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The New York City cop who appeared to use a banned chokehold while detaining a Black man in a viral video Sunday, as onlookers shouted in protest, has been suspended without pay.
The officer, who was identified by the New York Daily News and other local media outlets as David Afanador, was one of several seen in the video attempting to detain 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue, who has a history of mental illness, according to family members.
The incident comes as New York and other cities intensify their focus on policing tactics amid nationwide protests against police brutality.
The New York City Council just passed a law last week making it a criminal misdemeanor for an officer to use a chokehold during an arrest, regardless of the level of injury that chokehold may have inflicted. And a new state law named for Eric Garner — a man who died after a New York City cop put him in a chokehold in 2014 — deemed the technique a felony offense if the officer gravely injured or killed a person in the course of using it. While chokeholds have long been banned in the city, the new measures add layers of potential punishment for rule-breaking cops.
Additionally, anti-racist protests against police brutality and calls to defund departments continue in New York City and elsewhere; demonstrations against Bellevue’s arrest cropped up in Queens Sunday night. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — who died after an officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, sparking nationwide demonstrations — other cities have also banned chokeholds, including Minneapolis, where Floyd died. The bans are already having an impact. Two Indiana police officers were recently placed on administrative leave for using a chokehold during the course of an arrest just days after their city banned neck restraints.
In the New York case on Sunday, police were initially responding to a report just before 9 a.m. that a man was yelling and screaming around the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach in Queens, according to the New York Times.
Once police arrived, Bellevue and two other men taunted the officers and filmed them for several minutes, according to body camera footage released by the New York City Police Department Sunday. They repeatedly referenced an earlier incident that upset them, but wasn’t shown on any of the body-camera footage. The officers mostly stood by and laughed at the three men, with one commenting, “Oh man, this is fun.”
Then, Bellevue stepped closer to one officer and asked, “You scared?” Bellevue was apparently holding a small bag that officers worried he’d throw, anonymous law enforcement sources told WNBC, New York City’s NBC affiliate. Four officers quickly took him to the ground.
“Yo, stop choking him, bro,” one bystander shouted in protest.
In the video taken by one of the bystanders, Afanador appeared to press his forearm into Bellevue’s neck until he grew unconscious. Another officer then tapped Afanador on the back in an apparent move to get him to let go; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio later praised that action on Twitter as “exactly the right thing.”
“He’s out, he’s out,” the bystander who filmed the video can be heard telling the officers, before he was told to back up. He zoomed in on the officer’s badge number and ID. “Yeah, fuck you, fuck you, Alfredo.”
Once Bellevue regained consciousness, he was taken into custody on suspicion of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration, and his attorney noted he had a bloody scalp and swollen wrists, according to the New York Times.
Bellevue was minorly injured in the incident and taken to the hospital, according to WNBC. He can be heard telling officers in the body camera footage that he’s asthmatic and bipolar, although he said later in the video that he wasn’t bipolar. He repeatedly asked for his twin brother, Ashley Bellevue, who later told the New York Times that his brother has been in a drug treatment program and had recently lost his job due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Twitter Sunday evening, as the video began to widely circulate.
“While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary,” Shea continued.
De Blasio commended the speed of Afanador’s suspension.
It’s unclear whether Afanador will be charged under either of the new anti-chokehold laws.
Sunday’s incident wasn’t Afanador’s first controversy. In 2014, he was charged with felony-level assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and official misconduct after video showed him and another officer beating and pistol-whipping a 16-year-old whom they arrested on marijuana charges. Afanador was later found not guilty.
Cover: In this photo taken from police body cam video, New York Police officers arrest a man on a boardwalk in the Rockaway section of Queens, Sunday, June 21, 2020, in New York. (NYPD via AP)