DA investigating ‘disturbing’ social distancing arrests in eastern Brooklyn

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is looking into a string of violent arrests for alleged social distancing violations.
File photo by Colin Mixson

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is investigating a string of violent arrests in eastern Brooklyn over the weekend related to alleged social distancing violations, which he said were “disturbing” and undermined the trust and accountability of the police.

“The disturbing images of arrests for social distancing throughout our city serve to erode the progress that has been made in enhancing police accountability and strengthening trust in our criminal justice system,” Gonzalez said in a statement on May 6.

Kings County’s top prosecutor is weighing whether to bring criminal charges against cops or to issue recommendations for disciplinary measures the Police Department should take in response to three incidents between May 2 and May 3 — one in Brownsville in the 73rd Precinct, and the others in East New York and Cypress Hills in the 75th Precinct, the latter of which earned the distinction of being the most-sued precinct in the city last year, Patch reported.

“My office is reviewing allegations of excessive force during recent Brooklyn arrests and will investigate these incidents to determine if disciplinary recommendations or criminal charges are warranted,” Gonzalez said. “Any arrest under these circumstances should always be the last resort. Simply stated, we cannot police ourselves out of this pandemic. Instead, we need to give people the knowledge and ability to keep safe.”

The DA’s office introduced their own policy to stop prosecuting low-level offenders that don’t pose a risk to the public in order to reduce the amount of people exposed to coronavirus on March 17.

The first of three incidents under review took place at about 5:45 pm on May 2, when cops violently arrested three men, after two of them were allegedly fighting on Bristol Street between Dumont and Livonia avenues in Brownsville.

During the arrests, one of the cops performed what authorities called a “tactical takedown” against one of the men because he “refused lawful orders and took an aggressive, fighting stance against police,” the police report reads.

Cops slapped two of the men who were allegedly fighting each other with assault charges and all three of them with obstructing governmental administration charges.

The second incident occurred that same evening, when cops cuffed three men on the corner of Fountain and Blake avenues for allegedly refusing to social distance.

Video footage published in the New York Post shows a man approaching cops while they’re making an arrest, and one of the Boys in Blue pushing the incoming bystander to the ground, before flipping him around and handcuffing him.

The third incident took place in Cypress Hills on the night of May 3, when a police officer was seen on video punching a man during an arrest and threatening bystanders with a baton for not wearing face masks, even though neither he nor his police colleagues were wearing coverings correctly, if at all.

Footage of that arrest spread widely on Twitter, drawing condemnation from activists and politicians.

“Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Shea and the City Council need to start bringing their officers under control,” said the president of the Brooklyn chapter of Black Lives Matter Anthony Beckford, who posted the clip online. “The community will not tolerate this any further. Officers who commit these human rights violations, need to be fired, charged, indicted and sentenced.”

At de Blasio’s May 5 press briefing, Commissioner Shea countered that cops punching suspects did not automatically qualify as excessive use of force and that the Department trains its officers to use force in 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.”

The three incidents under review by Gonzalez came to light after another viral video emerged of a cop punching a bystander during a social distancing arrest in Manhattan, also on May 2.

The instances stood in sharp contrast to police enforcement of social distancing in wealthier parts of the borough. The same Saturday, the department’s official press Twitter account posted a photo of a cop handing out a mask to a woman in Williamsburg’s Domino Park with the caption, “No mask? No problem.”

A Police Department spokeswoman declined comment, and referred questions to City Hall.