What to Know
- An NYPD officer seen on video seeming to put a man in what Commissioner Dermot Shea said was a banned chokehold will not face charges after a grand jury declined to indict him, Queens DA Melinda Katz said in a statement
- The officer was suspended without pay hours after the video surfaced of the apparent banned chokehold used while trying to detain a man at a Queens beach
- The officer involved once faced criminal charges alleging he pistol-whipped a teenage suspect and broke two of his teeth, records show
A grand jury declined to indict an NYPD officer who was seen on video appearing to put a man in what the police commissioner said was a banned chokehold.
Officer David Afanador, who was suspended without pay after the June 2020 confrontation on a boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, faced strangulation and attempted strangulation charges put forth by Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. But in a statement released Tuesday, Katz said that the grand jury declined to indict.
"While the law prohibits me from discussing the proceedings that took place in front of the grand jury, in the interest of transparency I am moving to have the minutes of the grand jury hearings unsealed," Katz said in a statement.
The 39-year-old Afanador was the first officer in New York charged under a new chokehold statute.
According to the charges that were filed in 2020, Afanador was responding to a call of someone screaming and yelling at people on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk shortly after 8 a.m. on June 21. He and several other police officers encountered three men who allegedly proceeded to taunt and heckle the cops as a few of them recorded the officers on their phones.
At one point, 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue, the man Afanador had been accused of choking, asked the cops if they were scared and appeared to retrieve a can from a garbage can, officials say. Then four cops, including Afanador, grabbed him -- and Afanador allegedly wrapped his arm around Bellevue's neck as he was pinned to the ground, the complaint says.
Afanador allegedly continued the chokehold as other officers handcuffed Bellevue. Within seconds, the 35-year-old man's body appears on recordings to go limp and he loses consciousness. Only after another police officer pulls on Afanador's back does he remove his arm from around Bellevue s neck.
Bodycam footage showed the cops were cursed at and badgered, Katz said, but at the time of Afanador's arrest added that the officers' jobs require them to exercise restraint and practice de-escalation on a daily basis.
"Police officers are entrusted to serve and protect and the conduct alleged here cannot be tolerated," Katz said in a statement after the arrest.
This was not the first time Afandor had run into legal problems regarding his alleged use of force while on the job. The officer once faced criminal charges alleging he pistol-whipped a teenage suspect and broke two of his teeth.
In that case, Afanador was seen on video using his gun to hit a 16-year-old boy during a marijuana bust. The beating continued until the boy dropped to the ground and was handcuffed. That altercation, which came six weeks after the police chokehold death of Eric Garner, also made news headlines.
Afanador was previously sidelined after his 2014 arrest, only to return to duty after a judge acquitted him and his partner of all charges in 2016.
In the latest incident, the NYPD moved quickly to suspend Afanador, at least the second time the officer has been suspended. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced the suspension hours only hours after video of the incident was posted on social media. Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the department's quick response to the incident at the time, saying that "the public need to see when something goes wrong, there are consequences."
Chokeholds have long been banned by the NYPD and their use has been especially fraught since Garner died in 2014 after an officer put him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him. Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signed a statewide ban on police chokeholds.
Afanador was involved in eight incidents that were the subject of complaints to the city’s police watchdog agency since joining the police department in 2005, according to records obtained under a recent state law making disciplinary files public.
They ranged from using discourteous language to use of physical force and refusing to seek medical treatment. All of the allegations to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review were either unsubstantiated or led to exoneration except for the ones stemming from the altercation that led to his arrest.