Officer David Afanador, a 14-year veteran of the force from Long Beach, is facing attempted strangulation and second-degree strangulation of Ricky Bellevue, 35. Afanador was released without bail and remains suspended without pay.
The Rev. Kevin McCall spoke on behalf of the Bellevue family, alongside attorneys Lori Zeno and Sanford Rubenstein at a press conference on Thursday.
“Ricky is still suffering from the abuse, the brutality, the chokehold that this officer did to him,” McCall said. “It was insult to injury that the district attorney’s office did not notify him or his family that the officer was gonna be arrested today, or the officers was going to be arrested and turn himself in this morning. It re-victimized him.”
“There is no question he choked my client until he was unconscious. He should be fired and he should be in jail right now,” Zeno said.
Police say they were initially called to reports of a man acting erratically on the boardwalk at 113th Street around 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 21. When officers arrived, they approached the man and say he started acting combative and resisted arrest.
Video captured the chaotic scene unfold on the boardwalk. Several officers were seen on top of Bellevue, and one appeared to have his arm wrapped around Bellevue’s neck.
NYPD body camera footage shows Bellevue moving and then officers rushing to arrest him, which he resisted, they say.
“What changed everything is when he grabbed something and squared up and was gonna hit my officer standing over there,” said an officer in the body camera footage.
That officer said they knew Bellevue and the two other men he was with were drunk and that Bellevue had a history of mental illness, but they were worried he would hurt someone.
The footage shows Bellevue handcuffed and walking to a police car.
Bellevue’s lawyer said he was hospitalized with a cut on his head.
“Today was the firs step in the march for justice for this victim, the arrest and arraignment of this police officer,” Rubenstein said. “But what’s really important is that he be convicted and sent to jail for what he did to set an example to other police officers that if you violate the law you will go to jail. Ricky, who unfortunately suffers mental illness, is committed to full cooperating with this district attorney’s office in this prosecution.
“What’s really important here, is not only have these charges have been brought, that these charges be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Rubenstein added. “We feel very strongly that the governor’s new statute, on which the ink is not yet dry, be enforced fully, directing that police officers, if they use a chokehold, be held accountable with a C felony with a maximum of 15 years in jail.”
Before the arrest, Bellevue and two others spent about 10 minutes taunting and cursing at cops, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
Within hours, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea released the body cam footage and suspended Afanador without pay for the apparent chokehold.
On Monday, Shea spoke about the incident.
“You had four officers, roughly, engaged with three gentlemen on the boardwalk for probably 10-20 minutes, exercising extreme restraint,” said Shea. “I think people should be condemning the acts, my opinion, of the individuals. The language they used…But at the end of that story, an officer put his hand around a person’s neck.”
Zeno said she wanted to reiterate that the laws apply to everyone, including police officers. She directed her opening remarks toward the police commissioner, specifically about bail reform.
“I find it sort of hypocritical, frankly, right, that he’s calling for the bail reforms to be changed to keep people in, accused of crime, yet this officer, who is accused of a C felony, strangulation, strangling my client until he is unconscious … talk about violence, and he gets ROR’d [released on his own recognizance] today and gets to go home,” Zeno said. “And let me tell you something. I run one of the largest public defender offices in this county and I will tell you, if we had a client who was indigent, standing in front of a judge today with a C felony, strangulation, you better know it wouldn’t have been an ROR.”
Added Rev. McCall: “That officer should have been held with other criminals in the justice system, because on that day, that’s what he acted like, a criminal.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which criminalizes the maneuver by police, on June 12.
“The ink from the pen of Gov. Cuomo used to sign this legislation was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit,” said a statement by Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “Police officers are entrusted to serve and protect – and the conduct alleged here cannot be tolerated.”
This is not the first time Afanador has been arrested.
In 2014, he was one of two cops arrested for punching and pistol whipping a 16-year-old during a marijuana arrest. He and the other officer were acquitted in a bench trial in 2016.
Civilian Complaint Review Board records show that incident is the only one it has substantiated out of eight cases against him.
Despite that, CBS News has learned the city has paid out more than $250,000 in settlements, stemming from four different excessive force cases where Afanador was one of several officers named.
Afanador’s attorney said in court that his client’s career and pension is on the line, so they will fight this case “vigorously.”