A protester who has been charged with assaulting a New York police officer was making six-figures working for one the country’s largest unions, The Daily Beast has learned.
Robert Murray, 43, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, surrendered to police at Manhattan’s 5th Precinct Thursday morning.
According to a police spokesperson, Murray was charged with two felony counts of assaulting a police officer and three misdemeanors counts, one each of resisting arrest, inciting to riot, and obstruction of governmental administration. Murray has no prior arrests, the spokesman said. No date has been announced yet for Murray’s arraignment, where he will enter his plea and have an opportunity to contest the charges.
Murray worked as an organizing coordinator for 32BJ, a 145,000-member New York affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, known as SEIU, which has more than two million members nationally.
The attack in which Murray is charged has been front-page news in New York for almost a week. It was the first significant violence directed toward police after weeks of demonstrations across the city. In the wake of the incident, the police union has harshly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio, who they have portrayed as overly sympathetic to the protesters and insufficiently supportive of police.
At a private event last Friday the head of the police union, Pat Lynch, told a room full of delegates that “Mayor Bill de Blasio acts more like the leader of "a fucking revolution" than a city,” according to Capital New York’s Azi Paybarah who obtained a recording of the meeting.
Elaine Kim, assistant to the president for communications for 32BJ SEIU, provided this statement after being contacted regarding Murray’s arrest.
“Rob Murray is a staff member of 32BJ SEIU and is now on unpaid leave. The union does not under any circumstance condone violence of any kind, including against police officers. We respect the work of our police officers and support their efforts to protect both the public and those engaging in lawful protest. 32BJ SEIU has repeatedly called on protesters to express their views peacefully just as we called on the police to respect the rights of demonstrators. We trust the facts in this case will come to light through the legal process.”
In a phone interview, Kim said that Murray participated in the demonstration as an individual and that the union had no official presence at the protests.
“The union did not organize any official contingent to participate in the protests,” Kim said. She added, “but individual staff and members who care about the issue participated peacefully, as did tens of thousands of other New Yorkers.”
“He’s been with us since 2011. Before that he was with another union going back at least to 1997,” Kim said of Murray’s experience, which may account for his six figure salary. “Murray’s base salary is $91,117” Kim said, but she added that he received another $14,347 last year as “a cellphone and travel allowance,” bringing his total pay for 2013 to $105,464.
Murray’s arrest comes in the wake of continuing protests sparked by a New York grand jury’s vote not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner and a different grand jury’s decision not to charge an officer with a civilian’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests in New York had been on a small scale after Ferguson but grew following the Garner decision. A bystander’s video of Garner’s last moments showed him pleading for his breath after an officer choked him to the ground in the course of arresting him.
The city’s largest protest yet was this past Saturday. The march drew an estimated 25,000-30,000 people and remained largely peaceful until a small group of protesters clashed with police on the Brooklyn Bridge.
According to the police, a protester on the bridge—since identified as City College Prof. Eric Linsker—picked up a metal trash can to throw onto a lower roadway where both police and demonstrators were standing.
When two NYPD lieutenants intervened, police say Linsker put the trash can down but resisted arrest. The officers say they were then attacked by protesters trying to prevent Linsker’s arrest. Both officers involved, Lt. Patrick Sullivan and Lt. Phillip Chan, received cuts and bruises, while Chan also suffered a broken nose.
Linsker initially escaped after the clash on the bridge but was arrested a short time later. In his backpack, which police say he dropped before fleeing, they recovered three hammers in plastic wrapping.
A Harvard-educated poet and professor, Linsker was arrested early Sunday morning and released without bail later that day. Though police had initially reported that Linsker was carrying a black ski mask along with the hammers, that was not mentioned in the criminal complaint against him.
In court, Linsker’s lawyer did not dispute that he was carrying the hammers but pointed out that the complaint against Linsker made no claims that he intended to use the hammers for criminal purposes.
Shortly after the incident on the bridge, the NYPD released a wanted poster featuring Murray as “male suspect No. 3," among other photos of six other protesters allegedly involved in the attack and offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to arrests.
A video of the attack released by the NYPD clearly shows protesters surrounding and scuffling with two officers in NYPD jackets as they attempt to arrest a man, but it’s not clear when the blows that caused the officers injuries occurred. Protesters can be heard shouting “Record it!” during the altercation.
SEIU is one of the most powerful unions in the country and known for its activism. In the past, union officials have appeared at numerous peaceful protests in New York and across the country.
Mayor de Blasio, who is meeting with a leading protest group Friday, received a key endorsement from SEIU during his campaign.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with additional information regarding statements made by the New York police union.