A pair of incidents in the subway system on the same day in late October drew pronounced criticism of police tactics from elected officials.
The events, both in Brooklyn Oct. 25 and each captured on video and disseminated on social media, have led to a critique of the police approach in one incident and calls for the disciplining of some of the officers involved in the other.
Reports of a Gun
In the first incident, a man pursued by officers after witnesses said he was carrying a gun vaulted a turnstile at the Atlantic Avenue station and jumped on a southbound 4 train at 4:40 p.m. Several officers were deployed to the Franklin Avenue station, the train’s next stop.
Video taken from inside the train car showed passengers scrambling away from the man, who was seated in the center of the car, after officers drew their guns with the train doors still shut. The man, later identified as Adrian Napier, 19, put his hands up and gestured to ask whether he should get on the car’s floor. After a few more seconds, the doors opened and about 10 officers stormed in, wrestling him to car floor.
No gun was found, but Mr. Napier, who has several prior arrests including for alleged robbery and assault, was taken into custody without further incident on charges of theft of service, a department spokeswoman said.
In the second of that afternoon’s episodes, a melee involving two groups of teenagers in the Jay Street station shortly before 4:30 drew several officers, with that incident devolving into a free-for-all on the subway platform during which at least one officer, a Sergeant, threw and connected with a fierce punch to the head of one teenager.
Another portion of the video appeared to show the Sergeant striking another teenager, who then fought back. That teenager was eventually restrained by other officers and cuffed.
‘Not the Entirety’
Five teenagers were eventually arrested on charges of resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and other counts, a department spokeswoman said. One, a 15-year-old, was charged with assault on a police officer.
The department’s press office said in a Twitter post that the publicly available videos “do not show the entirety of the incident.”
“Officers responded to a fight between two large groups, during which individuals began to interfere with police action and the situation escalated,” the tweet said, adding that a review of the episode was underway.
The officer throwing punches, who was not identified, was placed in “a non-enforcement assignment,” a police spokeswoman said in a statement on Oct. 28.
“Importantly, in any situation—and particularly on subway platforms which are inherently dangerous places because of proximity to the tracks and moving trains—for the safety of all New Yorkers, people must not interfere with police activity, and comply with police directives,” the Detective’s statement continued.
Union Swings at O’Neill
Messages left for the Sergeants Benevolent Association were not returned. But the union tweeted about the incident several times, indicating support for how the officers handled the incident and criticizing Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill.
“The NYPD is about to throw another cop into the Gallows. Subway brawl, disorder & the cop is the bad guy. O’Neill DOES NOT support the cops. WAKE UP & protect yourself!” the SBA said in an Oct. 29 tweet.
But the city’s Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, decried that incident and the other as two among a pattern involving minority communities.
“I understand the tenseness that happens in these kinds of situations; but that tenseness does not allow you to start hauling off and punching people in their face,” he said during an Oct. 28 press conference near the J/Z City Hall station. “I want to know what happened before that incident, I want to want to understand the context. But there is no context when an officer can say, ‘our response was to start punching people in their face.’ We will not accept that as a response even as we begin to see the context.”
Mr. Williams said that police officers acting violently when they should be attempting to de-escalate situations perpetuates similar responses.
“What we have here and we keep seeing repeated is what happens when systems see black and brown bodies,” he said. “The response is always overzealousness, always overreaction, always excessive force.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also expressed displeasure with how police handled the Jay Street incident.
“This video shows a situation that clearly spun out of control, and the public has a right to know how this happened,” he said in an Oct. 27 retweet of that incident’s video. “We need a full investigation, and discipline against any and all officers that acted inappropriately or used excessive force.”
The Police Benevolent Association did not comment on either incident.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer who retired as a Captain in 2006, said the actions of the officer who threw punches were “at best... off base and reflect poorly on the men and women of the NYPD.
Call for Better Training
“As a former police officer, I know that one of the most difficult parts of policing is interacting with young people amid a dispute. This is another clear example of why de-escalation training matters.”
The two incidents represented “psychological terrorism,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center and affiliated with Communities United for Police Reform, a phrase she repeated.
“I don’t know how you can be stopping a fight when you are starting a fight,” she said. The Civilian Complaint Review Board said it had received a complaint regarding the Jay Street station incident.
The personal-injury lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, who has represented individuals and families in several well-known police cases, including those involving Sean Bell and Abner Louima, and secured multi-million-dollar settlements from the city and the NYPD, has filed a notice of claim on behalf of the 15-year-old, according the Daily News.
The Sergeant’s union, though, said on Twitter that presumption about the outcome of any lawsuit would be premature.
“So happy the public wanted Police Worn Body [Cameras],” the SBA tweeted. “Wait until all the video footage is made public. Tip of the day—Don’t start counting the $5 Million just yet!”
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