A New York City police officer has been suspended after apparently using a chokehold during an arrest in Rockaway, Queens. NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said the department is investigating the incident, which happened Sunday.
Cellphone video shot by a bystander shows several police struggling to subdue a Black man, including one officer who had his arm around the man's neck. One bystander shouts, "Stop choking him!"
Police body-cam footage, which Shea said was released in a spirit of transparency, shows a group of police watching three men on a boardwalk who are shouting invective and slurs at passersby and the police. After more than ten minutes, one of the men picks up a plastic bag and gets closer to the police, asking, "Are you scared?" The officers then tackle him, and one officer appears to use a chokehold.
A voice is heard saying, "He's out," before the officers move off the man, who moments later walks away in handcuffs with police. The man, who has been identified by his lawyer as 35-year old Ricky Bellevue, told the police he has bipolar disorder. The NYPD said Bellevue was taken to a hospital where he was in good condition.
"The officer involved here used a chokehold to strangle my client until he was unconscious," said Lori Zeno, with the nonprofit Queens Defenders. "This officer needs to be fired and prosecuted. He is the one who committed a crime in this circumstance."
Chokeholds have been banned in New York City since 1993 but police have rarely been punished for using them. A new state law making it a felony was signed this month and named for Eric Garner. Garner was a Black man from Staten Island who died in 2014 after a New York City cop put him in a chokehold.
The incident in Queens happened a day before commissioner Shea was scheduled to appear at hearings held by New York State Attorney General Letitia James on interactions between police and protesters during recent demonstrations.
At the hearing, Shea largely defended his department against allegations of excess force during the protests – where police were caught on video corralling peaceful protesters between large groups of officers and hitting them with batons, pushing them down and spraying them with pepper spray.
Shea claimed the number of incidents was small considering weeks of daily protests involving millions of interactions. When James asked him why chokeholds continue, mentioning the arrest in Queens, Shea said for most of the encounter, his police had acted with extreme restraint.
"At the end of that story an officer put his hand around a person's neck," said Shea, who said the officer, "was dealt swiftly with, was suspended. And we will continue to take that seriously and continue to emphasize it in training."