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"Guardians and Gladiators"
SVU, Episode 22.01
Production number: 22001
First aired (US): 12 November 2020
First aired (UK): 4 June 2021
First aired (CAN): 11 November 2020
First aired (AUS): 21 January 2021
  th of 502 produced in SVU  
th of 502 released in SVU
  th of 1271 released in all  
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Teleplay By
Brendan Feeney & Denis Hamill & Monet Hurst-Mendoza

Story By
Warren Leight & Julie Martin

Directed By
Norberto Barba


Summary

When the squad tries to solve an assault in Central Park, they are hampered by their own blind spots and a community that is losing trust in the police.

Plot

In Central Park, cell phone video shows an angry Colleen Reynolds yelling at Jayvon Brown for being near her son, Dylan. The boy begs his mom to go home, but the mother starts calling the police, claiming that "a black man is threatening her and her son". The camera is flipped around, and Brown looks dumbfounded, claiming that he was just working out. Soon, two police officers arrive on the scene. Brown is still recording, and a crowd of people have gathered, also recording with their phones. Dylan wants to get his ball, and runs into the woods, and his mother chases after him. A body bleeding from the head is discovered, and one of the policemen call an ambulance. Brown is then accused by Reynolds of the attack. The policemen tell him to put the phone down and down his hands behind his back. As he raises his arms, the policemen grab him, and shout at him to stop resisting. One officer puts Brown in a chokehold, eventually pinning him to the ground and arresting him.

As Benson arrives on the crime scene, she is informed that the victim was found bleeding with his pants down. She questions the victim, Eric Aquino, as bystanders film everything on their phones. Eric says that the man who attacked him "went nuts'' and raped him, but he does not know his attacker. Meanwhile, Rollins is instructing the bystanders to stand back, but they say they have the right to film. Eric starts convulsing, and is rushed to the hospital. Fin informs Benson that the kid found the body, and the woman says the suspect was still on the scene, menacing her and her son. Rollins takes the statements of Dylan and his mother, while Benson asks one of the arresting officers how they made Brown a suspect. The officer says that Brown was combative and aggressive. Fin asks the officer if they arrested him for being aggressive, to which the officer replies that upon running Brown's I.D., discovered two outstanding warrants. Benson approaches Brown, who seems to recognize her. She begins to question him as the bystanders are still recording. Brown refuses to answer any of her questions, and asks why he's even being arrested. Fin responds that it was because of outstanding warrants, to which Brown clarifies that he got those warrants for protesting for Black Lives Matter.

Meanwhile, Rollins is listening to Dylan and his mother. The woman claims she knew that Brown was up to no good because of his body language, and the way he raised his voice, scaring her son. Fin tells Benson he is concerned about them profiling Brown. Benson understands, but reiterates the fact that Brown has outstanding warrants, and legally has to be arrested. Later, in Benson's office, Carisi is questioning her and Fin about the arrest. Both maintain that Brown was arrested before they got on the scene. It is revealed that Eric Aquino lost consciousness before giving a full statement. In the interrogation room, Benson and Fin question Brown. He explains that he works out at the park every morning after getting off of the night shift.

At Mercy Hospital, Rollins and Tamin speak with the nurse, who informs them that he he could visibly see anal tramua on Eric. The detectives talk to the family, and Eric's mother says that every time Eric works a night shift at the hospital, she waits for Eric to come home, but he never did. Eric’s brother, Mark Peter, says that his brother usually walks through the park. She switches over to Tagalog to speak to Mark, and Mark tells the detectives that his mother was asking if the man in the video attacked Eric. Rollins asks the family if they know anything about Eric's social life. Mark doesn’t reply, but the mother firmly replies that Eric has no time for a social life because she wants him to work and take care of his family.

While they're leaving, the detectives discuss how the family is uninformed. Rollins says that even though Eric is a good doctor, he didn't think that walking through the Ramble at night was dangerous. Tamin remarks that when she came out to her family, they had no idea, nor did most of them understand her. As they push the button for the elevator, Mark calls out to them. He says he didn't want to say anything in front of his mother, but that Eric had texted him the previous night, telling him not to wait up. Mark confesses that Eric liked to unwind after a shift at outdoor bars.

Back at SVU, the detectives ask Brown about a two-hour gap in his alibi. Brown confesses that he was at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and didn’t want his employer finding out. Meanwhile, Rollins and Tamin ask a bartender about Eric and Jayvon, but is not helpful. Upon looking at traffic cam footage of Eric with another man, Rollins recognizes him as the bystander she told to back up at the park.

Back at the precinct, Brown’s NA sponsor confirms his alibi. Benson orders Rollins and Tamin to get TARU to track down the cell phone footage of their suspect. Later, the Aquinos are shown the picture of the man. The mother is unable to identify him, but Mark says that the man is Eric's type: straight-looking and preppy. Eric calls them his "Chino Boys".

