A mother whose son was torn from her arms as she was arrested in a government office last week has had the charges against her dropped by the Brooklyn district attorney, after an online video of the incident provoked widespread outrage.
Jazmine Headley, 23, will also be released from Rikers Island, where she has been held for five days. She still faces charges in a credit card fraud case from 2016 in Mercer County, New Jersey, where she must return to court.
In state Supreme Court, Judge Craig S Walker said that the video of Ms Headley’s arrest was a “horrific scene that was broadcast all over the United States.” He said both Ms Headley’s experience during her arrest and “the amount of time she has served” factored into his decision to order her release.
Ms Headley was sitting with her one-year-old son, Damone, on the floor of an office in the Human Resources Administration building in Boerum Hill, where she had gone to try to get her child-care benefits reinstated. She had brought her son along because his day care centre had informed her the city was no longer paying his fee, her lawyer and a family member said.
After sitting for some time on the floor, she got into an argument with a security guard who asked her to move. After that, somebody called the police.
A video posted to Facebook showed Ms Headley shouting, “they’re hurting my son. They’re hurting my son,” as officers approached and tried to separate Ms Headley from her baby so they could arrest her.
The officers pried the boy from Ms Headley’s grip and one officer waved a stun gun at an outraged crowd, some of whom were filming the arrest on their phones.
Ms Headley was charged with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and trespassing. All those charges were dismissed.
The Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said in a statement he was “horrified by the violence depicted in the video and immediately opened an investigation” into the arrest. He said a review of the case showed it was not handled properly.
“The consequences this young and desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it,” he said. “She and her baby have been traumatised, she was jailed on an unrelated warrant and may face additional collateral consequences.”
In court Jeremy Shockett, deputy chief of the trial division, said his office did not object to Ms Headley’s release. But he said she had missed two or three court appearances in the New Jersey case, and Mercer County officials wanted her detained until they could pick her up.
Still, he said, his office had been inundated with calls from community leaders who assured him Ms Headley would appear in court in New Jersey to answer charges there.
Ms Headley was arrested in July 2016 after an investigation involving counterfeit credit cards, the Mercer County prosecutor’s office said. She was charged with two counts of credit card theft and one count of trafficking in personal identifying information, the prosecutor’s office said. A judge in Mercer County Superior Court issued a warrant for her arrest after she did not show up in court.
Ms Headley’s history of missing court dates might cause problems for her in New Jersey. The state no longer has cash bail and judges make the decisions on releasing defendants based on whether they are likely to return for future court appearances.
After the hearing on Tuesday, Lisa Schreibersdorf, the executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said the organisation was asking the Mercer County prosecutor’s office to consider dismissing the charges against Ms Headley.
“She’s been through enough, in our opinion,” Ms Schreibersdorf said.
The video of Ms Headley’s arrest drew fierce criticism on social media. Several elected officials called for an investigation, including the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams; the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson; and the public advocate, Letitia James.
Mr Johnson held a rally on the City Hall steps on Tuesday to protest Ms Headley’s treatment and call for her immediate release. “Every day that she sits on Rikers Island we are compounding this tragedy,” he said. He added he was furious over what he saw in the video and “anyone who saw it has an obligation to speak out and make our system better.”
In court , Ms Schreibersdorf said Ms Headley was “very distraught,” but remained unaware of the firestorm her arrest in Brooklyn had generated on social media.
“The entire country is talking about her, and she hasn’t been able to engage in any of that,” Ms Schreibersdorf said. Ms Headley’s most pressing concern, Ms Schreibersdorf said later, was to return home and be reunited with her child.
The New York Times
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies