(CBS NEWS) – A New York City police officer was suspended without pay Sunday after he was recorded putting his arm around a man’s neck in what the police commissioner called an “apparent chokehold.” The department’s action to suspend the officer was stunning in its swiftness, occurring just hours after the morning confrontation on a beach boardwalk in the Rockaway section of Queens.
A video shot by one of the men involved showed a group of officers tackling a black man, with one of them putting his arm around his neck as he lay face-down on the boardwalk.
In the video, someone yells, “Stop choking him, bro!” The officer relaxes his grip after a fellow officer taps him on the back and pulls on his shirt – a collegial move that received praise from the mayor.
“The officer who intervened to stop his colleague did exactly the right thing,” Bill de Blasio tweeted Sunday night. “I commend him. That is what we need to see from all our officers.”
It was unclear whether the man who was tackled suffered more than superficial injuries. He stood under his own power after he got off the ground and refused to let medics examine him after the incident.
“Accountability in policing is essential. After a swift investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, a police officer involved in a disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a statement Sunday evening. “While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary.”
Police released body camera video showing that for at least 11 minutes before the arrest, three men were pacing back and forth, sometimes shouting at the officers and hurling racial insults at them, while the officers implored them to walk away and go enjoy the beach.
Then at one point, the officers rushed one of the men who was acting most aggressively, and who had been taunting them by saying, “You scared?” The ensuing struggle lasted about 30 seconds.
In the aftermath, one officer’s body camera video captured him explaining the situation to a woman who turned up at the scene and said she was a relative of the man who had been handcuffed, and that he was mentally ill.
“They were all talking all types of crazy stuff to us and we did nothing,” he said. “What changed everything is when he grabbed something and squared up and was going to hit my officer.”
CBS New York reports the man has been identified by his attorney, Lori Zeno, as Ricky Bellevue. Zeno said it is clear the officer was performing a chokehold.
“He’s an idiot. That’s my reaction. He’s an idiot. And he’s a bad cop and he needs to go. He needs to get fired. And not only fired, he needs to get prosecuted,” Zeno said.
Bellevue’s attorney said he was taken to St. John’s Hospital, where he was treated for a laceration on his head and released. She also said he is facing two misdemeanors, for resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental justice, and a violation for disorderly conduct.
The NYPD has long banned chokeholds. Their use has been especially fraught since the 2014 death of Eric Garner after an officer put him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law a sweeping package of police accountability measures including a ban on chokeholds following protests over George Floyd’s killing.
De Blasio said in his tweet that the police department’s discipline was the fastest he’s ever seen.
“This is how it needs to be,” he said.