By Bill Parry
Immigrant communities in Corona and Jackson Heights were outraged this week after a violent confrontation between a 27-year-old woman and three Park Enforcement Patrol officers at Flushing Meadows Corona Park was caught on video.
The incident took place Sunday afternoon on the northwest corner of 111th Street and 55th Avenue where PEP officers confronted an illegal vendor with a shopping cart equipped with a barbecue grill. Melissa Alvear, the daughter of the illegal vendor, began yelling at the officer and the confrontation turned physical.
The video, hosted on YouTube, shows the three officers wrestling Alvear to the ground while attempting to handcuff her, all while Alvear’s 7-year-old son struggles to defend her. The video of the violent arrest went viral on social media, with one community group calling for the city Parks Department to act decisively.
“We’re calling for the firing of these three PEP officers for the way they treated that woman,” Tania Mattos Jose of Queens Neighborhoods United said. “People are afraid to go into Flushing Meadows Corona Park now. There is already great fear in the community because of President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants. We already fear the ICE agents and now we have to fear the park police, too?”
She said her organization is planning protests and perhaps a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Alvear.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) was investigating the incident but did not like what he saw in the video.
“Park enforcement officers should treat everyone respectfully, but according to the images in this video, this seems not to be the case,” Peralta said. “I am told this particular woman was coming to the aid of her mother, a street vendor who apparently didn’t have the proper permits, but that is no reason for the authorities not to treat this particular New Yorker with the courtesy she deserves.”
Alvear was arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration, two assault charges and one charge of harassment. The Parks Department is standing by its officers.
“Illegal vending is a chronic issue in Flushing Meadow Corona Park,” Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said. Our Parks Enforcement Patrol’s first course of action is to educate in order to bring violators into compliance. However, there are instances when it is necessary to place violators, and those found obstructing the lawful actions of our officers, under arrest. The woman in question was lawfully arrested after assaulting a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer and obstructing him from confiscating an illegal food cart from an unauthorized vendor in Flushing Meadow Corona Park on Sunday.”
Court documents show Alvear, who is described as a white Hispanic U.S. citizen, initiating the confrontation, grabbing the arm of Parks Special Patrolman Mohamed Kamel, and then striking him several times with the food cart. When the officer attempted to handcuff her, “the defendant placed her arms tightly against her stomach, twisted her body, kicked her legs, pushed the deponent in an attempt to avoid being handcuffed and placed under arrest.”
The community was further outraged when the YouTube page that hosted the video of the arrest claimed that Alvear was pregnant. After she was arrested and taken to the 110th Precinct, Melissa Alvear stated that she was not pregnant in a videotaped statement, according to Kamel’s own notes.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr