Documents obtained by The Intercept confirm that undercover police officers attended numerous Black Lives Matter protests in New York City between December 2014 and February 2015. https://firstlook.org/theintercept/ The documents also show that police in New York have monitored activists, tracking their movements and keeping individual photos of them on file.

The nearly 300 documents, released by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metro-North Railroad, reveal more on-the-ground surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists than previous reports have shown, conducted by a coalition of MTA counterterrorism agents and undercover police in conjunction with NYPD intelligence officers.

This appears to be the first documented proof of the frequent presence of undercover police at Black Lives Matter protests in the city of New York, though many activists have suspected their presence since mass protests erupted there last year over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.

The protest surveillance and use of undercover officers raises questions over whether New York-area law enforcement agencies are potentially criminalizing the exercise of free speech and treating activists like terrorist threats. Critics say the police files seem to document a response vastly disproportionate to the level of law breaking associated with the protests.

The documents were released to activists after several requests under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which asked for records from the MTA, MTA Metro-North, the New York State Police, and the NYPD pertaining to Black Lives Matter protests at Grand Central Terminal between November 2014 and January 2015.

In the 118 pages released by the MTA, the names of undercover police officers are redacted at least 58 times in five December 2014 protests, 124 times at five protests in January 2015, and 10 times at one protest in February 2015. The Intercept has been unable to contact any of the undercover police reporting on protests because the MTA said it redacted the “names of undercover police officers,” citing the New York Public Officers Law stipulating that certain records, which “if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person,” may be withheld. Metro-North also redacted the names of undercover officers. Both entities also said they redacted location and contact information for regular MTA police named in the documents.

Together the 118 MTA and 161 Metro-North documents also showed monitoring of an additional protest in November 2014, 11 protests in December 2014, nine protests in January 2015, and two protests in February 2015 by MTA officials and undercover police working at times in conjunction with NYPD officers.

In response to The Intercept’s request for information on the use of undercover police officers at Grand Central protests, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg issued the following statement: “The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department must ensure the safety and security of millions of people who pass through our railroad systems every day, at a time when transportation networks have been persistently targeted by terrorists. We accommodate peaceful protest in our transportation system, while also ensuring that protest activities do not prevent customers from using the system for transportation. We take all appropriate police measures to ensure the safety and security of our customers, but we do not discuss the particulars of those operations.”

The NYPD has not released documents in response to the request, but documents released by the MTA and Metro-North show that NYPD officials have also been involved in the surveillance of Black Lives Matter protests in Grand Central and beyond. The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Many of the documents released include live updates on protests from undercover police officers, reporting on group sizes, and the tracking of protesters’ movements around the city, particularly the movements of New York’s “People’s Monday” protests, which focus attention on, and demonstrate on behalf of, victims of police brutality, and which repeatedly convene at Grand Central. Some of the reports go further than tracking group movements, however, referring to specific activists and including photos of them.

In one document concerning a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for example, an officer, whose name is redacted because of his undercover status, sends frequent updates on protesters’ movements in Grand Central. The officer also notes that Jose LaSalle, founder of New York police watchdog group Copwatch Patrol Unit, has been “observed inside Grand Central Terminal.” LaSalle is mentioned four times in the documents, twice for delivering a “mic check” and twice for his mere presence, as seen in document below. His picture also appears in the files several times: