clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cops Tased Unarmed Queens Man Seven Times Before He Died, Video Shows

George Zapantis’ mother set up a memorial in her Whitestone, Queens home after her 29-year-old son died on June 21 after being tased multiple times by NYPD officers.
George Zapantis’ mother set up a memorial in her Whitestone, Queens, home after her 29-year-old son died following a confrontation with police.
Yaov Gonen/THE CITY

A Queens man who died after a Father’s Day confrontation with police in his doorway was unarmed — and was Tased seven times, newly released body camera footage shows.

The roughly two-and-a-half hours of video posted online by the NYPD Tuesday also captures George Zapantis’ cries that he couldn’t breathe throughout the nearly five-minute struggle at his Whitestone home.

Near the beginning of the June 21 clash, Zapantis, a hefty 29-year-old security guard with a history of mental illness, shouts that an officer who can be seen pulling his tank top from behind was choking him.

Later, a mass of bodies largely blocked the view as police brought Zapantis to the ground — and as his screams turned to squeals and then silence.

“Does he have a pulse?” one cop asked.

Zapantis was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The results of an autopsy are pending, according to city officials.

George Vomvolakis, an attorney for the Zapantis family, called the release of the footage “an opportunity for the public to see with their own eyes the excessive force.”

“It doesn’t take a trained professional to realize that six people on top of somebody and Tasering them repeatedly could potentially kill them,” he said.

Under Investigation

Sgt. Carlos Nieves, an NYPD spokesperson, says during an introduction to the footage from the body-worn cameras of nine officers that the incident is still under investigation by the department’s Force Investigation Division.

“We do not draw any conclusions about whether an officer’s actions were consistent with department policy and the law until all the facts are known,” Nieves said in the video.

He identified three officers who fired their Tasers a collective six times that evening as Philip Salamone, James Walczyk and Brian Willabus.

Nieves said a fourth officer, Eric Dieumegard, fired a colleague’s Taser in “drive stun” mode — a setting intended to immobilize someone by causing pain.

Taser wires Zapantis found near the font door after the police-involved death of her son, George Zapantis, July 10, 2020.
Taser wires found after the death of George Zapantis
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Police arrived at the 150th Street home that Zapantis shared with his mother and sister in response to a 911 call from a passerby about an altercation between Zapantis and his upstairs neighbors.

The neighbors told police that Zapantis had approached their 25-year-old son while carrying a sword. They later told THE CITY that they informed cops Zapantis was mentally ill and urged them to wait until his mother returned from work before approaching him.

After cops repeatedly knocked, Zapantis appeared through the glass panes of the shuttered door wearing a gladiator outfit, according to Nieves — including a shield and a “sword attached to his left waist.”

The video also shows Zapantis wearing a Spartan helmet, which his family has said came from his mom’s native Greece.

Nieves said that Zapantis later reappeared in the doorway “without his sword and helmet” — moments before he suddenly charged police while banging and breaking the plastic insert of the screen door separating them. “I’ll f—k you up!” he shouted.

But the video confirms that Zapantis made clear to officers he was unarmed before he pushed through the door and they fired the first jolt of electric wires at him.

‘Take it Down’

One officer asked Zapantis to turn around to prove he had ditched the sword — which he does, the video shows — confirming descriptions of the footage provided to THE CITY last month by Vomvolakis and a cousin of Zapantis.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, however, NYPD officials had contended that cops Tased Zapantis after he “began to engage the officers and approach them with sword in hand.”

Athanasia Zapantis stands at her front door where her son George was tased multiple times by NYPD officers, July 10, 2020.
Athanasia Zapantis stands at the door where her son, George, was Tased multiple times by NYPD officers.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

NYPD officials didn’t respond to questions Tuesday about how the prior statement squares with the video, which doesn’t show Zapantis holding the sword at any point.

The video does capture one officer asking Zapantis, “Whatever you have on you, take it down,” moments before he reappears at the doorway unarmed.

The office of State Attorney General Letitia James, which has jurisdiction in cases where police kill civilians believed to be unarmed, has an ongoing criminal investigation of the NYPD’s response, a spokesperson for the office said Tuesday.

‘He’s Breathing, Right?’

The body-cam footage shows officers called for a supervisor and an Emergency Service Unit to respond to the scene after they first caught sight of Zapantis in his gladiator outfit.

ESU officers are trained in how to handle situations that involve what police refer to as emotionally disturbed persons, or EDPs. At least 16 people with mental health challenges have died at the hands of police in New York City since 2015, spurring calls to send mental health professionals to such emergency calls.

Less than four minutes after that call for ESU help, an unarmed Zapantis told police, “This is my house. I have a right to protect myself.”

“Look at your waist, bro,” he said angrily to one cop, apparently referring to the officer’s gun belt.

Then Zapantis barged through the screen door — and was Tased for the first time.

Roughly four minutes into the physical altercation — during which officers repeatedly shouted at Zapantis to stop struggling and to put his hands behind his back — officers began to question whether he was doing OK after being tased seven times.

A neighbor captured video of George Zapantis being tased multiple times by NYPD officers outside his Whitestone, Queens home.
A neighbor captured video of George Zapantis being Tased multiple times by NYPD officers outside his Whitestone, Queens home.
Courtesy of Shakira Noble

One officer got Zapantis’ name wrong in asking, “David, you alright?”

The video doesn’t capture any audible response.

“Roll him on his side,” an officer says.

“Let me cuff first,” another answers.

“Get EMS,” a voice is heard shouting in the direction of the front yard, referring to medical personnel. “Hurry hurry hurry.”

“Does he have a pulse?” one officer asks.

Two officers say, “Yeah.” Another cop says, “I think so.”

“He’s breathing, right?” somebody asks.

“We don’t know if he’s responsive now,” an officer near the front yard says.

SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS. SUPPORT NEW YORK.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York. Please consider joining us as a member today.

GOT A TIP?

We’re here to listen. Email tips@thecity.nyc or visit our tips page for other ways to share.

Sign up for the newsletter Get THE CITY Scoop

Sign up and get the latest stories from THE CITY delivered to you each morning