NEW YORK — New York Police Department cops used an apparent chokehold while roughly arresting a man on a Queens boardwalk Sunday, shocking video shows.
The disturbing scene unfolded at 8:45 a.m. near Beach 113th St and Ocean Promenade in Rockaway Beach in the NYPD’s 100th Precinct. The officer who used the apparent chokehold, David Afanador, was suspended without pay later Sunday.
“While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said. “We are committed to transparency as this process continues.”
Police also released footage from Afanador’s body-worn camera that shows three men taunting and insulting the officers for about 10 minutes before one of them approached one of the officers, and was taken down.
“This matter is taken extremely seriously,” the NYPD said in an official statement.
As four uniformed officers restrained the man — who was face-down on the ground — a bystander yelled: “Yo, he’s choking ‘em, let ‘em go!”
One of the officers had an arm wrapped around the man’s neck, the video shows.
“Yo, he’s out, he’s out, he’s out!” another man says as the officer pulled the arm away from his neck.
One of the cops at the scene, identifiable by his shield number as Afanador, tells the man recording with his phone, “Back up.”
The man recording responds, “Yeah, f — — you, f — you, Alfredo.”
The man who was arrested was led away from the scene by officers moments later, an NYPD spokesman said.
Police declined to say Sunday why the man was being arrested or what charges he’ll face. A source said cops were responding to a call for an emotionally disturbed person.
His lawyer, Lori Zeno of the Queens Defenders, identified him as Ricky Bellevue, and said he’s still recovering at Jamaica Hospital.
“I want the officer who put him in a chokehold to be in the cell next to him,” she said. “This guy should be charged criminally, and fired.”
She said he faces disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest charges.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday called the video “very concerning,” and later praised the swift police action in the case.
“Today was the fastest I have EVER seen the NYPD act to discipline an officer,” de Blasio tweeted. “Within hours: Immediate suspension; Body camera footage released; Discipline process initiated. This is how it needs to be.”
The officer’s bodycam video shows Bellevue and two others taunting a group of officers on the boardwalk for 10 minutes while the cops appear to laugh it off.
One man, who’s not wearing a shirt, says to an officer, “Confederate-flag-wearing motherf — — er son, what’s your name? … Go ahead, say something stupid. Say something stupid.”
The scene takes a turn when Bellevue appears to grab something, then tells a cop, “You scared, you scared?”
One of the belligerent men tries to hold Bellevue back, but Afanador lunges forward and grabs him, taking him down.
Later, with the bodycam still recording, Afanador tried to explain what he did to a woman on the scene.
“They were all talking all types of crazy stuff to us. We did nothing. I don’t care. Anybody can say whatever they want to us,” he told the woman. “What changed everything is when he grabbed something and squared off, and was gonna hit my officer who’s standing over there.”
He continued, “That’s when everything changed. The minute I saw him flex on him, that’s when he goes down, cause we don’t get hurt and we’re not gonna leave somebody violent out here who might do that to one of you or another innocent person.”
Bellevue’s twin brother, Ashley, became visibly distraught as he viewed the videos.
“Those cops could have really hurt my brother. He couldn’t breathe. They could’ve killed him,” he said. “In the video I don’t see that he did anything? The cops just jumped into action. He wasn’t a threat, he didn’t have a weapon. What are they (cops) practicing, what are they being taught? They could’ve treated him a little more fairly.”
After his arrest, Bellevue told police he is bipolar. His brother said he was in an outpatient program — he didn’t specify what kind — that got shut down because of the coronavirus.
“He’s a good man, and he doesn’t bother anyone and this could’ve all been avoided. Some things just have to change,” Ashley Bellevue said.
Afanador was caught on video with another officer, Tyrane Isaac, beating and pistol-whipping a 16-year-old suspect in August 2014 so severely the teen suspect’s teeth were cracked.
In that incident, the officers — both assigned to the 77th Precinct’s anti-crime unit — were chasing Kaheem Tribble after he was seen throwing away several plastic bags allegedly containing pot.
Video shows the teen slowing down to face the officers with his hands up before they beat him, prosecutors alleged. Afanador was accused of using his service weapon to crack Tribble’s bottom teeth, as Isaac punched him while trying to handcuff him.
Afanador testified at his trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court in 2016 that he didn’t mean to cause Tribble’s injuries, and the teen was caught in lies on the stand.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun found Afanador and Isaac not guilty.
“He, like so many others, are an absolute disgrace to the Police Department. They’re criminals themselves,” said Amy Rameau, the lawyer who represented Tribble in that case, as well as several plaintiffs in another lawsuit against the two cops. “David Afanador is a thug.”
“I can’t say I’m shocked,” Rameau said.
The city paid Tribble’s family $83,250 in 2019 to settle a civil lawsuit, public records show.
The use of chokeholds like the one the Queens cops apparently used Sunday has become a flashpoint in recent years, especially in New York City.
Activists started pushing to ban the tactic after Eric Garner was killed on July 17, 2014, after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold and wrestled him to a Staten Island sidewalk.
Garner, who was black, pleaded “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times as he struggled to stay alive.
The three-word phrase became an instant slogan for racial justice campaigners but Pantaleo was cleared of criminal charges in the Garner killing. He was eventually fired from the NYPD after a tortuous disciplinary process.
Despite the outrage over Garner’s death, NYPD officers continue to use chokeholds at an alarming rate.
A report from the New York State Assembly said 996 New Yorkers were placed in chokeholds by the NYPD in the nearly six years since Garner’s death.
It took another police killing more than 1,000 miles away to finally get New York State to ban chokeholds.
George Floyd was choked to death on May 25 by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee against the unarmed man’s neck for an excruciating 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
The murder of Floyd ignited a nationwide protest movement demanding police reform and racial justice. After years of inaction, lawmakers in Albany quickly passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act this month.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it as part of a package of police reform measures.
The bill makes it a class C felony for a police officer to injure or kill somebody through the use of “a chokehold or similar restraint.” The crime is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
(Wes Parnell, Rocco Parascandola, Graham Rayman, Dave Goldiner and Shant Shahrigian contributed to this report.)
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