NYPD orders investigation into video showing violent arrest involving multiple officers

Force says 20-year-old fled after being spotted smoking cannabis

Andy Gregory
Sunday 08 March 2020 23:51 GMT
'I am not resisting!' Distressing moment police aggressively arrest man in Brooklyn

The NYPD has launched an internal investigation after footage appeared to show at least eight officers violently arresting a young black man.

The video – viewed millions of times on social media – has sparked protests outside the local police precinct, and ignited a row between mayor Bill de Blasio and the largest police union in the city, where distrust of officers remains high after decades of police brutality.

Fitzroy Gayle, 20, can be seen asking a plainclothes police officer who has cornered him in a Brooklyn street on Wednesday: “What crime did I commit? What did I do? He saw me in the park and came out and followed me. Why are you following me?”

With the officer appearing to hold a stun gun and refusing to tell Mr Gayle why he is being detained, three more officers can be seen running towards Mr Gayle and tackling him to the ground, eliciting apparently terrified screams and pleas from the young man.

At least eight officers piled in simultaneously before Mr Gayle was taken away. He was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and possession of cannabis.

According to the NYPD, Mr Gayle and another unidentified man were spotted smoking cannabis in a park, before running from the police in different directions.

Further footage taken after Mr Gayle’s arrest by the same bystander appears to show several officers retracing Mr Gayle’s steps to search for cannabis – of which possession of less than an ounce is no longer a criminal offence in NYC, instead carrying a maximum fine of $50 (£38).

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced an internal investigation at a press conference on Thursday, adding that the officers involved – none of whom have been taken off duty – had been responding to reports of gunshots in the area at the time of Mr Gayle’s arrest.

But New York defence lawyer Rebecca Kavanagh noted the late addition of this detail and warned against its use it as justification for the officers’ use of force.

“This level of violence was completely unnecessary and unjustified,” Ms Kavanagh said on Twitter. “The young man was scared, but he was not a threat. He had his hands in the air. He was not resisting. He was simply asking why he was being arrested.”

Commissioner Shea said there were “some disturbing points” to the video. One of the officers could be seen standing on the man’s ankle, he said, offering a possible explanation for why Mr Gayle screamed during the scrum.

Photos of Mr Gayle taken after the arrest showed abrasions to his knee but no apparent injuries to his face or upper body, he added.

“The end is what concerns me,” Commissioner Shea said, adding a better outcome would have seen officers approaching the men followed by “discussion and no running” from police. “No physical resistance at all. No arrest needed.”

“This was painful to watch,” mayor Bill de Blasio said in response to the footage. “We still need to get all the facts about this case and a full investigation is underway, but I don’t like what I saw. It doesn’t reflect what we’re building in New York City.”

The city’s largest police union responded, calling de Blasio’s remarks “anti-police rhetoric”.

“You admit that you don’t have all the facts, and yet you’re passing judgement anyway,” the Police Benevolent Association said. ”When we say ‘anti-police rhetoric’, this is what we’re talking about. Your rush to judgement is inflaming the situation.”

The arrest came on the heels of renewed spotlight on stop, question and frisk, a policing strategy once championed by former mayor Mike Bloomberg, who expressed regret for its overuse as he launched his now-abandoned campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At its peak, stop and frisk resulted in millions of mostly black and Hispanic New Yorkers being stopped by police. A federal judge ruled the practice unconstitutional in 2012, and the city drastically decreased its use the following year.

Muslim group denounces Michael Bloomberg's lies over NYC surveillance programme police were forced to stop

But such encounters increased by 22 per cent last year, data released in February by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) showed.

NYPD officers conducted 13,459 stop and frisk procedures in 2019, up from 11,008 in 2018. Black people and non-white Hispanic people made up 88 percent of those stopped and 90 per cent of those frisked, and 88 per cent of those against whom force was used. About two-thirds of the 2019 stops resulted in neither an arrest nor a summons.

Mr Gayle’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said the video demonstrated “that the era of stop and frisk is not over in New York City”. He added: “The police officers involved in this brutal assault must be brought to justice.”

It was the latest episode in recent months to spark outrage about perceived overuse of force or unjust arrests by police.

In October, footage taken by a bystander showed a white police officer punching a black teenager during a fight on a Brooklyn subway platform, leading hundreds of people to march in protest.

A few weeks later, officers were accused of pulling their guns on a group of black trick-or-treaters in Brooklyn, detaining three of them for several hours.

In November, officers detained two women for selling churros without a license at subway stations, sparking backlash on social media after a video of one of the encounters went viral.

Last August, the police department fired the officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” in 2014, a mantra that gave voice to a national debate over race and police use of force.

Additional reporting by AP

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