search her — Aboushi said it’s the only case she has seen in the decade she’s been an attorney in the city working on police brutality cases.

• • •

An April 2021 report by New York City’s Department of Investigation, while treading lightly, found that the NYPD’s handling of the George Floyd Protests was too brutal as well as poorly planned and executed. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio responded by changing the NYPD’s guidance for protests, building from the DOI’s recommendations. “There were clear lessons to be learned from the protest response last year and a desire to see real, on the ground changes,” said the mayor in April. 

Not an uncommon sight: NYPD in position to police a November protest. Two SRG officers stand in the foreground. Photo: Ken Lopez.

The NYPD’s April reforms to protest policing included changes such as keeping the Strategic Response Group at bay during demonstrations. The Strategic Response Group, are heavily-armored bike cops that have been key players in flanking marches and kettling protesters over the past year. The group is trained as an anti-terrorist unit but also polices protests. “It’s an interesting combination of job functions for that particular group. And we know that they’ve been particularly problematic because we’ve seen them in video after video in their fancy suits and their mountain bikes being really aggressive,” Jennvine Wong of the Legal Aid Society told The Indypendent in December.

According to the DOI & Law Protest Recommendation Tracker, the NYPD’s implementation of the DOI’s recommendations regarding the SRG is “in progress.” 

Another change introduced by the reforms is that the NYPD will no longer use kettling, a practice that pens in protesters after they are told they must disperse or be arrested, normally resulting in a slew of messy and often violent arrests. The police department came under heat from not only the OIG, but Attorney General Letitia James, Human Rights Watch and the NYCLU among others for their aggressive use of kettling during the George Floyd uprising. “Kettling is not an acceptable tactic and will not be used by the Department,” said the Mayor’s Office when it announced the April reforms. 

Promises made by Mayor de Blasio in April to rein in how the NYPD handles protests have already been discarded.

Body cameras, of course, were always to be worn. New York State requires police officers to begin recording before an officer interacts with a person or situation. The leaked “Floyd Demo Quick Reference,” a sheet of instructions of how to deal with the Floyd protests, reminds all protest police to upload all of their body cam footage “at the end of their tour.” 

Beach and Harper say the SRG officers have been at multiple of their protests and that they were kettled on the Brooklyn Bridge. There is no known body cam footage of Maila’s arrest.

Harper says that these “Fire Artem” marches to the 84th Precinct have only recently been met with excessive force, despite going on for months.

Janet Burns, head reporter at PROTEST_NYC, a journalism collective that has been on-the-ground reporting at protests for the past year, says that she has seen an uptick in reports of sexual violence perpetrated by police in the past several weeks. 

“Sexual violence is part of the NYPD’s toolkit, period,” she told The Indypendent.  “This is clear from decades of community outcry, as well as from the consistent, seemingly escalating series of incidents that protesters have reported over the past year — ranging from sexualized insults and invasive, public and/or arbitrary ‘strip searches’ to hog-tying and groping — many of which our team have witnessed first-hand (or, in a few cases, endured). What’s also apparent is that our police department afflicts the majority and worst of that violence on people of color, particularly femme or trans people. It seems fairly clear that some officers are inflicting or authorizing such violence in response to Black, Brown, femme, and trans leadership who are defining this moment, and our city, at its best.”

Beach said she’s unable to outline the demands of her upcoming lawsuit at this time. She came forward with her story, she said, so that others aren’t subjected to the same experience.

 “My main goal is to stop this from happening to other girls, especially the younger girls that do come and protest with us,” said Beach.

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