The city is investigating an incident in which Jermaine Clark, a retired NYPD detective working as a fire guard at a migrant shelter in Brooklyn, held what appears to be a gun at men staying there following a brawl between residents.
The incident happened after a fight broke out outside Monday night between African and South American residents at the Hall Street respite center, a converted commercial space with shower trucks parked out front where several hundred men have been staying since July.
Several residents said the fight, which allegedly started over a dispute about a bike outside the shelter, had fizzled out by the time Clark emerged from the Hall Street shelter and took out what looked like a pistol, holding it by his side, as migrants scampered for cover.
“Everyone started to back up because he took out a gun,” said Angel Galindo, 22 in Spanish. “We thought he was going to kill us.”
A video obtained by THE CITY shows a shelter staffer trying to separate Clark from another man who seems to be yelling and pointing at him.
Clark then retreats backwards with the weapon in hand as migrants walk toward him with their phones out. He then jumps over an orange plastic traffic barrier, before going inside the shelter entrance, video obtained by THE CITY shows.
A separate video also obtained by THE CITY shows Clark backing toward the shelter while an onlooker shouts, “he wants to kill migrants,” in Spanish.
“He didn’t have to take out the gun, the problem had already cooled down,” said shelter resident Jesus Mendoza, 26, who witnessed the chaotic scene.
Police, called to the scene at around 8:45 p.m, arrested 41-year-old Jose Alvarado, the man who had the gun waved at him, according to eyewitnesses and video of the incident.
“Why are they taking me away if he was the one who was going to shoot me?” shouted Alvarado in Spanish, while being handcuffed, a video of his arrest shows. Alvarado was charged with inciting a riot and menacing, court records show.
Aries Dela Cruz, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management which oversees the Hall Street shelter, said they were investigating the incident.
“If confirmed, this behavior is unacceptable and violates our expectations set out for respite site contractors,” he said. “The safety of all New Yorkers – including asylum seekers – is our top priority and we’re working closely with the contractor to review this matter carefully. We will take all appropriate action based on the findings of the investigation.”
OEM didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question about where those expectations are set out.
‘It’s Injustice and It Bothers Me’
Prosecutors charging Alvarado said Clark told officials he’d been trying to break up a fight between residents when Alvarado, a former resident of the shelter, swung a construction cone at him.
City payroll records show that Clark recently retired as a NYPD detective working most recently in the 88th Precinct, which includes the site of the Hall Street shelter.
No one was injured, according to the police report and the criminal complaint against Alvarado—neither of which mentions Clark’s gun.
Clark didn’t immediately return a request for comment. In a 2017 lawsuit, Clark was accused of tackling a mother who’d come to talk to her arrested son inside an East Harlem precinct, a suit the city later settled for $26,000 Law Department records show.
Reached after his release from jail under the BQE, where he’s currently sleeping in a car, Alvarado, who previously spent about a month in the Hall Street shelter, said he was stunned when the guard took out a gun Monday night.
He denied swinging a traffic cone at the man and said he’d had no idea the man worked for security when he’d first taken the gun out.
“I never touched him. He never identified himself. He was screaming at me,” Alvarado said in Spanish. “It’s an injustice and it bothers me.”
While police had Alvarado in handcuffs, an officer rammed him in the stomach multiple times with a baton, he said. A video of his arrest showed an officer in a white shirt approaching him with a baton out, though the video is partially obstructed by officers in the foreground.
“It still hurt where he hit me but the police told me that if I went to the hospital it was a longer process, that would take 20 days,” he said. “When I was in the precinct, I said no one touched me.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Alvarado’s arrest.
‘I Feel Safer in the Car’
The site is overseen by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and run by the company Medrite, a privately held company that previously provided medical services to the city related to Covid and Monkeypox, and now has a $304 emergency million contract to provide services to migrants.
Arrow Security, which has a $140 million contract to handle security in migrants shelters, is on site at the Hall Street shelter, while Mulligan Security, the company Clark works for, provides the site’s fire guards, who are required to be stationed in shelters at all times.
Neither security company returned a request for comment immediately.
Chafing among migrants from different regions is a common complaint at crowded shelters across the city where strangers’ cots are pressed up against each other. Across more than 200 emergency shelters fanned out across the city, tensions have also flared between residents and staff.
An array of issues have emerged from the Hall Street shelter in recent weeks, and a group of men who complained about safety and cleanliness at the shelter were kicked out and took up residence under the BQE nearby, Gothamist reported in July, though most of those men have since moved on.
Alvarado said he moved out of the Hall Street shelter and began sleeping under the BQE about a month ago, tired of constant fights and petty theft. A resident of the neighborhood took pity on him and is now letting him sleep in his car, he said.
“I feel safer in the car,” he said. “There are no cameras in there, nothing.”
Yorby, 22, the man’s friend, said he was sleeping under BQE after being kicked out of the shelter after he was attacked and then defended himself in Monday night’s brawl. He hadn’t been able to recollect his things from inside the shelter, he told THE CITY on Tuesday.
“The head of the shelter got what he wanted: to run us out of the shelter and humiliate us,” Yorby, who declined to give his last name, said in Spanish.
Even many of the men who remained indoors said they expected that their days at Hall Street were numbered, and that Monday’s incident had reinforced their understanding they weren’t welcome at the shelter or in New York City more broadly. Many said they had received 60-day notices to vacate the shelter, and were uncertain where they might end up.
“They made me sign that I had to leave by Saturday,” Galindo said. “I’m getting out of here. I don’t know where but anywhere but New York.”