terrell harper

An NYPD Detective has sued a New Jersey man for emotional, physical and other distress, alleging that he repeatedly disparaged his Asian heritage and spit on him without provocation during a Black Lives Matter demonstration last month.

Detective Specialist Vincent Cheung, a city cop since 2005 who works out of the Fifth Precinct’s Community Affairs Bureau in Manhattan’s Chinatown, says that Terrell Harper’s actions permanently injured him during a 15-minute confrontation on West 14th St. March 11.

Seeks Damages, Apology

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan April 16, claims Mr. Harper “without just cause or provocation, negligently, recklessly and carelessly, spit” on Detective Cheung’s eyes and refused to wear a mask while accosting the Detective, leaving the latter “to be scared for his physical health and safety and to suffer emotional distress.” 

The suit, filed with the support of the Detectives' Endowment Association, seeks monetary damages and also wants Mr. Harper to “explain publicly why he singled out an Asian-American.”

As a result of the incident, Detective Cheung, whose father is from China and whose mother is from Hong Kong and who was born in the U.S., “has suffered emotional injuries” that will “continue to incapacitate” him and result in additional medical expenses, according to the suit.

Body-camera video provided by the DEA shows a man, later identified as Mr. Harper, several times repeating “soy sauce” before hurling crude insults and anti-Asian remarks at the Detective and at least one other officer as a Black Lives Matter demonstration paused at the corner of Eighth Ave. and 14th St. The video snippet records only a fraction of the 15 minutes of abuse directed at the Detective and other officers by Mr. Harper, Detective Cheung said during an April 20 press conference at DEA headquarters.

While he said he has often been subject to snide and rude remarks during demonstrations, the anti-Asian rhetoric has been turned up a notch recently. Through the body-camera footage, “It’s now very clear and made clear to the public that this is the type of verbal abuse that we’re dealing with on a daily basis,” he said. 

‘Spawns Violence’

The DEA’s president, Paul DiGiacomo, said the lawsuit should serve as notice to racists and bigots. “We want to make it very clear...anti-Asian assaults, both verbal and physical, must stop,” he said. “No citizen should be subject to hateful, racist (profanities) whether they are wearing a uniform or not.” 

Attorney James Moschella, who often represents police unions and their members and filed this lawsuit, also said the type of language used by Mr. Harper was on the increase. “The rhetoric is at epic proportions, and hate begets more hate, and hate speech spawns violence. There’s a direct connection between hate speech and violence,” he said. “Words matter.” 

He added that if people who use racist and abusive language are unafraid of arrests, maybe being assessed financial penalties will have a different effect. 

Mr. DiGiacomo also used the occasion to castigate elected officials for fomenting a climate that casts cops as rogues while essentially giving lawbreakers get-out-of-jail cards. 

“The police in this city right now, their hands have been handcuffed by our government officials,” he said, adding that recently enacted bail-reform laws and District Attorneys' unwillingness to prosecute wrongdoers had emboldened them. “Nobody is here for our members other than the unions,” he added.

Attempts to reach Mr. Harper, who records show has recently lived in Neptune, N.J. and Philadelphia, were unsuccessful. He has an active warrant for his arrest, Mr. DiGiacomo said. 

Bias Crimes on Rise

Anti-Asian bias incidents, violent and otherwise, have increased nation- and citywide since the start of the pandemic and the NYPD last month began deploying officers of Asian heritage undercover to both act as decoys and be on scene in cases of attempted attacks. At least three undercover officers have been victimized by bias crimes since then. 

A newly constituted Asian Hate Crimes Task Force within the department has nearly two dozen Detectives investigating bias incidents against members of that community. 

And earlier this week, the NYPD and Commissioner Dermot Shea announced the composition of a five-person civilian panel that “will assess circumstances that present challenges in establishing whether a victim’s actual or perceived race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation were motivating factors in possible hate crimes.”

Commissioner Shea said the panel would function as “an additional layer of review” of suspected bias incidents. 

While NYPD investigators “in every single case...strive to get justice for the victims and determine the motive for that particular incident,” he said, the five-person panel would function “as a bridge and another set of eyes and ears.”

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