The NYPD suspended two officers who had been seen in videos shoving or pepper-spraying otherwise peaceful protesters amid demonstrations against police brutality, the department said.
One of the officers was recorded pushing a woman to the ground during a protest on May 29. The woman, Dounya Zayer, was near the Barclays Center last Friday night when an NYPD officer shoved her to the ground. Video of the incident enraged millions of people who watched it on social media, and Zayer spoke out against the officers’ actions that day.
“I am in pain. My head hurts. I haven’t slept in three days. And I cannot stop throwing up,” said Dounya Zayer. “But I am trying everything in my power to hold myself together for the people who are depending on me to speak on the situation.”
Zayer said she was not aggressive with the officer, identified by elected officials as Vincent D’Andraia from the 73rd precinct in Brooklyn. She said she approached him before he told her to step out of the way, which Zayer said she did but asked why – but she was on the ground shortly after.
Zayer ended up in the hospital with a seizure and a concussion – as well as an even more strained opinion of the police.
“Them acting the way they acted today isn’t helping the cause. It isn’t proving to us that they care about us,” Zayer said. “He did this in front of his lieutenant and multiple other officers who watched me hit the ground. One even looked back to make sure I was still on the ground and they continued walking. Not one officer tried to help me and not one officer tried to stop the officer who assaulted me.”
The cop's supervisor is being disciplined as well, transferred from his precinct.
The other officer who was suspended Friday was seen on video pulling a protester's protective mask down from his face, and pepper-spraying him.
Andrew Smith was protesting peacefully in Brooklyn on Saturday, one of thousands voicing their anger toward the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Smith said he didn’t say or do anything to the officer on the street that could have provoked the incident. He said his experience as a black man had taught him to be wary of sudden movements around police, so he kept his arms up – but got sprayed anyway.
“At a certain level I come to expect the police to do things that things that they shouldn’t do,” Smith said, adding there should be “grave consequences” for the officer who sprayed him, more than “just a slap on the wrist.”
Both officers were suspending without pay after the department's Internal Affairs Bureau investigated the incidents, and both cases were referred to the department advocate for disciplinary action, the NYPD said.
"Over the past week, as I’ve said on multiple occasions, we have seen several troubling incidents involving behavior from members of the department that the NYPD is actively investigating," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a statement. "These incidents mentioned below are disturbing and run counter to the principles of NYPD training, as well as our mission of public safety. The actions by these officers stand apart from the restrained work of the thousands of other officers who have worked tirelessly to protect those who are peacefully protesting and keep all New Yorkers safe."
Shea said Thursday night that he expected suspensions for some officers who had been recorded interacting with protesters, at times violently, since the wave of demonstrations and looting descended on New York City last week. The Civilian Complaint Review Board reported 633 complaints since the start of the protests just last week — compared to 533 for the whole month of April.
Shea took time to plead to politicians to calm down the rhetoric against the NYPD and police officers noting that they have not seriously injured any protester but officers have been shot at, stabbed, hit over the head with a fire extinguisher and suffered other forms of violence.
The commissioner made the announcement during an impromptu press conference that was conciliatory and direct, and was held without Mayor Bill de Blasio at a police headquarters surrounded by barricades, with officers in riot helmets and exuding an appearance of security not likely seen since 9/11.
Part of the press conference included a detailed discussion of Wednesday night's stabbing attack that is under review as a possible terror attack against cops.
NBC News reviewed surveillance video of the attack which shows two officers standing on a corner when the attacker, whom police identified as Dzenan Camovic, walks up from the other side of the corner and in an instant stabs an officer in the neck, police say just missing his artery.
Prior to the press conference, police played a montage of video of attacks on police. The video starts with dramatic body worn camera video of last night's attack with officers yelling for a tourniquet.
Shea called attacks on police over the past week a deeply troubling trend, calling it a "pattern that has been growing and has reached a fever pitch."
Addressing politicians, he said he wants there to be real dialogue and "less press conferences, less tweets, and more accountability." He said rhetoric against police from politicians has raised the temperature in the city.
"It encourages fighting the police during lawful arrests, and while all this is going on we hear silence from so many of our elected officials. It's sickening," Shea said. "We live in a toxic time, one which that increasingly relies on a number of things, selective facts, misinformation and rumor."
But Shea also apologized, saying "for there to be calm there also must be contrition, so I am sorry ... For our part in the damage to civility, for our part in racial bias, in excessive force, unacceptable behavior, unacceptable language and many other mistakes — I am sorry. I have said where officers have acted unprofessional, we will deal with that, I will deal with that."
He says there are about seven videos that are under review by internal affairs, with another three that may come under review from Wednesday night.
"I can tell you without a doubt there will probably be some suspensions," Shea said. While some officers could be suspended, Shea said some could even face departmental charges.