A man pushed to the ground by a police officer because he was locked out of his apartment. A cop who punched someone in the face for riding his bike on the sidewalk, and another who pulled his gun on a man for filming him. These are a few of the horror stories contained within a new report on NYPD use of force.
Today, the NYPD Inspector General’s office—an independent agency tasked with investigating and auditing the NYPD’s operations—released a report on the department’s use of force between 2010 and 2014. Its conclusions, based on a study of 179 instances, are at times sadly unsurprising (black people are grossly overrepresented as the victims of excessive force); and other times more novel (newer officers tended to use force more readily than more experienced cops). Broadly, it suggests that the department’s policies on using violence are vague and often unenforced—a revelation NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton preempted this morning by announcing that he plans to quickly implement some of the reforms for which the inspector general advocates.
More persuasive than the statistics is a series of five vignettes that document particularly egregious cases of police force. The report frames these as instances in which cops failed to deescalate tense situations before they became violent; just as often, however, the officers are the instigators of the violence themselves. Several of the perpetrators were not punished even after investigations ruled against them.
The stories, sourced from complaints to the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board that were substantiated by evidence, are reproduced below.
The apartment lock-out
At approximately 2:40 a.m. in Manhattan, a 45‐year‐old male complainant walked out of his apartment to take out the trash and locked himself out of the building.
In the video footage of the encounter, the man can be seen speaking to two officers as he attempts to explain his predicament. The subject officer walks away toward the entrance of the apartment building as the complainant continues speaking with the second officer. The man is visibly frustrated by the situation and is waving his hands around as he speaks.
According to the CCRB investigative report, the subject officer stated that he smelled alcohol on the complainant’s breath and did not believe that he was a resident of the building. When the officers asked the man for identification, he replied that he did not have it. The man further stated that he had locked himself out of his apartment. The subject officer told the complainant that he could not enter the building and that he had to leave because he did not have identification. The subject officer told CCRB that he then asked the complainant to leave three times, and that each time the man responded that he lived in the building.
The video shows the complainant and the subject officer in a heated conversation when the subject officer begins yelling and pointing his finger in the man’s face. The subject officer then aggressively pushes the complainant to the ground. The subject officer walks over to the complainant while he is lying on the ground and continues to yell and point his finger at him.
The second officer failed to intervene when the subject officer initially lost his temper and stood several feet away with his hands in his pockets. The second officer remained passive and did nothing to intervene or take control of the situation, even once the complainant was on the ground and the subject officer continued to yell at him.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer and he ultimately received a Command Discipline.
At approximately 12:50 a.m. in Manhattan, a 15‐year‐old male complainant was walking on the sidewalk when he was approached by two officers.
In the audio recording of the encounter, the subject officer initially appears to be the only person speaking to the boy. Moments later, however, a second officer also engages the complainant. The boy protests having been stopped and mentions that the stop was his second in just two blocks.
According to the CCRB investigative report, the subject officer searched the complainant. When the boy objected that there was no cause for the stop, the subject officer asked him to stop using derogatory language and informed him that if he did not comply, he would be arrested.
The audio indicates that the complainant and the subject officer are engaged in a heated conversation during which the subject officer is taking exception to the boy protesting the rationale for the stop. Each time the complainant speaks, it appears to intensify the ensuing verbal responses of both officers. A scuffle ensues between the subject officer and the boy which results in the subject officer pushing him repeatedly.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer, but he ultimately received no discipline.
The bicycle punch-out
At approximately 9:00 p.m. in Queens, a 26‐year‐old male complainant was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk when he was approached by four officers.
In the video footage of the encounter, the subject officer initially appears to be the only person speaking to the complainant. The complainant is visibly angry, waving his hands about and moving around the sidewalk with the three other officers flanking him.
According to the CCRB investigative report, the subject officer had asked the man for identification. The complainant said he did not have it. The subject officer then asked him to provide his name, and when the man refused to do so, the subject officer informed him that he would be arrested if he did not comply.
The video shows the complainant and the subject officer in a heated conversation when the subject officer punches the man in the face four times. The subject officer then bends down and pulls out the complainant’s legs from beneath him, causing him to fall backwards onto the sidewalk. The subject officer then delivers another two punches to the man while he is on the ground.
Throughout the entire encounter, one of the four officers has been standing to the side observing the interaction. This officer does not intervene after the first, second, third, or fourth strike to the complainant’s face, and he does not even move. The officer stands passively, a few feet away, with his thumbs hooked in his belt. Only once the man is on the ground and has been struck a fifth and sixth time does that officer approach, place one hand on the subject officer’s back, and appear to intervene halfheartedly.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer. The other officers’ force allegations were exonerated by CCRB. At the time of the writing of this Report, no disciplinary decision has been reached in this case, despite the matter being in the NYPD disciplinary process for the past seven months.
The racist gunslinger
At approximately 11:00 p.m. in the Bronx, a male complainant was standing within a few feet of three officers and two other men, recording their interaction on his cell phone.
In the video footage of the encounter, the subject officer appears to be assisting two other officers in restraining two combative men in front of the entrance to a building.
According to the CCRB investigative report, the subject officer stopped the men because he suspected they were drinking alcohol in public. When the subject officer approached, he asked the men what they were doing and where they lived. The subject officer then asked them to provide identification, and when they refused to do so, the three officers began to place the men in handcuffs.
The video shows the complainant approaching the officers as they are attempting to place the two other men in handcuffs. The complainant is holding his cell phone with two hands in an attempt to record the interaction between the officers and the men. When the subject officer realizes that the complainant is standing nearby, the subject officer violently swings his right arm towards the complainant’s cell phone, then draws and points his firearm at the complainant and uses profanity and racial epithets while aggressively commanding the complainant to put away the phone.
CCRB substantiated the force allegation against the subject officer. No other force allegations were made against the other officers. Discipline was not imposed in this case because the statute of limitation expired before CCRB forwarded the case to NYPD for disciplinary disposition.
The off-duty cop
At approximately 10:30 p.m. in Queens, a male complainant was standing outside a shopping center with a second male complainant and another man when the first complainant interacted with an off‐duty officer who was entering the premises.
In the video footage of the encounter, the first complainant is seen standing outside the shopping center when the off‐duty subject officer approaches and appears to lightly shove his way through the path of the complainants and the other man. As the officer enters the shopping center, the first complainant can be seen standing outside making a hand gesture with his arms stretched out at his sides to reflect that he was upset by the subject officer’s shove. A clear exchange of words ensues between the first complainant and the subject officer. As the exchange continues, the subject officer can be seen turning around and walking back towards the door of the shopping center to confront the first complainant. While doing so, the subject officer lifts his shirt to reveal his shield and service weapon and unclips an object from the waistband of his shorts. When the subject officer approaches the first complainant, he pushes the first complainant with two hands, causing him to move several feet back. Additionally, the subject officer strikes the second complainant with the object in his right hand. The subject officer is then seen walking away from the men and re‐enters the shopping center.
According to the CCRB investigative report, the subject officer believed that the men standing in front of the shopping center appeared suspicious and were blocking the entrance. The subject officer denied pushing the first complainant and told CCRB that as he attempted to enter, the first complainant advanced in his direction. As a result, the subject officer stretched his arms out to keep him at a distance.
CCRB substantiated the two force allegations against the subject officer. At the time of the writing of this Report, no disciplinary decision has been reached in this case despite the matter being in the NYPD disciplinary process for the past 20 months.