What to Know
- An NYPD officer seen on video putting a man in what Commissioner Dermot Shea said was a banned chokehold was charged Thursday
- 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
An NYPD officer removed from duty after he was seen on video putting a man in what the commissioner said was a banned chokehold was arrested on criminal charges Thursday.
Officer David Afanador, who was suspended without pay after Sunday's confrontation on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, faces strangulation and attempted strangulation charges put forth by the Queens district attorney.
Afanador, 39, was arraigned virtually at a criminal court in Queens. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted, and is the first officer in New York charged under the new chokehold statute. There was no immediate comment from the officer's union.
According to the charges, Afanador was responding to a call of someone screaming and yelling at people on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday. 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 is 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, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said, but she said their 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. "This police officer is now a defendant and is accused of using a chokehold, a maneuver we know has been lethal."
After the virtual arraignment, the judge released the suspended officer on his own recognizance, which infuriated the victim's attorneys.
"Why did they pounce on my client? Because he was a poor, Black man with a mental illness," said attorney Lori Zeno. "For this police officer to be (released on recognizance) is ridiculous."
This isn't the first time Afandor has 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 this latest incident, the NYPD moved quickly to suspend Afanador, at least the second time the officer has been suspended. The swift action represents a sign of the "unprecedented times" for police, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said previously.
“I think we have an obligation to act swiftly but we also have to get it right and to inform the public about what’s going on,” Shea told TV station NY1.
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.
"The public need to see when something goes wrong, there are consequences," the mayor said.
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 Monday under a new 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.