Queens grand jury declines to indict NYPD cop for using illegal chokehold in Rockaway Beach

Screenshot via NYPD/YouTube

A Queens grand jury has cleared a former NYPD officer for using an illegal chokehold on a suspect in Rockaway Beach in June 2020.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Tuesday, Sept. 14, that the grand jury considering charges against former Police Officer David Afanador “has found no true bill and declined to indict.”

Afanador had faced charges of strangulation and attempted strangulation for an incident that occurred on the Rockaway boardwalk just before 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 21, during the arrest of Ricky Bellevue, a 35-year-old Black man. The incident began when three men began to get into a verbal altercation with at least four police officers, NYPD body cam footage showed. At one point during the dispute, Bellevue appeared to reach inside of a trash can, at which point several officers tackled him to the ground, the video showed.

While being cuffed, Afanador appeared to wrap his arm around Bellevue’s neck in an alleged chokehold. “He’s choking him,” someone could be heard yelling off-camera.

Bellevue was seen going limp as he lost consciousness under Afanador’s maneuver, the DA said. Afanador eventually pulled his arm from around Bellevue’s neck after another officer tapped him on his shoulder.

The entire episode was caught on camera by a passerby and shared widely online. After the video went viral, the NYPD released an officer’s body cam footage of the incident and suspended Afanador without pay by nightfall the same day.

Afanador turned himself in at the Queens district attorney’s office in Kew Gardens and was arraigned before Queens Criminal Court Judge Danielle Hartman on Thursday, June 25.

Afanador became the first NYPD officer to be charged under New York State’s Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, legislation sponsored by now-Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo just one week earlier.

The new law made the use of a chokehold by a police officer a felony, and Afanador — who has since resigned from the NYPD — faced up to seven years in jail under the law.

Afanador testified before the Queens grand jury behind closed doors, but in a statement, Katz said she would seek to have a transcript of the testimony released to the public.

“While the law prohibits me from discussing the proceedings that took place in front of the grand jury, in the interest of transparency I am moving to have the minutes of the grand jury unsealed,” Katz said.