The NYPD is under fire after a video surfaced over the weekend showing officers trying to forcibly remove a 1-year-old boy from his mother’s arms during an arrest in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and representatives of Brooklyn Defender Services held a news conference Monday morning denouncing the officers’ actions and calling on the city to drop the charges against the woman.
Adams, a former NYPD officer of 22 years, said the encounter on Friday between Jazmine Headley, 23, and police officers at the Fort Greene Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Center, which is operated by the city’s Human Resources Administration, was an example of excessive policing.
“I believe we all witnessed what I believe was a horrific incident,” Adams said. “We’re better than this and this is a blemish on our entire city.”
Amid mounting scrutiny, HRA Commissioner Steven Banks announced that two peace officers involved in the melee would be placed on modified duty until the agency’s investigation is complete. Banks also vowed to better train staff and peace officers in diffusing situations before police are called.
“HRA centers must be safe havens for New Yorkers needing to access benefits to improve their lives. I am deeply troubled by the incident and a thorough review was launched over the weekend to get to the bottom of what happened,” Banks said in a statement posted to HRA’s Twitter account.
In the video, which was posted to Facebook by Monae Sinclair, police officers can be seen trying to remove Headley’s son, Damone Buckman, from her arms as she lay in fetal position on the floor of the center.
Headley can be heard repeatedly screaming, “You’re hurting my son,” over the noise of the crowd. At one point, a police officer pulled out a Taser as Headley continued to struggle against the officers, the video shows. The Taser was not deployed during the incident.
Toward the end of the video, which was just over 2 minutes long, officers are able to separate Headley from Damone and place her in handcuffs.
Headley was charged with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass, according to the NYPD. She was being held at Rikers Island as of Monday, Adams said.
“The mother didn’t endanger the welfare of the child; the actions of the department endangered the welfare of the child,” the borough president said of the charges.
Headley refused medical attention at the scene for herself and Damone, according to police, and the Administration for Children’s Services was also notified. The child has since been released into the custody of Headley’s mother, according to Brooklyn Defender Services, which is representing her.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday joined a chorus of elected officials, including Public Advocate and Attorney General-elect Letitia James, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilman Stephen Levin, who have expressed outrage over the incident.
“This was a disturbing incident. Like anyone who’s watched this video, I have a lot of questions about how this was handled. NYPD & HRA will get to the bottom of what happened,” the mayor wrote on Twitter.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill called the video “troubling” and said the incident was under review by the NYPD and HRA. A request for comment from the NYPD regarding Adams’ call to the drop the charges was directed back to O’Neill’s statement.
O’Neill later tweeted about the incident, writing, “As we investigate Friday’s arrest in Brooklyn, I’ll tell you the video is very disturbing to me — as PC, & as a dad. Also, #NYPD cops have a very tough job. We were called to a chaotic situation & we’re looking at all available video to determine why certain decisions were made.”
Police said before Sinclair started recording the video, an HRA peace officer brought Headley to the ground after she refused to leave the center. NYPD officers then tried to arrest her but she refused to comply, police added.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office is launching an investigation into the incident.
“We did not request any bail and Ms. Headley’s hold is in connection with a warrant from New Jersey. We are reaching out to authorities in that state to expedite her release,” a representative for Gonzalez said.
Lisa Schreibersdorf, founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, said that because Headley was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, the district attorney asked for a full order of protection, which was granted by the judge.
“Which means Ms. Headley is not able to see her child right now,” Schreibersdorf said, adding that Headley does not have a long criminal record.
The borough president likened the incident to how border security separated immigrant children from their parents at the United States-Mexico border during President Donald Trump’s since-rescinded family separation policy earlier this year.
“Any time our well-trained police officers cannot de-escalate a situation between mother and child without looking like border patrol police, snatching away babies and children, that says that we’re not doing what we need to do correctly," Adams charged. "This should have never happened in this fashion.”
Patrick Lynch, president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, defended the officers’ actions on Monday, saying they were put in an “impossible situation.”
“They didn’t create the dispute at the HRA office — as always, they were called in to deal with the inevitable fallout when the rest of our city government fails in its task,” Lynch said. “The event would have unfolded much differently if those at the scene had simply complied with the officers’ lawful orders.”
Headley had been waiting at the center for about four hours in an effort to resolve an issue related to child care services, Schreibersdorf said. Holding Damone in her arms, Headley sat on the floor in the corner while she waited and was confronted by a security guard who told her she couldn’t sit there, Schreibersdorf added.
When Headley refused to get up and leave, the NYPD was called to escort her from the building, officials said.
“I think the best way of telling her she could not sit on the floor was to get her a chair and allow her to sit in the chair,” Adams said of how the encounter was handled.
Adams said he reached out to Banks to set up a meeting to review what happened and “ensure that this does not happen again.”