The lawsuit will also name Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Terry Monahan.
The lawsuit accuses the department and those individuals of failing to address what it calls a long-standing pattern of abuse, evident in the tactics used to quash the demonstrations in late May and early June.
"There is no question that the NYPD engaged in a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters," James said. "Over the past few months, the NYPD has repeatedly and blatantly violated the rights of New Yorkers, inflicting significant physical and psychological harm and leading to great distrust in law enforcement. With today's lawsuit, this longstanding pattern of brutal and illegal force ends. No one is above the law - not even the individuals charged with enforcing it."
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James' suit cites dozens of examples of allegedly blatant misuse of power, including unlawful arrests of medics and lawyers, excessive force and "kettling," a maneuver in which officers corralled protesters, closed in, and made arrests.
The protests have already led to new state laws banning aggressive tactics and making police records more transparent.
The City Council shifted nearly $1 billion from the department's budget in response to the protests.
"The New York City Police Department welcomes reform and has embraced the recent suggestions by both the city's Department of Investigation and the city's Law Department," the NYPD said in a statement. "As the Mayor has said, adding another layer does not speed up the process of continued reform, which we have embraced and led the way on."
In July, James issued a report that said the protests had shaken public confidence in the NYPD. She recommended an independent panel - not the mayor - appoint the police commissioner and handle officer discipline.
James now seeks, through her lawsuit, injunctive relief to include court-ordered reforms enforced by an independent monitor.
She is also recommending a federal monitor for the department.
In 2013, a federal monitor was installed to oversee the NYPD's reform of stop-and-frisk.
PBA President Pat Lynch weighed in on the lawsuit, pinning the blame on city leaders.
"We will say it again: what we witnessed in June was a failure of New York City's leadership," he said. "They sent cops out to police unprecedented protests and violent riots with no plan, no strategy and no support. They should be forced to answer for the resulting chaos, instead of pointing fingers at cops on the streets and ignoring the criminals who attacked us with bricks and firebombs."
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