An incident during the morning of Sunday, June 21, sparked afternoon protests and resulted in a police officer from the 100th Precinct being suspended without pay as the incident is investigated. Fury grew after a short clip posted to social media depicted an officer putting a black man in an alleged chokehold during an arrest on the boardwalk on Beach 113th Street. An NYPD body cam video later painted a fuller picture of what took place before, during and after the arrest.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, many were left angered to see a viral video depicting a 100th Precinct officer with his arm around the neck of a black man who was arrested on Sunday. The incident came a little more than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning chokeholds during arrests. As the man is arrested, another man can be heard in the background of the short clip saying, “Stop choking him.” A fellow officer is seen tapping the shoulder of the officer with his arm around the man’s neck, and he releases his hold. The 25-second clip ends, showing the man not moving on the ground.
The video made its rounds around social media, causing NYPD to respond immediately, saying “There is an active use of force investigation underway by the Internal Affairs Bureau. This matter is taken extremely seriously.”
By 3 p.m. that day, Queens Defenders called for a protest in front of the 100th Precinct, saying “Earlier today, a young black man was assaulted, choked unconscious and removed to the hospital for sitting on the boardwalk listening to music with friends. This is not acceptable.” About 50 people showed up to the protest to announce their outrage over the incident.
The man arrested in the video was identified as 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue. The officer was identified as David Afanador, who has 15 years on the job. Another incident in which Afanador allegedly used his gun to strike a teen in the mouth in 2014, was brought to light. In a 2016 court case, Afanador was found not guilty.
By 6:30 p.m., NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea released information about the Afanador’s immediate suspension, as well as the full body cam footage of the incident. The quick actions were praised by some. “Accountability in policing is essential. After a swift investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, a police officer involved in a disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay,” Shea tweeted. “While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary.”
The 35-minute body cam video on YouTube provides a larger picture of what led up to Bellevue’s arrest. At 8:45 a.m., police responded to a call of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) on the boardwalk. Passersby claimed three men had been there for as long as two hours, harassing people as they went for morning bike rides and walks. As the police respond, they joined fellow officers on the boardwalk, speaking to Bellevue and two white men. Officers are heard identifying Bellevue as an EDP. In a 10-minute span before the arrest, Bellevue is seen on camera telling officers, “I’ll throw sh*t in your face” and “Want me to smack you?” One of the white men is heard telling Bellevue to shut up, explaining that they don’t disrespect cops. One of the other men is heard calling one officer a “Confederate flag-looking mother***er.” Later, the other white man is heard saying “f*** you fag**t” to an officer or passerby. The men are asked to leave the boardwalk, and it appears they were going to, until the situation escalated. The three men approached the officers and Bellevue is seen picking up a plastic bag with cans. He then appears to reach down next to a garbage can as he asks the officers, “You scared?” At this point, one of the white men says to him, “what the f** are you doing?” and the officers launch toward Bellevue to arrest him. As the body cam falls, the view of the chokehold cannot be seen on police cameras. However, within a few seconds, an officer is seen standing Bellevue up, and walking him to a nearby police vehicle. Bellevue was speaking to the officers and explained that he is bipolar.
As crowds gathered, asking why Bellevue was being arrested but not the other two white men on the boardwalk, Officer Afanador explained to a woman, what led to the arrest. “They were all acting crazy, right? They’re all obviously intoxicated. We know he has a mental history past. We know he’s bipolar. They were all talking all types of crazy stuff to us. We did nothing. Anyone can say what they want to us,” Officer Afanador explains. “What changed everything was when he grabbed something and squared up and was going to hit my officer who’s standing over there. The minute I saw him flex on him, that’s when he goes down because we don’t get hurt and we’re not going to leave someone violent out here who might do that to you or someone else. The other two are being loud, aggressive and we don’t like the way they’re acting but they’re not acting like they’re going to hurt anybody or us, so as long as they leave, it’s alright.” The footage ends with Bellevue being seated in an ambulance so he could be transported to a hospital to be evaluated. He was later released on Monday.
On Monday, Commissioner Shea explained that the body camera video shows a broader story, but he stands by his action of suspending the officer. “I think it tells a very different story than the initial video, but ultimately, a hand around the neck is a hand around the neck,” Shea told NY1. He later tweeted, saying “We have an obligation to always act swiftly, and also to get it right — and we did. Looking at the broader story from yesterday’s video, I feel for the officers and what they had to endure, and for all the community members who had to pass these three men.”
In response to the incident, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said, “There must be zero tolerance for police misconduct.” According to a New York Daily News article, Katz decided not to charge Bellevue, who faced possible disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest charges.
It is not clear if Officer Afanador will face any charges. However, on Monday, a group of protestors demonstrated outside of Queens Borough Hall, calling for the arrest of Officer Afanador. Queens Defenders’ executive director, Lori Zeno, who is also representing Bellevue as his lawyer, is also demanding more action. “It is important that we keep holding police officers accountable for their actions. The officer involved here used a chokehold to strangle my client until he was unconscious, because according to the officer, ‘he was being disorderly.’ The officer needs to be fired and prosecuted. He was the one who committed a crime in this circumstance. We will not stop until the people of the Rockaways can feel safe as they travel through their own neighborhood,” Zeno said in a statement on Monday.
The investigation into this incident is ongoing.
Update: After we went to press, on Thursday, June 25, Afanador was charged with strangulation and attempted aggravated strangulation. He pleaded not guilty. Afanador was released without bail and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
By Katie McFadden
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