New York Times
October 24, 2012

Man Beaten by Police at Jewish Youth Center Describes Encounter


The memory of being rousted from sleep and beaten by two officers in a Jewish youth center in Brooklyn remains somewhat cloudy for Ehud Halevy, even though the interaction, recorded by a surveillance camera, has been seen numerous times on television and the Internet.

But Mr. Halevy said he certainly remembered the fright he felt after his arrest, when he learned of the charges against him.

“That’s when I got scared,” Mr. Halevy, 21, said Wednesday, explaining how his lawyer told him he was being charged with felonious assault of a police officer, a crime that can carry a seven-year sentence.

“I was sort of shocked, surprised,” added Mr. Halevy, speaking publicly for the first time since his encounter with the police on Oct. 8. He said he briefly worried that he “accidentally did hit the cop.”

“But then I thought for five seconds, and I thought it’s not true,” he said. “It’s a lie.”

That was the moment, Mr. Halevy said, that his thoughts turned to the security camera in the room of the Jewish youth center in Crown Heights where he had been staying for the previous month, after a falling out with his parents over questions of religious observance. “Maybe the camera could help,” Mr. Halevy recalled telling his lawyer.

On Wednesday, an assistant district attorney, Jeanne Robitaille, told a judge that her office had decided to dismiss the charges against Mr. Halevy because they could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Ms. Robitaille said that determination was reached after an investigation that included a review of the video from the security camera.

The footage shows Mr. Halevy, shirtless, rising from the couch, where he was wrapped in a white bedsheet, as two officers stand over him inside the youth center, the Alternative Learning Institute for Young Adults.

A rabbi who works at the center has said that Mr. Halevy, a child of Israeli immigrants who grew up in Midwood, Brooklyn, had permission to sleep there. But on the night in question, a volunteer at the center called the police after Mr. Halevy ignored efforts to make him leave.

Mr. Halevy said he did not anticipate physical violence, adding that he assumed the officers would call the rabbi “and find out I do have a right to be there.”

The video shows Mr. Halevy pulling his arm away from the female officer, Yelena Bruzzese, as he shuffles around the room trying to keep his arms out of reach of efforts to handcuff him.

At one point, he yanks his arm away from Officer Luis A. Vega, appearing to push the officer as he breaks free. At that point, Officer Vega adopts a boxer’s stance and begins punching Mr. Halevy in the head and body. Officer Bruzzese batters Mr. Halevy with a baton. The blows last for more than two minutes.

In two interviews, Mr. Halevy offered new details about his encounter with the officers.

“He told me to leave,” Mr. Halevy said of Officer Vega. “I told him I had a right and permission to stay where I am. He wouldn’t listen. I swore at him. He tried handcuffing me. I pulled my hand away, and then he started beating me up.”

But Mr. Halevy, who said he has watched the video several times, was circumspect when asked about the beating, characterizing the officers’ actions as “irresponsible and not ethical.”

He would not say what he thought might be a fitting punishment for their actions.

Mr. Halevy acknowledged that he could not remember everything that transpired. After his court hearing, he spoke to several reporters at his first news conference, accompanied by three lawyers: Norman Siegel, Herbert Teitelbaum and Earl Ward. Bearded, Mr. Halevy spoke cautiously, limiting many answers to one word and emphasizing the limits of his memory.

“I was just woken up, I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and it did happen very quickly,” he explained.

He added that he was pepper-sprayed at one point and that his eyes were closed during much of the episode.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said that if a suspect refused to be handcuffed, an officer “must use force to gain compliance and handcuff the offender.”

“In this case, it is clear from the video that when the officer attempted to take the subject’s arm, the culprit resisted by twisting and turning away,” Mr. Lynch continued. “Using force always looks severe but is necessary to arrest a culprit who resists.”

Officer Vega has been placed on modified duty. Prosecutors in Brooklyn, the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau and the Civilian Complaint Review Board have opened investigations into both officers’ conduct.