Dozens of demonstrators marched Friday in New York in support of a local man shown on security video getting pummeled by police during his arrest at a Jewish center in Brooklyn two weeks ago.
Led by Jewish community leaders, the group marched to the NYPD’s 71st Precinct, headquarters for the two officers seen on the video seen violently subduing 21-year-old Ehud Halevy.
“This is not anti-cop, this is anti-bad cop,” Halevy’s attorney, Norman Siegel, told the Los Angeles Times after the protest. “The purpose was to show that this isn’t disappearing.”
The demonstration stemmed from Halevy’s Oct. 8 arrest at the Alternative Learning Institute for Young Adults in Crown Heights. A security guard there called police to report that Halevy was sleeping naked at the center and refused to leave.
Officers Luis Vega and Yelena Bruzzese responded to the center shortly after 5 a.m.
The video, first posted on community website CrownHeights.info, showed the two officers attempting to arrest a shirtless Halevy, who police say was sleeping in a women's area of the center. Center administrators said he had been sleeping at the center for weeks.
The video shows Halevy -- who put on pants when police arrived -- pulling away from the officers when they tried to handcuff him. Halevy could be seen holding his hands behind his back and later flailing his arms when the officers tried to hold his wrists.
When Bruzzese said she was going to arrest him for trespassing, Havely responded, “Go ahead and try it I am going to hit you,” according to court records.
After Havely’s exchange with the officers, the video shows Vega taking a boxer’s stance and punching Halevy with his right hand during a struggle. At one point Halevy appeared to step back. Vega wrestled Halevy down onto a couch while continuing to hit him. Bruzzese can be seen hitting Halevy with a baton on the legs during the confrontation.
Halevy was eventually subdued when several officers rushed to the scene to help. His charges include resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, trespassing and marijuana possession.
No injuries to Halevy were visible in the video and he refused medical treatment, said Paul Browne, NYPD deputy commissioner. Bruzzese suffered a sprained wrist, according to Halevy’s criminal complaint.
The video triggered a public outcry from Jewish community leaders and city and state officials who called for an investigation and for the officers to be suspended.
“We’re requesting that all criminal charges be dismissed,” Siegel said. “And the basis for that is there was unjustified excessive force, violation of civil rights and he’s a victim. The focus should not be on Mr. Halevy. At a minimum, it should be on the two officers who engaged in excessive force.”
Vega, 49, and a 17-year NYPD veteran, was removed from patrol and relinquished his gun on Monday, authorites said. Bruzzese remains on duty, authorities said.
NYPD internal affairs launched a probe Sunday night and asked the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an autonomous oversight committee, to do the same.
The King County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn initiated its own investigation Monday, said spokesman Jerry Schmetterer.
Halevy has not filed a complaint with police or prosecutors. Both agencies inititiated their inquiries after seeing the video and fielding complaints from the community. Many of those concerns were voiced at a news conference earlier this week.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rabbi Moishe Feiglin, director of the Alternative Learning Institute, at a news conference Monday night. “Our foundation, we’re shaken up by this now. We have to convince our members that we are a safe haven.”
New York state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), is a former captain with NYPD and called for more officer training.
“We should never get to the point where everybody is putting up their dukes and seeing who can get the best blow,” Adams said at the news conference. “This is a breakdown of some of the most basic tactics in dealing with a civilian. We cannot police by saying ‘let’s go to the videotape.’ That cannot happen.”
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