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The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said it will dismiss the felony assault charge it filed against a homeless man who was arrested and punched by a police officer after occupying more than one seat on the subway one day in May.
New York City police officers had attacked the man, identified only as “Joseph,” while attempting to kick him off the train, according to the Legal Aid Society, which is representing him. Officers first approached Joseph for the minor seat offense, which can be a frequent cause of arrest for people who are exhausted or homeless, and the situation soon escalated to violence. Partial body-camera footage from the encounter, which was first reported by The City Tuesday, shows one officer hitting Joseph repeatedly after he refused to get off the train.
The officer who struck him, Adonis Long, also alleged that Joseph kicked his hand in the course of being detained. Long sought medical attention for “sustained swelling and substantial pain to the knuckles,” according to court documents.
Officers had initially arrested Joseph for resisting arrest, obstruction of government administration, and a violation of local law, since he was using extra subway seats, according to a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department.
But Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office upgraded those charges to include second-degree felony assault “because the arresting officer reported an injury requiring medical attention subsequent to the arrest,” according to a spokesperson for his office.
Now, after reviewing the dramatic body-camera footage Tuesday night, Vance has decided to drop that felony assault charge.
Additionally, the office will offer Joseph an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” on the remaining charge of resisting arrest, which means his case may be dismissed and sealed if he accepts that offer and isn’t re-arrested for six months.
“As we have previously stated, our office is continuing to review all aspects of this encounter, including any potential police misconduct,” said Caitlyn Fowles, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “Our office has charged dozens of uniformed officers for official misconduct and violence since 2010, and will continue to do so in any case where such charges are supported by the facts and the law."
The Legal Aid Society, which released nearly five minutes of body-cam footage Wednesday, said what Vance is offering isn’t good enough. Attorneys there think all charges should be dropped and that the two officers involved — Long and Shimul Saha — should be fired.
"Up until yesterday, the DA's office fully intended to prosecute this case as a felony,” said Edda Ness, staff attorney with the Manhattan trial office at the Legal Aid Society, in a statement. “It's shameful that it takes a bad headline for Vance and his ADAs to finally do right by our vulnerable clients.”
In an earlier statement, Ness had called the incident a “brutal attack.”
“These officers singled out our client for taking up two seats on a virtually empty subway car and then resorted to violence as their first impulse,” he said.
A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department, Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, said the department is aware of the use-of-force incident and that it’s under review. O’Donnell added that Joseph, who had three active warrants, was asked to “leave the train several times” and “resisted arrest and attempted to flee the location.”
Body-camera footage from May 25 shows that Joseph was sitting inside a subway car in Manhattan, on his way back to Brooklyn, when Long and Saha approached and told him he was holding up the train. One of the officers asked him to get out of the car, or be dragged. Joseph remained seated.
Long asked, again, that Joseph step off the train and appeared to reach for Joseph’s shoulder, according to body-camera footage.
Joseph swatted Long’s hand away, saying he didn’t want to be touched. The officer, who works in the NYPD’s transit division, then grabbed onto Joseph’s coat and said, “Let’s go.” Joseph shouted at Long to get off of him, and Long punched him in the face and chest. Joseph was dragged off the train, and one officer threatened to mace him.
Joseph sobbed, said he was having a panic attack and that he couldn’t breathe, and pleaded with the officers to stop. He appeared to be bleeding from the mouth. Officers told him to relax as he was surrounded and pinned to the ground. Later in the body-camera footage, they’re seen rifling through his belongings, which are scattered across the subway platform.
Joseph left the subway platform on a stretcher.
Cover: Screenshot via NYPD body-camera footage released by the Legal Aid Society