Suit seeks $25 million for cop’s illegal chokehold on mentally ill man in New York City

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Attorney Sanford Rubenstein filed a notice of claim for mentally disturbed man Ricky Bellevue, who was put in illegal choke hold, and then not treated properly for mental illness.(Photo by Todd Maisel)

The attorney for a mentally disturbed man who was allegedly put in a chokehold by a NYPD police officer on June 21 has launched a notice of claim against New York City for $25 million, it was announced at Brooklyn State Supreme Court Thursday afternoon.

The claim was filed on behalf of Bronx resident Ricky Bellevue, who has been deemed mentally ill, according to family spokesman Reverend Kevin McCall and Bellevue’s attorney, Sanford Rubenstein.

The family alleges that NYPD Officer David Alfanador, who was suspended and arrested for the June 21, put Bellevue in an illegal chokehold just nine days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to make the use of chokeholds by police officers in New York State a criminal act.

The legislation came about after May death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer after the officer put Floyd in a chokehold, leaning his knee on his neck for nine minutes, killing him. The death sparked wide-spread demonstrations and even rioting.

The lawsuit alleges that Bellevue was rendered unconscious by the hold for at least 10 seconds before being transferred to Bellevue Hospital, where he was remanded to a psychiatric ward. Rubenstein charges that the mental health system “failed” Bellevue by releasing him prematurely, resulting in two subsequent arrests later for assault; he is presently in Rikers Island awaiting trial.

Rubenstein and McCall were joined by Bellevue’s brother Fritz and his sister-in-law Judith Ceno. All claim the city mental health system failed him, as did the officer who was being charged for the illegal chokehold.

“Today, the first step has been taken in obtaining damages for injuries sustained by Ricky Bellevue, the victim of an illegal chokehold, the filing of a $25 million Notice of Claim against the City of New York, the NYPD, and NYPD Officer David Alfanador. This is the first step in obtaining civil justice for Ricky Bellevue,” Rubenstein said.

McCall was equally critical of the NYPD officer, who he said is awaiting justice on the choke-hold charge. He said subsequently, the mental health system failed to get Bellevue treatment for ongoing psychiatric problems, a charge leveled against the system many times in the past concerning other violent criminal cases in the city.

No amount of money can equate to the pain and agony that Ricky Bellevue currently suffers,” McCall said. “Both institutions have failed him: the NYPD and Health and Hospitals Corporation. NYPD should not be responding to mental health calls. We have a problem in this city that needs to be dealt with regarding mental health and NYPD relations.”

Sister-in-law Judith Ceno says system failed Ricky Bellevue. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

His sister-in-law added, “the system failed him, the officers failed him, and the state failed him too. It’s really sad and we need to do better.”

The city has long been criticized for not handling the mentally ill and providing treatment. Critics argue that many of those released from Rikers Island also were mentally ill and they also have gone untreated and let loose on communities.