NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials say two of the five homeless men seen on video clashing with a police officer on a Lower East Side subway platform are behind bars.
Sources tell CBS2 officials are pursuing a third man in connection to the brawl. Two other men in the video, who appeared to be trying to break up the scuffle, aren’t facing charges.
The NYPD says Officer Syed Ali stepped in to help a woman who was being harassed at the station near East Broadway and Rutgers Street Sunday night. Cell phone video shows Ali fighting off the group of intoxicated men with a baton.
During the encounter, one of the men fell onto the subway tracks.
Ali immediately called for the trains to be stopped, and the man who fell into the tracks was not injured.
All five of the men were taken in for a psychological evaluation. They were also initially cited for sleeping on the station floor, which is a violation of transit rules but not a crime. It hasn’t been prosecuted since 2016 under a policy that reels in prosecuting those kinds of low-level violations.
Prosecutors say they were not aware of the men’s encounter with the officer when they made the decision not to prosecute them for sleeping in the station.
Eliseo Alvarez, 36, and Juan Nunez, 27, were arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration and rioting. Alvarez wad additionally charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
“I am very pleased to hear that the men who attacked Officer Syed Ali on a subway platform several days ago will be prosecuted for their crimes,” City Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-48th) said in a statement sent to CBS2.
Deutsch says the arrests send “a strong message that actions have consequences, and this City will not stand for our police officers to become targets.”
The incident has sparked controversy, with many officials calling for harsher punishment for the men and a renewed debate about how to handle low-level transit crime.
“It’s alarming to think about being the woman and also being the person who was drunk and attacked the officer and went on the train tracks,” said subway rider Mia Ryan.
Ali, an Army veteran was praised by police and city officials for deescalating the situation, but some are now slamming the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for not previously charging the men with attacking the officer.
CBS2 has reached out to the DA’s office, who says the men were arrested for a non-penal law violation, and that’s why they were not initially charged.
Patrick Lynch, the head of the police union, called the move another example of the DA’s attempt to “decriminalize behavior in the subways.”
Former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton warned on Twitter that the failure to enforce quality of life offenses, especially in the subways, would bring back the high crime level of the 1970s and 1980s.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also chimed in online two days after the attack, saying acts like this will not be tolerated. He also announced increased patrols around subway stations to ensure rider safety.