A Police Officer from a Queens precinct who authorities said used a chokehold while arresting a man on a Far Rockaway boardwalk June 21 is the first cop to face charges under a state law banning the maneuver.
Officer David Afanador, 39, pleaded not guilty June 25 in Queens Criminal Court to attempted aggravated strangulation and strangulation in the second degree. He faces seven years in prison if convicted.
The Officer and several others from the 100th Precinct on the Rockaway Peninsula were responding to a disturbance shortly after 8 a.m. on the boardwalk. They encountered three men who, as seen and heard on body-worn camera footage and a cellphone video taken by one of the men, taunted the cops for several minutes.
One of the men, later identified as Ricky Bellevue, 35, then approached the officers, asked if they were scared and took hold of an object from a nearby trash can, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office. Four cops, including Officer Afanador, grabbed Mr. Bellevue and wrestled him to the ground. Officer Afanador is alleged to have wrapped his arm around Mr. Bellevue’s neck during the takedown.
The DA’s Office said Officer Afanador appeared to continue the chokehold as other officers handcuffed him. As one of the other men is heard saying “Yo, he’s choking him. Let him go, bro,” Mr. Bellevue’s body appears to go limp. The DA’s Office said he lost consciousness.
“Only after another police officer pulls on Afanador’s back does he remove his arm from around Bellevue's neck,” the release from the DA’s Office said.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea suspended the cop without pay within hours after a video of the incident was posted online.
Attorney: No Intent
The Police Benevolent Association deferred to the Officer’s attorney to comment.
Steve Worth said his client’s arrest represented a rush to prosecute and that the facts of the case would show there was no criminality by Officer Afanador.
“It’s disappointing to see our local prosecutor succumb to political pressure and make summary arrests,” he said.
Mr. Worth said there was no intent by the Officer to constrict Mr. Bellevue’s airway or blood flow.
“During the course of making an arrest and when a suspect is thrashing about and resisting arrest, it’s almost impossible to guarantee that an officer’s arm won’t be near the neck area,” he said.
Governor Cuomo signed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act June 12 as part of a package of police reforms passed by state legislators in the days after a Minneapolis Police Officer was charged with killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.
The bill was named for the 43-year-old Staten Island man who died in July 2014 after an anti-crime officer, Daniel Pantaleo, put his forearm around his neck while taking down Mr. Garner as he and other officers moved to arrest him on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes in the borough’s Tomkinsville neighborhood. Mr. Pantaleo was fired last August by then-NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill following an administrative trial.
The NYPD has prohibited the use of chokeholds since 1993.
"The ink from the pen Gov. Cuomo used to sign this legislation was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit," Queens DA Melinda Katz said in a statement following Officer Afanador’s arrest.
He was released on his own recognizance and is due back in court Aug. 3.
This is the second time he has faced serious charges. He was accused of hitting a 16-year-old boy in the mouth with his gun during a 2014 arrest in Crown Heights. He was acquitted of second-degree assault, a felony, and other charges following a 2016 trial.