An NYPD officer has been placed on modified duty following an ugly confrontation on Saturday afternoon when an attempt to enforce social distancing rules escalated on Avenue D at Ninth Street.
A passerby shot a now-viral video of the encounter. Gothamist spoke with him:
Witness Daquan Owens, who took the video below, said the incident started after plainclothes officers approached a man and a woman talking outside a deli around 5:30 p.m. and ordered them to separate. But Owens says the two people were maintaining a six foot distance in accordance with rules intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"They were social distancing," Owens said in a telephone interview on Sunday. "The girl was standing by the phone booth, the guy was sitting on a milk crate. When the cops pulled up she said he’s not doing anything. They grabbed her and started tussling with her. Then the guy on the milk crate got mad and started yelling at police."
Here's a narrative of the video below:
Owens's video begins as several plainclothes officers attempt to handcuff two people outside the deli at the northeast corner of Avenue D and East 9th Street. At roughly the 35 second mark of the video, one of the officers turns and advances on bystander Donni Wright, 33, pointing a taser at him. Owens says the officer called Wright the n-word, which can be heard at the 37 second mark, and Wright can be heard asking the officer if he used the racial epithet.
"Move the fuck back right now," the officer shouts. "Don’t flex."
Also in circulation: Security footage showing the start of the incident...
According to the Times:
The police said that one man, Shakiem Brunson, was holding a bag of marijuana and became aggressive toward the officers, who moved to arrest him. While he was being handcuffed, a woman, Ashley Serrano, tried to intervene, the police said, and was also arrested.
Donni Wright, a groundskeeper for the NYCHA these past 10 years, was also arrested, and charged with assaulting a police officer.
[Donni Wright, pictured on the street]
The Times identified the officer in the Yankees cap as Francis X. Garcia, who is now on modified duty pending an internal investigation.
The city has paid out at least $182,500 to settle lawsuits involving Garcia, an eight-year veteran who works in the Housing Bureau, the Times uncovered.
As NBC 4 pointed out, the incident "has caught the attention of activists and New York City leaders who have demanded the city enact fair and uniform enforcement of social distancing across all communities."
Local City Councilmember Carlina Rivera is demanding an investigation into the use of excessive force.
Meanwhile, David Rankin, a civil rights lawyer representing Wright, told the Times that "the arrest fit within the police department’s long history of violating people’s rights to observe an arrest and called on the officer to be investigated 'fully, quickly, and thoroughly.'"
I’ve contacted NYPD. We have demanded an investigation for excessive force. Regardless of what transpired before the video, what is the justification for the rage? Where's the professionalism and de-escalation tactics we should expect? We will hold these officers accountable. https://t.co/C7js7wl62D— Carlina Rivera 利華娜 (@CarlinaRivera) May 3, 2020
"The idea that he is doing this without any gloves and no masks, and using profanity and racially charged language, is just completely unacceptable," he said.