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After video shows apparent chokehold, NYPD suspends officer

New York Police Department officers patroled Time Square as activists held a rally.
New York Police Department officers patroled Time Square as activists held a rally.Justin Heiman/Photographer: Justin Heiman/Gett

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department on Sunday suspended a police officer involved in the arrest of a black man in Queens after cellphone video of the encounter earlier in the day showed the officer appearing to use an illegal chokehold.

The incident on the Rockaway boardwalk Sunday morning took place only days after the state Legislature and City Council passed laws making the use of a chokehold by police a criminal offense.

The man who was arrested, whose name was not immediately released, was being treated at a Queens hospital Sunday evening, according to Lori Zeno, executive director of Queens Defenders, which is representing him. His condition was not immediately available.

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Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a tweet Sunday evening that after a “swift investigation” the officer involved in the “disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay.”

“While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary,” Shea said. “We are committed to transparency as this process continues.”

Before the announcement of the officer’s suspension, police released more than 30 minutes of body camera footage from the encounter, showing the man, with two others, becoming upset with officers over an earlier altercation, not seen on the video.

Police said that before the arrest, at around 8:45 a.m., they had received complaints about a man who was yelling and screaming at people in Rockaway Park.

In the body camera footage, the man appeared to be holding something after reaching into a trash can. Twice, he asked if the officers were scared, before the officer wearing the camera rushed in to grab him.

The cellphone video, taken in the vicinity of Beach 116th Street, shows three officers on top of the man, including one officer, whom Zeno named as David Afanador, appearing to press his forearm into the man’s neck while bystanders yelled that the man was being choked. The shield number of the officer in the video matches Afanador’s name in a public database of federal lawsuits against police maintained by the Legal Aid Society.

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The man lost consciousness during the arrest, according to Zeno. He was taken into custody on suspicion of disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, she said. Zeno said the man, who is 35, has a laceration on the back of his head.

“He was on such a hard chokehold that he couldn’t speak to say he couldn’t breathe,” she said.

By late afternoon, video clips of the arrest began circulating online, prompting widespread outrage and calls for an investigation and the release of the officers’ body camera footage.

The state Legislature made chokeholds a felony after protests against police brutality erupted across the state and the country, prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes before he died.

The New York state law, passed two weeks ago, makes it a felony for police to use chokeholds that result in serious physical injury or death. But the City Council legislation passed last week applies to any maneuver intended to cut off breathing regardless of the resulting injury.

“I’m just lost for words,” said Donovan Richards, a councilman who represents part of the Rockaways, of the cellphone video. “We just went through George Floyd. We see these incidents time and time again. When is it going to end?”

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He called for the officers involved in the arrest to be held accountable.

“Why did it escalate to that level?” he said. “We talk about de-escalation. Could this have been de-escalated? We talk about training, but obviously the training ain’t working.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.