An NYPD officer has been charged with allegedly punching an unruly man inside an Upper West Side Apple store two years ago — an incident his attorney said was “justified” as he vowed to fight the raps Wednesday.
Officer Salvatore Provenzano, 37, tried to remove the man from 1981 Broadway at around 9 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2021, Assistant District Attorney Tavish Deatley said at the cop’s Manhattan Supreme Court arraignment.
But the man, who wasn’t under arrest, pulled away and headed for the door, Deatley told the court. That’s when Provenzano allegedly slugged him on the left side of his face in a caught-on-bodycam incident.
“The people take seriously any incident where a member of law enforcement uses force without justification, and that is simply what we have here,” Deatley told Acting Justice Maxwell Wiley.
The man Provenzano allegedly hit was the subject of a complaint that day, but the case has since been sealed. A grand jury convened by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office later indicted Provenzano on a third-degree assault charge, which is punishable by up to a year in prison.
A spokesman for the DA’s office would not respond to inquiries about when their investigation into the cop started, or why it took nearly two years to bring charges against him. It also wasn’t clear if the officer and his alleged victim testified to the grand jury.
Prosecutors said they offered to knock down the charge against Provenzano to second-degree harassment because he only threw one punch, the victim didn’t suffer any severe injury and the officer had no history of violence.
The lesser charge, a violation, would have allowed Provenzano to avoid having a criminal record and removed the threat of jail time. But Provenzano rejected the deal and pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday.
“My client truly believed he was about to be struck – and there was one punch,” his attorney, Stu London, told the court.
“Then the complainant went to the ground,” London continued. “I’m not sure if there were any injuries at all, but I believe my client’s actions were justified in this matter … at this point, it looks like we’re going to trial.”
London also claimed the alleged victim had gone after store security before and been barred from at least one other Apple store.
Provenzano — who has been stripped of his gun and put on desk duty over the charges — will appear in court again on Oct. 18.
During a press conference outside the courthouse, Police Benevolent Association head Patrick Hendry claimed that indicting Provenzano was effectively telling cops they couldn’t do their jobs.
“He’s sending a message here today, [Manhattan District Attorney Alvin] Bragg, that he’s going to arrest our police officers for doing their jobs,” the union boss said.
“He’s not on the side of the people. He’s not on the side of the police officers. He’s on the side of the repeat offenders.”
London also said during the press conference that he was confident Provenzano would be exonerated.
“All this officer did was attempt to escort [the man] out of the location,” London said at the press conference.
“As he puts his hand on his elbow to have him leave, [the man] immediately flings his arm back and tenses his body, and this officer reasonably thought he was gonna be struck, and he hits him one time and he goes down with no injuries at all.”
Provenzano has two use-of-force cases that have been closed, pending litigation, according to Civilian Complaint Review Board records.
The CCRB did not receive a complaint about the case in question, according to public records.
“We work in close partnership with the NYPD every day to achieve the shared goal of lasting public safety,” Bragg said in a statement. “Those sworn to uphold the law must be held accountable.”
Provenzano, who joined the force in 2007, once testified in the case of killer Manhattan nanny Yoselyn Ortega, who was sentenced to life without parole for fatally stabbing two little kids on Oct. 25, 2012.
The officer and his partner had been the first cops to arrive at the bloody scene, according to The Cut. There, they found a terrified building super holding the apartment door shut in a furious attempt to make sure the kids’ savage killer couldn’t leave.
“His face white. He was sweating and he was holding the door shut with his two hands and his foot,” Provenzano testified. “He said, ‘Whatever is behind that door is pure evil.’”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino, Rthvika Suvarna and Sophie Gardiner