A New York City police officer was arrested Thursday morning and charged with illegally using a strangler to subdue a man on the boardwalk of a Queens beach, authorities said.
The officer, David Afanador, was suspended Sunday hours after a video of a cell phone was posted on social media showing him holding his arm around the man’s neck during an arrest on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk. The man, Ricky Bellevue, 35, appeared to pass out.
The 39-year-old police officer, turned himself in at the Queens District Attorney’s office to face charges of second-degree strangulation and attempted first-degree strangulation, according to a police officer. The charges were reported by NBC New York on Wednesday night.
The Afanador officer is the second New York City police officer to face criminal charges for using excessive force this month, following massive protests across the country against racism and police brutality. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, one of several murders of black people by police and white vigilantes in recent months.
Driven by the riots, the New York State Legislature and the New York City Council passed separate laws that make it a crime for police officers to use strangleholds. The Bonding officer, however, is being charged under a pre-existing statute.
It was a police officer’s use of a prohibited strangler that killed Eric Garner, a Staten Island father in 2014, who was arrested on suspicion of selling loose and tax-free cigarettes. Five years later, the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was found guilty in a departmental trial for using an unauthorized warehouse and was fired.
The Police Department banned bottlenecks a long time ago, but officers continued to use them on the streets. In 2015, the department added an exception to the ban, allowing police to use the maneuver in extreme circumstances.
The Afanador officer was among several officers responding to complaints about someone yelling at passers-by and kicking cans on the boardwalk on Sunday morning, police said.
Officers arrested Mr. Bellevue and during a takedown, the Cleaner officer used a choke for at least 10 seconds before releasing him, the video shows. The Afanador officer is Hispanic. Mr. Bellevue is black.
The felony charges suggest that investigators believe Mr. Bellevue may have briefly passed out from the strangulation. The main charge carries a sentence of two to seven years in prison.
The district attorney’s office said it would not prosecute Mr. Bellevue, who was one of three men approached by police on the waterfront.
The video from the Asana officer’s body camera shows officers talking to three men who they believed were intoxicated. The Afanador officer comments in the video that he recognizes one of the men, later identified as Mr. Bellevue, as mentally ill from a previous incident.
Officers ignore the taunts of the men for more than 10 minutes before Mr. Bellevue appears to reach into a trash can and pick something up. He asks the officers twice if they are afraid before the Buster officer pounces on him.
It is the second time that the Afanador officer faces trial. In 2014, he was charged with assault after a video of him hitting a 16-year-old boy with a gun during a marijuana arrest in Brooklyn appeared. The video, obtained by DNA Info, contradicted the boy’s official version of stumbling and falling, the teen’s attorney said at the time.
The Afanador officer was acquitted after a bench trial and returned to the police force.
The Civilian Complaints Review Board, a city watchdog agency, investigated the incident and found that the Bonding officer had used excessive force, according to agency records. It is still unclear what punishment, if any, was imposed by the police commissioner, who has the final say in disciplinary matters.
The Surety officer was the subject of seven other complaints investigated by the review board between 2009 and 2014. Six contained allegations that he used excessive force, including a choke in 2010, according to records. He was also accused of abusing his authority to arrest and search people on the street, refusing to obtain medical treatment for someone and using impolite language.
None of the allegations were proven. In four cases, he was exonerated from one or more of the complaints. One case was truncated after the person who made the complaint was “not available,” according to records.
Hundreds of civilians have filed complaints since Mr. Garner’s death, accusing officers of using stranglings. Even when board investigators determine the claims to be true, however, severe punishment has been rare.