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De Blasio Renders Split Decision on Video of Cop Punching Homeless Man on Subway

Joseph T., seated left, was injured after being hit and pepper sprayed by NYPD officers as they tried to remove him from a 6 train at 51st Street, May 25, 2020.
A cop was captured on video hitting a homeless man as officers tried to remove him from a No. 6 train at 51st Street, May 25, 2020.
Screengrab from video courtesy of The Legal Aid Society

After finally viewing a widely seen video of a cop punching a homeless man on a Manhattan subway, Mayor Bill de Blasio cast blame on both sides.

The mayor faulted the cop and the man he punched, Joseph T., for the violent late May arrest — arguing the 30-year-old should have followed NYPD orders to get off the No. 6 train.

“I don’t like anything I see in the video, because I don’t like the actions of any time when it seems to be an officer using too much force, that’s not what we believe in, we believe in de-escalation,” de Blasio told NY1’s Errol Louis Monday.

But, he said, “I don’t like any time I see someone refusing to follow an instruction by an officer that’s obviously a valid instruction.”

The mayor said the video showed that Joseph, who asked that his last name be withheld because he fears retaliation, struck at the officer.

In the video, first published July 14 by THE CITY, Joseph can be seen batting away the cop’s hand after the officer reaches out to grab him.

A Dispute Over a Seat

The incident unfolded around 12:30 a.m. on May 25, when a police officer approached Joseph on a near-empty subway car because, a cop said in a criminal complaint, the rider was taking up more than one seat.

Joseph, who had left a crowded Manhattan shelter after waiting for a bed, moved to the next car, and was followed by police.

In police body camera video obtained by Joseph’s defense lawyers, Officer Adonis Long can be seen socking him in the face twice, kicking his belongings off the train, wielding pepper spray and, at one point, apparently placing his hand around the homeless man’s neck.

Joseph, who spent much of the encounter against the subway wall and then on the floor of the 51st Street station, calls out for mercy at various points.

“I felt like my heart was going to fall out,” Joseph told THE CITY in an interview earlier this month.

Long was still on active duty as of Monday afternoon, according to the NYPD.

A ‘Colossal Failure’

The mayor blamed an investigation of the incident by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for “affecting our ability to be public” about the police’s internal review process.

Danny Frost, a spokesman for District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., said the prosecutors’ investigation does not impede any NYPD probe.

Police contended that Joseph injured Long’s hand by kicking him on the platform. Prosecutors initially charged Joseph with felony assault, but dropped that rap after Vance viewed the video following THE CITY’s story.

Vance’s office, which is still charging Joseph with resisting arrest, said last week that prosecutors are reviewing “all aspects of this encounter, including any potential police misconduct.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The Legal Aid Society, which represents Joseph, blasted the mayor’s response.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mishandling of this situation serves as a microcosm of his colossal failure on police reform issues, notably his refusal to hold officers who commit heinous acts of misconduct quickly accountable,” said Edda Ness, staff attorney The Legal Aid Society’s Manhattan Trial Office.

“It’s also mystifying how the mayor could entirely ignore this video, which dominated the news cycle for parts of last week and received millions of views across social media, for seven days,” she added.

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