In the squad room, TARU has found the mystery man’s video and other social media accounts under the handle “ThirstTrap94”. Deputy Chief Garland informs Benson that Brown has filed a lawsuit against NYPD and named her and Fin. Garland cites the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as reasons why the city and the country are at unrest, then informs them that 1PP has launched an investigation, and IAB wants to start with Benson the next day. As Fin walks Garland out, he tries to defend Benson. Garland reminds him of his lawsuit after shooting Leon Fuller. Both men understand that NYPD won’t hesitate to sacrifice Fin, Benson, Garland, or anyone else to save face.

In the squad room, Tamin is questioning ThirtTrap94’s ex-girlfriend. She identifies the man as Joe Murphy, explaining that they briefly dated, and that he needs to be "cancelled". She recalls that Joe could be a real charmer, but he's a different person once he hits "the tequila turnpike". Rollins asks how, and the girl replies that when Joe couldn't get hard, he would go off on her, but would come back the next day with flowers. She puts down herself for ever going out with Joe, saying that him being 25 and still living with his mother were red flags.

Tamin and Rollins visit the apartment of the Murphy’s and Joe comes with them willingly. At the precinct, Benson says that they should try to get a DNA sample since the lab found DNA in Eric’s underwear. Tamin points out that Joe is wearing a disposable mask, and gets his DNA by offering him a new mask.

Joe is questioned about Jayvon Brown's arrest and his own alibi. Joe says that Jayvon was not being suspicious, and gives an alibi of being with his fiancee. He admits to meeting Eric, but denies being interested in Eric because he’s not gay. Joe says that he let Eric walk with him because he felt sorry for him.

At the Internal Affairs Bureau, Benson is being questioned by a Captain Curry. Curry explains that they had met previously at Ed Tucker’s funeral. Benson apologies for not remembering her. Curry explains that they will start the interview once Benson’s lawyer arrives, to which Benson replies that she didn’t need a lawyer because her actions were by the book. Curry then starts the interview.

Back in the squad room, Carisi, Rollins, Fin, and Tamin are observing Murphy sleeping through a window. They discuss that Joe’s alibi is bogus, but the DNA results aren’t back yet. Fin and Rollins interrogate him. Joe confesses that Eric asked him to come to the park to smoke a joint, and since Joe was drunk, he agreed. Then, Eric got "persuasive", and offered to service him. Joe freaks out because he is not gay, and claims he pushed Eric and ran away. He claims that Eric must have fallen while giving chase.Carisi swings open the door, announcing that Murphy's attorney has arrived. The lawyer enters the room, addressing Carisi by his nickname "Sonny" and tells him to tell his sister Teresa he said hi. Joe says that he didn't hire a lawyer, but the lawyer clarifies that Mr. Donovan hired him, looking out for Joe and his mother.

Meanwhile, in the IAB interrogation room, Benson is stating that Eric Aquino couldn't identify his attacker because he was unconscious. Curry asks that other than Reynolds' false accusation, they had no reason to suspect Jayvon Brown. Benson says that Brown was already under arrest for his outstanding warrants when SVU arrived on the scene. Curry moves on and asks Benson if she recalls the stop-and-frisk of a black male on August 6, 2013. Benson asks for some more context, and Curry says that Detective Nick Amaro filed the 2-50, her partner at the time during the Jolene Castille case. Benson starts to remember, and Curry continues to read out that Ms. Castille, a white woman, shot Mehcad Carter, an innocent black teen, falsely claiming that he was a rapist. Curry informs her that one of the black males that she and Amaro stopped and frisked that day was Jayvon Brown. Curry asks if she asked the officers to run Colleen Reynolds' name, which if they did, they would have found her history of false accusations, and that her ex has a restraining order against her. Benson admits that it was her mistake that Reynolds' name was not run. Curry asks if she's given any thought on why she made that mistake. Benson senses that Curry is suggesting that she's biased, and denies it, adding that she is well aware of false accusations, especially those of men of color. Curry reaches over and turns off the recorder, saying that she's stopping Benson before she says that she's an ally. Curry says that since George Floyd, she's taken statements from two kinds of cops: the baton swinging gladiators who take one look at her and can barely hide their disdain, and the well-intentioned guardian cops who never see themselves as racist but are in denial about their complicity in the systemic racism within the NYPD. Curry finshes by saying that Benson is like the guardian cops. Benson firmly denies that she’s racist, but is aware of racism within the NYPD. Curry agrees that Benson is not explicitly racist, but implicitly. Curry says that being biased is not a choice when growing up in America, and admits that she struggles everyday with her own biases. According to her, for too many people, law enforcement has lost all credibility, and until every one of them takes a serious self-inventory, they can't begin to get it back.

Meanwhile, back at SVU, Joe’s defense lawyer is downplaying his crimes, offering a deal of Joe pleading to a misdemeanor. He tries to explain that the trauma Eric received happened during consensual sex, but Joe injerects, claiming that Eric forced himself onto him. Carisi refuses his offer anyways.

In the station parking lot, Benson is meeting with Garland. Benson admits that she thinks she's been focused on the victims for too long that her own bias didn't even occur to her, now asking herself how much of that bias affected her choices and decisions as a cop. Garland compares the level of community outrage to an on-coming freight train, and 1PP senses it too. Garland worries that they're more interested in the optics rather than the actual change. Garland tells Benson that when an organization feels threatened, if they believe that they can protect themselves by sacrificing a few pawns, they will not hesitate.

