Police violently arrest man, threaten bystanders for not wearing masks in Cypress Hills

An online video shows police violently arresting a man and threatening bystanders for not wearing a mask in Cypress Hills on May 3.
Anthony Beckford via Twitter

A uniformed NYPD officer punched a man in the face during an arrest on May 3, before threatening bystanders with a baton for not wearing masks in Cypress Hills, a viral video shows.

The widely-shared clip shows three officers restraining and arresting 21-year-old Stephon Scott at Miller and Sunnyside avenues at around 10:10 pm, according to a spokesman for the Police Department.

One of the cops then strikes Scott in the head as the detainee lays flat on the ground, before taking out his baton and threatening to arrest another man for failing to wear a mask — despite the fact that his mask does not cover his nose, and one of his fellow officers is not wearing a facial covering at all.

“What are you looking at? do you want to go with your friend?” the cop shouts.

When the person filming the incident asks what the officer would arrest him for, the cop replies “For not wearing a mask.” 

The officer’s badge matches that of Officer Michael Amello of the local 75th Precinct, who has been previous sued for an alleged excessive use of force in 2016, when he allegedly caused a displaced rib fracture and abrasions to the face and wrist of a detainee. That case is still pending in court.  

“The officer’s use of force was in the act of gaining compliance from a subject who was resisting arrest,” said said Police Department spokeswoman Detective Denise Moroney in a statement. 

According to police reports, the incident started when officers asked Scott and a group of people who were not socially distancing to keep further apart from one another.

Scott then allegedly tried to hop in a police cruiser, before punching a cop in the arm. 

The officers then arrested the suspect on the spot, charging him with obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct — but notably did not charge him with assault of a police officer, according to reports.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez declined to prosecute Scott because of his ongoing policy to not bring suspects of low-level charges to court amid the coronavirus, according to spokesman Oren Yaniv.

Police also arrested Scott in April for an alleged burglary, which Gonzalez’s office deferred at the time for future prosecution once grand juries resume.

The video of the violent arrest drew condemnation from advocates and politicians, with the activist who originally posted it saying it exposed how cops are exploiting the pandemic to brutally police poor communities of color.

“Bias policing by the @NYPDnews @NYPD75Pct of Black Youth regarding #SocialDistancing,” tweeted Anthony Beckford, the president of the Brooklyn chapter of Black Lives Matter and a local Council candidate. “This does not happen to white people who violate social distancing. They are using the #pandemic as a weapon for further brutality. @NYCMayor @NYPDShea bring your rabid animals to heel!”

The video surfaced days after a police officer punched a bystander during a social distancing arrest in Manhattan on May 2.

Those instances stood in stark contrast to the department’s enforcement in more well-heeled neighborhoods of the city, such as when  they tweeted a photo on May 2 of an officer handing out a mask to a woman in Domino Park in Williamsburg, with a caption that read, “No mask? No problem.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the department would review the May 3 incident, but defended police’s enforcement at his daily press briefing on May 5.

“I want to remind everyone, it’s a two-way street. Respect goes both ways,” de Blasio said. “People are not ever allowed to use physical force against an NYPD officer, that’s just not something that can happen in this city.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea echoed Hizzoner’s statements and said that for cops, punching someone was not necessarily excessive force by definition — and punching suspects is even a part of police training for addressing escalating situations.

“No, a punch should not be assumed to be excessive force. It should be examined in the totality of the circumstances,” Shea said. “A punch is something that we actually train for in the police academy. It is a part of the level of escalation that begins with discussion, begins with deescalation, and it progresses up from there.”

But these incidents could become more common as the weather gets warmer and more people start to gather outdoors, warned Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, saying that de Blasio and police needed to change how they enforce measures to contain the virus. 

“Yes @NYCMayor and @NYPDnews we have a problem,” Williams said in a tweet. “Yes, we have to figure it out right now. The weather is only getting warmer and the threat of a second Corona wave is real. Let’s sit [and] have [an] honest discussion now.”