The NYPD has suspended an officer without pay after a video surfaced Sunday afternoon that appeared to show the officer use the banned chokehold technique to detain a man.
In the video, four officers are positioned above 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue to restrain and handcuff him. One of the officers appears to wrap his arm completely around the man's neck. At least two different people can be heard yelling at the officers to get off of the man. "He's choking him! Let go!" one of them shouts.
The incident unfolded Sunday morning around 8:45 a.m. on the boardwalk that runs along Rockaway Beach in Queens, law enforcement sources confirmed. They say officers responded to the boardwalk after three men were allegedly harassing people and throwing objects at them.
Lori Zeno, Bellevue's family attorney, told NBC New York that "police claimed that my client drew attention to them because he was kicking some cans, and supposedly picking some up and throwing them, but that story's changed."
When officers engaged the trio, sources say, one of the men approached them with "a small bag" that officers thought he would throw. That's when officers attempted to make the arrest.
The cellphone video also showed the now-suspended officer relaxes his grip on Bellevue's neck after a fellow officer taps him on the back and pulls on his shirt — a collegial move that received praise from the mayor.
“The officer who intervened to stop his colleague did exactly the right thing,” Bill de Blasio tweeted Sunday night. “I commend him. That is what we need to see from all our officers.”
Bellevue had minor injuries as a result of the incident, the NYPD said.
The department then released body-camera footage of the incident to the department's YouTube channel Sunday evening. (Explicit language recorded in the video is not censored).
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea confirmed the officer was suspended without pay while the department completes an internal investigation.
"Accountability in policing is essential. After a swift investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, a police officer involved in a disturbing apparent chokehold incident in Queens has been suspended without pay," Shea tweeted.
"While a full investigation is still underway, there is no question in my mind that this immediate action is necessary," he added. The commissioner on Monday is expected to testify at New York State Attorney General's ongoing hearing about interactions between cops and the public.
The NYPD has long banned chokeholds. Their use has been especially fraught since the 2014 death of Eric Garner after an officer put him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him.
The New York City Council approved a bill last week that bans chokeholds and stipulates that an officer would be charged with a misdemeanor no matter if an injury was sustained or not.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also recently signed into law a sweeping package of police accountability measures including a ban on chokeholds following protests over George Floyd's killing.
Protests still continue after more than three weeks and a few dozen protesters even gathered around 4 p.m. Sunday outside of the 100th Precinct located near the beach to protest the officer's actions.
De Blasio said in his tweet that the police department's discipline was the fastest he's ever seen.
“This is how it needs to be," he said.