Police Commissioner William J. Bratton last week expressed annoyance with four plainclothes officers in Brooklyn who handcuffed and arrested a black postal worker who yelled at them for almost hitting his truck with their unmarked car.
“On initial review of the video, I am not pleased with what I saw, the actions of our officers, but Internal Affairs will make a more complete report to me,” Mr. Bratton said in response to a question at a March 28 press conference.
He added that the officers were assigned to the 71st Precinct Conditions Unit, a squad that deals with chronic problems such as prostitution, gambling and public drinking, and should have been in uniform. Wearing plainclothes is “in direct violation of the Patrol Guide,” he said.
“I have strong concerns about the charge against the individual,” he added the following day.
The video of the confrontation can be viewed on YouTube at https://goo.gl/lM8uXf.
Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch commented, “Videotaping police encounters usually results in a rush to judgment by people who have no first-hand information about what transpired. Everyone, including the Police Commissioner, should withhold public comment until all the facts are in.”
Recalls Body-Slam Case
His statement was similar to one he made last September after Officer James Frascatore was videotaped tackling retired tennis star, James Blake, on a sidewalk by Grand Central Station after a witness mistakenly identified him as being involved in a credit-card fraud. Mr. Blake, who is black and was unarmed, was not part of the scheme.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a retired NYPD Captain, held his own press conference March 22 with the postal worker, Glen Grays, 27, who was delivering mail on President St. in Crown Heights when the incident occurred.
“An innocent man was placed in handcuffs and put inside a jail in our community merely for voicing his concern about almost being hit by a car,” Mr. Adams said. “...This could have been another Eric Garner situation if Glen had not responded as calmly as he did.”
Mr. Garner died of a heart attack in July 2014 after he refused to be arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. An officer threw his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck to bring him to the ground so he could be handcuffed. A bystander’s cell-phone video captured him repeating, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
Just Doing His Job
Mr. Grays “was carrying out his normal duties as an employee of the United States Postal Service,” Mr. Adams said. “At the time he’s exiting his truck, a vehicle passed by him, almost striking him. He made comments to the vehicle as any New Yorker would do.
“The vehicle stopped, backed up, while he was crossing the street delivering a package. They followed him across the street, and that’s where the video picks up.”
The video showed three officers, one white and two others white or Latino, backing Mr. Grays against a door and handcuffing him as a fourth, older man, stood a few feet away watching. They put him in their car, still holding the package he was delivering.
The officers had asked Mr. Grays for identification and he told them it was in his truck. They repeatedly told him to “stop resisting,” although no resistance was apparent in the video. Resisting arrest can justify the use of force or a separate charge.
‘Why Are You Doing This?’
Bystanders were heard yelling, “Why are you doing this to him?” and “Yo, yo, yo, you can’t do that to the public.”
“As you can see, the mail truck was left at the scene unsecured,” Mr. Adams said. “Glen was arrested, brought to the precinct. He was subsequently issued a summons in hope of sweeping this under the rug.”
He said Mr. Grays was injured in the police car. “While driving to the precinct in this heightened state of anxiety, they struck the rear of a vehicle while refusing to buckle him in,” Mr. Adams said. Mr. Grays told CBS News that he banged his shoulder into the driver’s seat and his face into the headrest.
“...When community activists go to the precinct to speak with the commander, they’re treated in a disrespectful and discourteous manner,” the Borough President said.
PBA: No Right to Resist
Mr. Lynch’s statement continued, “No one ever has the right to resist arrest. Regardless of how one feels about being stopped, once told that they are being placed under arrest, they must comply with the officer’s orders. If you try, in any way, to prevent the officer from placing handcuffs on you, then you are resisting arrest and can be charged with that crime. Compliance is not optional.”
Asked whether the PBA had concluded that Mr. Grays was indeed resisting the officers, a PBA spokesman replied in an e-mail, “Have to wait for all the facts to be in.”
Mr. Grays said, “The only thing I think saved me is that it was on videotape…I’ve never been arrested, never received a summons. I was extremely terrified that if I didn’t comply, something was going to happen to me.”
Referring to conflict-resolution training instituted by Mayor de Blasio and Mr. Bratton, Mr. Adams said, “Nowhere in the new training does it state you should arrest an on-duty postal employee merely for voicing his concern about being struck or almost struck by a vehicle. This is unacceptable.”
A Clean Record
He noted that Mr. Grays had never received a summons or been arrested before.
He said one of the officers, presumably the one who stood back and watched the younger men handcuff Mr. Grays, was a Lieutenant. The Lieutenant’s action—or lack of it—should lead to a re-examination of training for lower-level supervisors, he said.
“Their role is to control the situation,” he said, questioning why the Lieutenant permitted the other officers to back up, get out of the car and arrest Mr. Grays.
Mr. Adams said the officers should be transferred back to uniformed duty while the department investigates what happened.
The officers were identified in a police report as Lazo Lluka, Miguel I. Rodriguez and David G. Savella and the Lieutenant as Luis D. Machado. Mr. Bratton said they had been taken out of the Conditions Unit.
Late last week, Mr. Machado was placed on modified duty without his badge and gun.
Louis Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association, said in an interview, “We will wait until all the facts come out and we will vigorously defend our Lieutenant.”
He said Mr. Machado had come to New York City from Ecuador with his family at the age of 9 and had grown up in public housing. He did four years of military service in Iraq before joining the NYPD, where he quickly rose through the ranks. Mr. Machado never had a disciplinary issue before the Grays incident, Mr. Turco said.
“I’m very concerned about the performance of the officers, about the leadership of the Lieutenant involved and about the processing of the arrest at the precinct stationhouse,” Mr. Bratton said before Mr. Machado’s surrender of his badge and gun.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said in an interview, “It’s not uncommon to hear people say they were trying to drive down the street and were blocked by a police car, and when they said something or honked the horn, the response was ferocious.”
Advice From Above Needed
The NYPD, which has advised officers in training to avoid getting into disputes off-duty, should also address the problems arising from on-duty arguments about such traffic issues, Mr. O’Donnell said.
Mr. Gray’s arrest occurred March 17, on St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s sad,” he told CBS. “I thought that when I put on that uniform, that I’d be treated a little different, but it’s no difference. You know, I’m just another brother with a uniform.”