By Rosa Goldensohn
This story was originally published on July 14, 2020 by THE CITY.
A police officer punched and dragged a homeless man who was allegedly taking up more than one seat on a near-empty subway train in Manhattan, body camera video from May shows.
But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is charging the bloodied man with felony assault, punishable by up to seven years in prison, for allegedly kicking the officer’s hand while the cop tried to cuff him on the platform of the Midtown station.
Joseph T., 30, who asked that his last name not be used because he fears retaliation, left a Manhattan homeless shelter with his belongings in a few tote bags. He got tired of waiting for a bed, huddled with others in the entrance area, he said.
It was around 12:30 a.m. on May 25, according to a criminal complaint, when police approached Joseph because, Officer Shimul Saha said, he was “occupying more than one seat” on the near-empty No. 6 train. Joseph left the car and moved to the next one.
Police followed him. Joseph, a hair stylist by trade, said he did not understand why the cops were ordering him to exit the train and refused, body camera video obtained by the Legal Aid Society shows.
“You can’t arrest me for not wanting to get off of the train,” Joseph says as police officers tell him he is holding up other riders.
One police officer, Adonis Long, reaches out to get Joseph off the train. Joseph bats his hand away.
Then, Long tries to pull him up. When Joseph lurches away, the cop punches him twice in the face, knocking off his glasses, and drags him off the train. He kicks Joseph’s bags on to the platform.
“Why are you f—–g hitting me?” Joseph moans, his back against the wall of the 51st Street and Lexington Avenue subway platform.
Ordered to ‘Relax’
Long then takes out his pepper spray, at which point Joseph is crying and pleading “Stop!” against the wall, surrounded by police and appearing to bleed from the side of his head.
“I’m having a panic attack, please,” he says, cuffed on the floor of the station. He calls out for his older brother, who was not there.
“Relax,” the phalanx of officers surrounding him command. He remained cuffed on the platform floor for about 20 minutes, until EMTs arrived with a stretcher and transported him to Mt. Sinai Hospital.
“I felt like my heart was going to fall out,” a still-shaken Joseph told THE CITY in an interview this weekend.
He wonders if police approached him in a case of mistaken identity.
“I feel like somebody else did something that looks like me and I’m getting the repercussions from it,” he said.
But prosecutors say Joseph’s behavior during the arrest warrants felony charges.
Saha said in a criminal complaint that Long told him Joseph kicked his right hand while the officers attempted to cuff the ejected rider on the platform. Long, according to Saha, “sustained swelling and substantial pain to the knuckles of his right hand and was transported to the hospital.”
“He informs me that because of the swelling he is unable to open and close his hand without experiencing pain,” Saha said.
A Call for Firings
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office stood by its decision to prosecute for a felony assault against police.
The police initially arrested Joseph for resisting arrest and obstructing government administration, as well as a violation. But the district attorney’s office upgraded the charges.
At Joseph’s May 26 arraignment, prosecutors argued that he “responded to [police] with violence,” according to prepared remarks.
“We are reviewing the footage and continuing to investigate all aspects of this interaction,” Caitlyn Fowles, a Vance spokesperson, wrote in an email Monday.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The Legal Aid Society, which represents Joseph, is calling for the charges against him to be dismissed and the officers involved in the incident to be fired.
“The brutal attack on Joseph by these officers is both unconscionable and completely indefensible,” said Edda Ness, staff attorney Legal Aid’s Manhattan Trial Office.
“It’s equally shocking that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, despite seeing this video, chose to bump up the charges against our client. We are calling on them to dismiss these charges immediately in the interest of justice,” Ness added.
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.