A New York City police officer who was suspended after putting a man in what authorities said was a banned chokehold now faces criminal charges.
The NYPD says officer David Afanador was arrested on Thursday on charges of strangulation and attempted strangulation over an altercation last weekend on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.
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The confrontation on the boardwalk came after weeks of protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Afanador, 39, was expected to be arraigned at a criminal court in Queens.
There was no immediate comment from the officer’s union.
In Sunday’s encounter, a video shot by one of the men involved in the altercation showed officers tackling Ricky Bellevue, a Black man. The footage showed how Afanador crooked his arm around Bellevue’s neck for several seconds as he lay face down on the boardwalk.
Body camera footage released by the department shows that the manoeuvre came after Bellevue and two other men hurled insults at the officers for at least 10 minutes. But Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Monday that Afanador was suspended because “the hand around the neck is the hand around the neck”.
It was at least the second time Afanador has faced criminal charges over the alleged use of brutality in 15 years on the police force. He was acquitted in 2016 for a previous case stemming from allegations he pistol-whipped a teenage suspect and broke two of his teeth in 2014.
Afanador’s lawyer said his client was facing a rush to judgement in the wake of protests after Floyd’s death and public pressure to hold police officers accountable for alleged misconduct. Floyd was killed a month to the day before Afanador’s arrest.
“It’s become fashionable for prosecutors to make summary arrests of police officers without a full and thorough investigation,” lawyer Stephen Worth said in an email. “The concept of due process seems to go out the window.”
Body camera footage released on Sunday night by police showed that for at least 11 minutes before Bellevue was tackled, he and two other men – one of whom shot the cellphone video – were shouting insults at officers, who implored them to walk away.
After suspending Afanador, Shea said on Monday the officers had acted with “extreme restraint” and that the men taunting with sometimes foul language should also be condemned.
“But at the end of that story, an officer, put his hand around a person’s neck, and that (officer) was dealt with swiftly and was suspended,” Shea said.
Bellevue’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said in a statement Afanador’s arrest is the “first step in getting justice for Ricky Bellevue”.
“The next step is for this police officer to be convicted and sentenced to jail,” Rubenstein said.
Chokeholds have been banned by the New York Police Department for years. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a measure outlawing them statewide.
The issue has been particularly fraught since the death of Eric Garner after an officer put him in a chokehold in 2014. In that case, a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved. A federal civil rights investigation also concluded without charges being filed.
Afanador is the second NYPD officer to face brutality charges this month.
Officer Vincent D’Andraia pleaded not guilty on June 9 to assault and other charges days after a bystander recorded him violently pushing protester Dounya Zayer to the ground during demonstrations over Floyd’s death, causing her to hit her head on the pavement.
Zayer, testifying last week at a hearing on police violence, said she has suffered constant migraines and struggled to keep down food since the May 29 shove left her in the hospital with a seizure and concussion.
“Where are the good cops that I keep hearing of?” Zayer said.
Chokeholds have been banned by the New York Police Department for years. The issue has been particularly fraught since the death of Eric Garner after an officer put him in a chokehold in 2014.
In that case, a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved. A federal civil rights investigation also concluded without charges being filed.