New York has a problem: Its police have a penchant for brutalizing marginalized residents.
After a verbal altercation at the Bellevue Shelter in Manhattan, on March 6, 2017, supervising sergeant Cordell Fitts and several other officers rushed and subdued a homeless man after he swung at Fitts in the shelter lobby.
In surveillance footage made public by federal prosecutors and published by the New York Times on Thursday, Fitts can be seen punching the unidentified victim, kicking and stomping on his head while he lay face down under the control of Fitts’ fellow officers.
Fitts, 34, has been charged with deprivation of civil rights along with filing a false report. Fitts, who joined the homeless services agency as a police officer in 2012 and worked there until March of last year, was released from court Thursday after a bond appearance which followed his arrest. He has 10 days to find a co-signer on his $100,000 bond, according to NBC4.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed before Fitts’ hearing, the unnamed victim had been interacting with Fitts and the other officers when Fitts motioned toward the shelter’s exit before reaching for the victim and placing his hands on the homeless man’s chest. The homeless man was dragged to the ground by the officers soon after; Fitts can be seen beating the man as two other officers attempt to handcuff him as he struggles.
The victim, whose injuries were not described by prosecutors per the Times, was eventually brought to his feet and escorted out of the shelter. Federal prosecutors failed to disclose the victim’s whereabouts, or what has happened to him since the incident.
According to the complaint, Fitts’ report, which “purports to have been drafted” by another officer, makes mention of a pocketknife falling from the victim’s jacket during the altercation, along with a quote from the victim saying that he was “going through a lot” and was off his medication.
Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, told the Times that Fitts’ alleged behavior “not only betrayed his duty as an officer to protect those under his charge, but also violated the law.” In a statement to NBC4, Isaac McGinn, spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services, said: “The actions described, including the cover-up, are horrifying and will never be tolerated in our city.”
According to the complaint, Fitts instructed another officer to sign the report. That officer stated he neither heard the victim reference his medication nor saw a knife fall from the victim’s person. If convicted, Fitts could serve a maximum of 10 years for deprivation of rights and 20 years for falsifying his report.