BY MARK HALLUM AND ZACH GEWELB
A police officer has been suspended after being accused of using a chokehold common in mixed-martial arts to take down a Black man who was unarmed, as depicted in video footage that surfaced Sunday on social media.
According to a police source, the arrest took place 8:45 a.m. on June 21 on the Rockaway Boardwalk at Beach 131st Street, and a man can be seen on video being held to the ground before being hoisted up and led to a squad car.
An NYPD source said officers passing by were flagged down because a suspect was allegedly throwing objects at people and businesses on the boardwalk.
When officers engaged with the man, law enforcement sources said, he allegedly began throwing garbage at them and was placed under arrest.
“We are aware of the video and there is an active investigation underway by the Internal Affairs Bureau. This matter is taken extremely seriously and we expect to have an update this evening as the investigation unfolds,” the NYPD said in a statement.
Police released body camera footage of the incident around 6:30 p.m. Sunday night.
The body cam footage reveals a group of officers interacting with three people — two of whom were light skinned, the other was Black — on the boardwalk. One of the light-skinned people said he was filming the interaction on Facebook Live as the confrontation continued.
Footage shows the three people walking away from the officers, though they remained close by and eventually returned and engaged them in conversation.
The footage then appears to show the Black man throwing garbage at one of the officers. At that point, the officers moved to take the man down. While the body cam footage is partially obscured, the man filming on Facebook Live starts yelling, “They’re choking him.”
It is not entirely clear what tactic the officers used to apprehend the man, but he appeared to be pinned down before the officers lifted him up to walk him over to the squad car, with the other two men following and recording.
A female spectator can be heard asking why the Black man was the only one to be arrested in the confrontation.
Commissioner Dermot Shea released a statement just before 7 p.m. Sunday to announce an officer involved in the incident has been suspended without pay.
“Accountability in policing is essential. After a swift investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, a police officer involved in a disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay,” Shea said. “While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary. We are committed to transparency as this process continues.”
Legislators in the city and Albany in recent weeks passed a slew of police reforms including the Eric Garner Chokehold Ban Act as well as the repeal of 50-A which keeps information of police misconduct and disciplinary action confidential.
Congressman Gregory Meeks and Councilman Donovan Richards condemned the incident in a joint statement Sunday night.
“It is clear to us, having watched both the cellphone video posted online and the NYPD’s subsequently released body camera footage, the manner in which the man was being restrained was excessive and life threatening. The horrifying encounter captures exactly the behavior that we have marched into streets these recent weeks to reform,” the lawmakers said. “Though this man did not die during the encounter, he very well could have died as a result of the officer restricting his airflow. Law enforcement does not have the right to deny someone the ability to breathe. It is dangerous and, as we’ve too often seen, lethal use of force. That is why we have taken action on the city, state and federal level to prohibit chokeholds, and create consequences for their use.”
While the two acknowledged the NYPD’s decision to suspend the officer without pay, they emphasized “the need for further investigation to thoroughly assess what transpired, including looking at the officer’s history.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to praise the NYPD’s quick response.
Today was the fastest I have EVER seen the NYPD act to discipline an officer. Within hours:
Body camera footage released
Discipline process initiated
This is how it needs to be. https://t.co/Ma7f6nd7HL
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 22, 2020
Councilman Eric Ulrich told QNS that he was deeply disturbed by the incident, though he was “pleased the NYPD is taking this matter seriously.”
“As we continue to build the bonds of trust between police and community, it is imperative that we treat these situations objectively and fairly,” Ulrich said. “I am confident that the Internal Affairs Bureau will do just that.”