In the grand jury, Carisi is questioning Nurse Syndergaard, who says that Eric’s head wound was so severe he's still unconscious, and Aquino had anal trauma consistent with sexual assault. When Fin is on the stand, Carisi asks him if there was DNA. He replies that Joe Murphy's DNA was a match for the semen found in Aquino's underwear. Carisi then asks what happened when the police discovered Aquino. Fin replies that Aquino was bleeding from the head, his pants were down and were bloody, and was able to make a brief statement allowing them to proceed with the sexual assault investigation. A woman from the grand jury asks Fin if Aquino had said who assaulted him. Fin replies no, but the woman asks if this was the case where Jayvon Brown had been arrested. Fin states that Brown had outstanding warrants. The woman asks if police assume the attacker was a black man just because he happened to be there. Fin says that they didn't know what they were looking at. Another juror stands up and asks why they should believe him now, but Carisi says that if she has questions, she needs to follow the process. The juror asks if the only reason Jayvon Brown was arrested was because of Colleen Reynolds. Carisi says that it's not relevant to the proceedings at hand, and that Sergeant Tutuola does not have to answer it. Fin answers anyways, saying that Jayvon Brown was arrested according to standard police procedure. The juror laughs at him saying "police procedure", and then asks if it was the same police procedure he followed when he shot Leon Fuller.

Afterwards, Carisi storms into the hallway, with Rollins and Fin following him. Carisi remarks that it was a trainwreck and that he's losing control of the grand jury. Fin replies that it wasn't his idea to testify, and Carisi accuses him of not agreeing with the way Jayvon Brown was arrested. Rollins speaks up, saying that Jayvon Brown has nothing to do with Joe Murphy's guilt. Carisi says that if Fin had second thoughts about arresting Brown, he should have told Carisi. Fin argues that Carisi should have noticed through all his years of being a cop, how the black officers stand back during stop and frisk.Mr. Freddo, Murphy's attorney, shows up, telling Carisi that his client has decided to testify.

With Joe Murphy on the stand, he admits that he lied to the police, saying that he did get drinks with Aquino, and they did walk to the park together. Carisi presses further, and Joe says that the truth is that they were drunk, high, and Aquino initiated a sexual encounter by unzipping Joe's pants. Carisi asks why he lied, and Joe says that he was ashamed. He didn't want his fiancée and his mom to know that he is bisexual. Carisi asks Joe to continue and tell the grand jury what happened after their sexual encounter. Joe replies with nothing, surprising Carisi by changing up his story. Joe denies that Aquino had gotten aggressive with him and pushed him off. He claims that his confession was coerced, saying that one of the cops had gotten mad at him for filming Jayvon's arrest, saying that Joe was going to have to take the fall. Joe claims that Eric, him, and Jayvon are all victims of the NYPD, claiming that the cops are lying, but he is not.

In Carisi's new office, he tells Rollins that Joe knew exactly what cards to play: the more Carisi went after Joe, the more the grand jury sympathized with him. Suddenly, Joe's attorney knocks on the door, informing him that the grand jury did not indict. Rollins and Tamin visit the Aquinos in the hospital, and the mother is outraged. Mark blames NYPD and starts shouting. His mother calms him down and silence falls between them all.

At the Benson home, Olivia approaches Noah, who is watching a video. He explains that it's the video of her arresting the wrong guy, and that everyone at his school has seen it. Noah asks her why did she arrest him, and is she racist. She denies that she's racist, and he asks if she told Brown if she's sorry. Olivia tells him that the lawsuit makes it unfavorable for her to contact Brown. Noah asks why, because when he does something wrong, Olivia always tells him to apologize. The next morning, Olivia finds Brown at the park, working out. He asks her if she's going to pressure him into dropping his complaint, and adds that he got laid off, because the papers somehow got ahold that he's in NA. Benson informs him that the DA is pursuing charges against Colleen Reynolds for the false report. Brown asks if they're trying to claim a moral high ground. Benson starts to respond with "The NYPD has a lot of work to do" but cuts herself off, instead saying “I have a lot of work to do". Brown agrees, and starts jogging into the distance.

Cast

Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast

References

Quotes

Christian: My sense is that 1PP is more interested in optics than actual change.
Olivia: Is that why you told Fin to warn me to watch my back?
Christian: When an organization feels threatened, if it can protect itself by sacrificing a few pawns it won't hesitate to.

Amanda: Juries are smart. They know what's right.
Dominick: Usually. Right now, they're so angry at the NYPD they want to punish us.

Background Information and Notes

  • The commission into the squad gives a speech about "guardians and gladiators", which they describe as officers who cover for but refuse to commit to corruption and officers committing it in the first place, respectively.
  • Demore Barnes has been promoted to the main cast.
  • This is the only season premiere of SVU, as well as any season premiere in the Law & Order franchise, to premiere in November due to cancellations and postponements brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Previous episode:
"The Things We Have To Lose"
"Guardians and Gladiators"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Season 22
Next episode:
"Ballad Of Dwight and Irena"
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