What to Know
Two police officers were caught on video hitting two men with batons in an incident that has called the NYPD's use of force into question
The NYPD says officers had been trying to get the men to leave a subway station where they had been smoking and causing trouble
When officers tried to arrest the men, one of them tried to punch one of the officers, the NYPD said
A pair of police officers were caught on video hitting two men with batons during an altercation in Manhattan — a use of force the NYPD’s union said was needed to arrest them after the suspects allegedly provoked the cops in order to stage a viral video.
Cell phone video taken at West 169th Street and Broadway in Washington Heights shows the two police officers striking the two men with batons in a crosswalk before pinning one of the men to the ground and continuing to hit him with the batons.
Several other men get involved in the fracas, the video shows.
Police say the men, identified as Aaron Grissom, 36, of the Bronx, and William Sidney, 36, of Brooklyn, had been smoking and causing trouble inside a nearby subway station.
At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly said he was concerned by the officers’ use of force.
“If people are on the ground and yet there’s still physical action being taken, that concerns me,” he said, according to the Daily News. “So I want to get some answers and I want to quickly hear from the NYPD.”
The head of the Police Benevolent Association claimed the video was misleading.
“What the video doesn’t show is that these perps — one of whom has been previously arrested for assaulting a police officer — threw a haymaker at the cops once they got above ground, necessitating the use of force to bring them into custody,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
“The predictable rush to judgment based on a partial video will once again obscure the larger issue: the chaos that our city’s leaders have decided to permit in the transit system is now bubbling up onto the streets,” he added.
The NYPD said the officers in the video were familiar with the two men and had asked them to leave the area for five minutes before the altercation took place.
When officers tried to arrest the men, one of them tried to punch one of the officers, the NYPD said. Three other detectives — including an off-duty officer — stepped in to help, two of whom were injured, according to the NYPD.
They were treated for their injuries at the hospital, the NYPD said.
"The perpetrators — who are known to the department, have considerable criminal histories, including assaults on police officers," the NYPD said in its statement, noting that both Grissom and Williams had been arrested together in December for a "similar incident" at the exact same subway station.
Sidney and Grissom were initially arrested and charged with felony assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, menacing, disorderly conduct and loitering, according to the NYPD.
Then on Thursday, the Manhattan District Attorney announced that Grissom would be arraigned on assault charges but Sidney's charges were deferred.
The development has angered Lynch, who claimed on Wednesday that Sidney was seen in a Facebook video -- posted by Grissom -- admitting that he incited an arrest in order to sue the city and that he already he had three lawsuits against the city, and the latest arrest was setting him up for a fourth.
"The anti-police atmosphere that has been generated by many in this city for political gain has created a cottage industry where mopes like William Sidney make money through the use of staged, videotaped events," said Lynch. "Their staged video, posted on social media, goes viral and generates outrage from elected officials and activists."
After the DA's announcement that charges against Sidney would be deferred, and no bail would be requested for Grissom, Lynch released another angry statement Thursday night.
"The Manhattan DA’s office needs to wake up and realize that police officers cannot do our job when prosecutors won’t do theirs," he said. "Every perp who has ever thought about taking a swing at a cop is watching the outcome in this case. They should have been sent a clear message: if you have any involvement whatsoever in assaulting a police officer, you will face charges and spend real time behind bars."
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill also echoed Lynch's statement in a tweet Thursday night, saying that the decision to seek charges against only one man in the Washington Heights incident, and to seek no bail at all, puts the safety of cops and public in jeopardy.
"#NYPD is asking DAs to indict Grissom, charge Williams and impose bail," he tweeted.