There’s growing fury at what critics call a lack of accountability in the NYPD after Commissioner Dermot Shea said he wouldn’t bench the cop who punched a homeless man in the face on a Manhattan subway.
“It’s a disgrace and it speaks to why people are marching in the streets,” said City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Donovan Richards. “The lack of discipline in this situation clearly sends a message that it’s okay to pummel a homeless man on a train and still keep your job and paycheck.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said he was “troubled” by behavior from “all sides,” casting blame on both the beaten man, known as Joseph T., and Officer Adonis Long. Shea said at the same news conference that he did not expect the cop to be taken off the streets because of the incident, which was captured by police body-camera video and is under investigation.
The city’s top cop said the violent encounter was being reviewed to see “what can we learn” and whether “additional training” is in order — a response Richards rejected.
“There’s no training that could fix that behavior,” he said. “This was an abuse of power.
Shea in Hotseat
A handful of City Council members are seeking Shea’s ouster over his handling of the May 25 arrest and a spate of other incidents in a protest-filled summer marked by conflict between citizens and police.
Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn), who had previously called for Shea to resign, said the lack of consequences for city police officers undermines the legitimacy of the department and hurts public safety.
“Right now we need somebody who will make accountability a high priority, and Shea has demonstrated that he is not willing to do that,” Levin told THE CITY Friday. “Both Shea and de Blasio don’t see police accountability as a priority.”
On Wednesday, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) tweeted that “the police commissioner should resign or be fired by the mayor.”
The Police Commissioner should resign or be fired by the @NYCMayor. I can’t believe we live in a City where an officer punches a homeless person in the face multiple times - on video no less - and the Mayor and Commissioner essentially shrug. https://t.co/UVSsqev8on— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) July 22, 2020
After weeks of protests against police brutality — and the mayor’s insistence that he takes the message seriously — the de Blasio administration’s response to the violent arrest has only heightened a feeling of NYPD impunity, some said.
Councilmember Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), whose district encompasses the 51st Street and Lexington Avenue 6-train station where Joseph’s arrest took place, hasn’t called for Shea’s ouster. But he expressed disappointment with de Blasio’s reaction.
“The mayor’s response to this incident has been troubling and fails to recognize the need for changing daily interactions that impact people’s lives,” he told THE CITY. “That starts with disciplining officers that engage in bad behavior.”
The incident unfolded after midnight on May 25 when cops ordered Joseph of a No. 6 train for allegedly taking up more than one seat in a near-empty car.
The 30-year-old, who was riding the subway after leaving a Manhattan homeless shelter with his belongings in a few tote bags, went to the next car and refused to leave. When Long tried to grab him, he pushed the cop’s hand away.
Long then punched Joseph twice, dragged him off the train and threw his belongings onto the platform.
“I am having trauma from it,” Joseph told THE CITY in a July 11 interview. “Nobody deserves to be treated like that.”
‘We Deserve Respect’
Joseph, who allegedly kicked Long’s hand at some point on the platform, was initially charged with felony assault, which is punishable by seven years in prison, and resisting arrest.
After THE CITY broke news of the case, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. nixed the felony rap, but not the resisting arrest charge.
Protesters enraged by the remaining charge gathered Friday morning outside Vance’s Harlem office to demand it be dropped and call for the officer’s punishment.
“We just saw on video the police attacked a person facing homelessness on the train,” Jawanza James Williams, an organizer with the nonprofit VOCAL-NY, told the crowd. “It was perhaps one of the most graphic and violent assaults I’ve seen this year. Which for 2020, is saying something.”
“The officers need to be fired and put in jail — they need to make a lesson out of them,” said Tony Harris, 50, a retied social worker who works with VOCAL.
Felix Guzman, who identified himself as a formerly homeless and incarcerated person, noted that the subway is often the only place transient New Yorkers feel somewhat safe.
“Where are all those people supposed to go?” he asked the crowd of more than 20 people who braved the pouring rain that had only ended about 10 minutes earlier. “The DA allowed police to brutalize this brother because of a failed ‘attitude’ test.”
“Just because we are homeless does not mean we deserve to be treated this way,” Celina Trowell of VOCAL-NY told protesters. “We have dignity and deserve respect.”
‘It’s Not Surprising’
Joseph’s attorney said Vance should drop the resisting arrest charge “so our client can get on with his life,” and criticized Shea’s response.
“NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea’s refusal to discipline the officers who brutally assaulted our client should alarm all New Yorkers,” said Edda Ness, a staff attorney with the Manhattan Trial Office at The Legal Aid Society. “But it’s not surprising, as Shea is the same commissioner who commended his own officers for exercising ‘incredible restraint’ during the George Floyd demonstration despite a tidal wave of first-hand accounts, social media posts, videos, and news reports showing the exact opposite.”
Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams said the NYPD should release any evidence that would support its decision to keep Long on the beat.
“What most of us saw wasn’t really explainable,” he said. “What I saw was appalling, it was very hard to watch.
“You cannot say because he didn’t follow an order, you start wailing on the guy.”