An officer with the New York Police Department has been suspended after a video surfaced showing him placing a man he was detaining in a chokehold and resting his weight on him.
The officer, who has not been named by the NYPD, is identified by the New York Daily News as David Afanador. Afanador is with the NYPD’s 100th precinct and was suspended without pay. The incident comes just days after the New York City Council passed legislation making police use of chokeholds a criminal offense.
According to the Daily News, the incident happened around 8:45 a.m. Sunday in the Rockaway Beach area of Queens and was captured on cellphone video by bystanders.
NYPD released Afanador’s body camera footage from the incident, which shows three men arguing with police officers standing on a boardwalk before a man, identified by the New York Times as 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue, approaches the officers and asks “You scared?” before suddenly being grabbed, tackled and wrestled to the ground. From the video, it is unclear what the impetus was for the arrest, but a department source told NBC News the police received a 911 call about three men harassing people and throwing objects on them on the boardwalk. They attempted to detain Bellevue after “he approached them with a bag.”
In the video, the officers can be seen taking down Bellevue and are seen holding him down and handcuffing him. One officer is seen with his arm around Bellevue’s neck as bystanders yell “Yo! Stop choking him, bro! Let him go!” The moment Bellevue loses consciousness is captured on film, and another officer taps Afanador, signaling him to stop the chokehold.
According to the Associated Press, the NYPD “banned chokeholds in 1993 after a spike in deaths of people being apprehended or in police custody.” That, coupled with recent measures passed by both the city council as well as the state of New York to criminalize the practice should be enough to deter officers from doing, but that is apparently not the case.
The state law, signed by Gov. Cuomo last month, is named after Eric Garner, the man who was killed by a police chokehold in 2014.
Afanador’s offense comes after weeks of protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on handcuffed Floyd’s neck and kept it there for nearly 9 minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life and cried that he could not breathe.
The NYPD tweeted that the incident is under investigation, and Commissioner Dermot Shea condemned the act in two separate tweets, saying “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. While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary. We are committed to transparency as this process continues.”
As of Sunday evening, Bellevue was being treated at a local Queens hospital. Lori Zeno, executive director of Queens Defenders, which is representing him, told the Times that Bellevue’s relatives say he has a history of mental illness. She said Bellevue suffered a bloody scalp and swollen wrists. He has been charged with suspicion of disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest.
“He was on such a hard chokehold that he couldn’t speak to say he couldn’t breathe,” Zeno said.
From the Times:
Officer Afanador can be heard on the body camera footage telling another person that Mr. Bellevue, who the authorities knew had been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and the other two men appear to be intoxicated. Officer Afanador then says in the footage that Mr. Bellevue is acting as if he is going to hit another officer with something.
“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 somebody violent out here who might do that to one of you or another innocent person,” Officer Afanador can be heard saying. “That’s why he’s in cuffs, and that’s why he’s going to the hospital because we know he’s ill.”
The Times reports that Afanador was charged with assault in 2014 after he swung his gun at a 16-year-old, breaking his teeth. During a bench trial in 2016, he was found not guilty.
Amy Rameau, the lawyer for the teenager, told the Times Sunday “Good riddance,” in reference to Afanador being suspended. “He’s a criminal. There’s no other way to put it. He doesn’t belong on anybody’s police force.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the NYPD for its swift response to Afanador’s offense. In a tweet, the mayor wrote “Today was the fastest I have EVER seen the NYPD act to discipline an officer. Within hours: Immediate suspension, Body camera footage released, Discipline process initiated. This is how it needs to be.”
However, Zeno told the Daily News that more action needs to be taken.
“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.”
We couldn’t agree more.