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Candy bag in hand, Anthony Ellis, 15, and his buddies planned to meet their friends and trick-or-treat after arriving by subway at the Bergen Street station in Cobble Hill Halloween night.
Instead, near Cobble Hill Cinemas on Court Street at around 8:30 p.m., the group of about 15 kids was swarmed by uniformed and undercover cops who sprang from squad cars and eventually pulled out their guns, multiple witnesses told THE CITY.
Terrified, the group scattered on foot. At least four were caught. Three boys — ages 12, 14 and 15 and all black — were handcuffed, questioned about a stolen cellphone and held past midnight at the 76th Precinct before being released, the sources said.
“I was scared because I had never been arrested before,” Anthony, of Red Hook, said in an interview Friday, after his mother handed her phone to him to speak with THE CITY. He added that his back and right wrist continued to hurt from injuries sustained that night.
The Halloween incident comes against the backdrop of mass demonstrations that erupted in Brooklyn the previous week, protesting police brutality and racial profiling, following a viral video of police fighting teens at the Jay Street-Metrotech subway station, one stop away from Bergen Street.
MTA police and the NYPD have recently increased their presence underground to curb, among other things, fare evasion.
At the scene, a black car going against traffic on one-way Court Street, emergency lights flashing, appeared to hit at least one boy who wasn’t detained, according to Modibo Ballo, 14, and another witness, neighborhood resident Sara Pekow.
“He didn’t go to the hospital,” Modibo said. “He got up and ran. His leg is still messed up, though.”
Anthony’s mother, Tiffany Aloyo, said cops never called her or other parents to tell them their sons were in custody. She added that even though the boys vary widely in height and weight, police later told her that they matched “the description” of a suspect wanted for allegedly stealing a cellphone.
“They said they fit the description,” she said. “But what was the description? Who was y’all looking for? The kids that y’all arrested — they don’t even look anything alike!”
NYPD Detective Annette Shelton said police received a report around 8 p.m. from a 15-year-old, who said he had been punched and kicked by a group of teens and had his phone stolen in nearby Carroll Park.
When police spotted and approached a group of teens in the vicinity, the group allegedly ditched a knife and a wooden baseball bat as well as backpacks, which were later recovered by the police, Shelton said.
The three boys were charged as juveniles with “obstructing governmental administration,” a misdemeanor, following the Halloween night incident.
Shelton added that “family notifications were made.”
Released After Midnight
Sanford Rubenstein, an attorney who’s representing four teens involved in the earlier subway brawl, said that parents are supposed to be contacted as soon as a juvenile is taken into NYPD custody.
“That is not happening,” he said. “We see this here and in other cases. It is unacceptable. Procedures must be put in place to ensure that parents are notified when children are taken into custody.”
While the boys were handcuffed and being placed into the back seats of separate police cars,
Anthony shouted his mother’s phone number. Modibo said he heard the number and used it to call Aloyo to tell her officers from the 76th Precinct had taken her son into custody.
Aloyo and the two other boys’ parents waited more than three hours at the Union Street precinct house, without being allowed to see their children. The boys were finally released after midnight, but Aloyo said that during the wait officers wouldn’t answer the parents’ basic questions.
“They were all being very rude,” Aloyo said. “They just kept walking back and forth, smiling, laughing. Y’all feel like you did a great job because y’all arrested three innocent kids?”
Inside the precinct, Anthony said police repeatedly asked the boys if they had cellphones — and that one had an iPhone in his pocket. Officers kept prodding that boy about the device.
“Are you sure it’s your phone?” Anthony recalled cops asking the boy. “Can you unlock it?”
The boy refused to unlock the phone for them, according to Anthony.
In the waiting area, the boy’s mother said her son wasn’t a troublemaker and has never been suspended from school. Her message was relayed to THE CITY by Eric Umansky, deputy managing editor at the investigative news nonprofit ProPublica, who waited there with the parents.
“Multiple people told me he was roughed up,” the mother said. “He’s the smallest one.”
Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group, called the cops’s actions “incredibly reckless.” (Griffith is also a board member of THE CITY.) He added the incident should be investigated and the cops reprimanded or even fired if warranted.
Griffith said that as a black New Yorker and father of two teenagers, this is the sort of policing that keeps parents up at night, worrying about their children, particularly their black children, and gets organizers like himself out on the street.
“It just goes to show you if three young black boys are going to be treated this way for a matter of a cellphone, God knows what will happen if anything more serious” occurs, he said.
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