What to Know
- An NYPD officer is speaking about his response when a group of intoxicated vagrants menaced him on the subway over the weekend
- The three homeless men have been arrested amid uproar over the initial lack of charges by the district attorney's office
- Ali, a decorated veteran, credits his military and police background for teaching him to consider his options
Three homeless men who allegedly drunkenly went after an NYPD police officer working alone in a Manhattan subway station over the weekend are expected to be arraigned Thursday on criminal charges stemming from the viral encounter.
Two of the men -- Juan Nunez, 27, and Leobardo Alvarado, 31, are charged with riot and obstructing governmental administration, police said. The third, Eliseo Alvarez, 36, faces those counts as well as attempted assault, attempted criminal possession of a weapon and menacing. It wasn't clear if they had attorneys.
Two other men in the video who appeared to be trying to break up the Sunday night scuffle at the East Broadway subway station aren't facing charges.
The altercation started after a woman told NYPD officer Syed Ali, who was on solo foot post inside the station, that she was being harassed by a group of men.
Ali approached the men, who were visibly intoxicated, and asked them to leave the station, police said. The men refused to leave and became combative, and started tussling with the cop, cellphone video taken by a bystander shows.
"Stand back. I don't want to hurt you," the cop shouted repeatedly at the men as they approached him, waving his baton at them.
Ali told reporters Thursday, "I felt a trickle of sweat go down the back of my neck -- and then it was straight up police action."
The officer kicked one of the men to fend him off, and another tried to go after the officer -- but ended up tumbling onto the tracks, the video showed. Ali had the power shut off and the man was taken off the tracks; he wasn't hurt.
Footage of the encounter has been viewed more than 4.75 million times on social media in a matter of days. Ali, a decorated Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, never pulled his gun -- an example of restraint that has earned him widespread praise from the department and city officials, including the mayor.
"Life is precious, and going to that weapon is not necessarily the first thing we should be thinking about," Ali said Thursday, crediting his military and police background for teaching him to consider options, despite a threat to his safety.
"The police department and the Army have groomed me to take that second and think about it, even if it's a slight second," said Ali, who was born in Bangladesh and raised in Brooklyn.
"That's what we are taught at the academy," he said. "Preserving life. Courtesy, professionalism and respect. And that's a part of respect."
The officer is still adjusting to the fact that his approach got captured on a cellphone, then viewed on social media by the millions.
"I didn't know this was recorded until I got the call the following morning and was like, 'Whoa,'" he said. Even his old Army sergeant overseas saw the video.
"He called me and said, 'I couldn't believe that was you! What's going on?'" said Ali. "I said, 'I'm just being a cop.' And he said, 'You know what, brother? You're absolutely right."
Police cited the men the following day for sleeping on the station floor but not for the altercation. The Manhattan district attorney's office dropped that case, citing a policy curbing prosecution of those kinds of low-level violations.
But as the video got more and more attention, the decision not to pursue the case drew criticism from Ali's union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which said the men "should be held accountable for their actions." The DA's office said prosecutors who declined to move forward on the sleeping-related violations were not aware the men also were involved in the NYPD altercation.
"There is no telling how much damage these mopes would have done to that courageous police officer had he not been equipped to handle them," union president Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
The men weren't arrested until the next morning, when police spotted them back at the East Broadway station and cited them for sleeping on the floor.
"When people are arrested for attacking officers, we prosecute them," said Danny Frost, a spokesman for the DA's office. "These men were not arrested for attacking an officer, they were arrested for sleeping on the floor of a subway station — a rules violation, not a crime."
Former police commissioner Bill Bratton tweeted, "Kudos to this New York cop on his performance. His situation is a reminder to New Yorkers and their political leaders that NYC's decline in the '70s and '80s began in the subways. The quality of life declines and warning signs are all there for it to happen once again."