Records tie officer in ‘chokehold’ video to several past incidents
A New York City police officer suspended from duty after he was recorded Sunday putting a man in what the police commissioner said was a banned chokehold could face criminal charges for the second time in his career, and disciplinary files released under a new law reveal his involvement in a lengthy string of past incidents that were the subjects of complaints.
Queens prosecutors said Monday they’ve opened an investigation into Officer David Afanador’s actions on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, adding that “there must be zero tolerance for police misconduct.”
Afanador was acquitted in a previous case stemming from allegations he pistol-whipped a teenage suspect in Brooklyn and broke two of his teeth.
In the 2014 incident, Afanador and Officer Tyrane Isaac pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn Supreme Court after a video showed them assaulting 16-year-old Kahreem Tribble during a marijuana bust.
In the video, Tribble is seen raising his hands above his head when confronted by the officers. Isaac delivers a punch to Tribble’s face while Tribble has his hands raised, and Afanador strikes Tribble in the face with his pistol. Tribble collapses to the ground, and Isaac continues to punch Tribble in the face repeatedly.
Tribble never appears to resist, even as Issac continues to assault him after he collapses to the ground.
For that incident, Afanador was charged with felony assault and misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and criminal possession of a weapon, and faced up to seven years in prison. But both he and Isaac were placed on modified duty and then acquitted of all charges by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun after a non-jury trial.
And Afanador’s troubling record goes back even further — in 2008, he and other officers were sued for beating and strip-searching a woman on a Crown Heights street. The city settled the claim with $37,500, according to the Daily News.
Afanador was also sued for falsely arresting and tackling a man in 2011, a case that the City settled for an undisclosed amount, the News said.
In total, Afanador has been 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 using 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.
The police department moved quickly to suspend Afanador without pay after Sunday’s confrontation. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced Afanador’s suspension just hours after the video was posted on social media and called the swift action a sign of “unprecedented times.”
“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 on Monday.
In Sunday’s incident, in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, a video shot by one of the men involved in the altercation showed officers tackling a Black man and Afanador putting his arm around the man’s neck as he lay face down on the boardwalk. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has declined to prosecute any charges against the man.
Body camera footage released later by police showed that for at least 11 minutes before the arrest, three men were shouting insults at the police while the officers told them to walk away.
“I think people should be condemning the acts, in my opinion, of the individuals — the language they used,” Shea said. “I feel most bad for the people that have to walk by on that boardwalk. But at the end of that story, an officer, put his hand around a person’s neck, and that [officer] was dealt with swiftly and was suspended.”
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.
The speed with which the NYPD suspended Afanador stood in sharp contrast to the drawn-out police disciplinary process of years past. Alluding to the public’s demand for police accountability since Floyd’s death, Shea told NY1: “I think it’s unprecedented times.”
Shea agreed to testify at Attorney General Letitia James’ hearing on the department’s response to recent protests after she publicly rebuked the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio last week for ignoring invitations to participate.
Shea told James that fewer than 10 officers were being disciplined for alleged misconduct toward protesters, including one who was suspended without pay and later charged with assault after he was caught on camera shoving a woman to the ground on May 29. Shea said he was “very disturbed” by the incident.
Shea, however, defended officers seen on video driving their police department SUVs into a crowd, saying a preliminary internal investigation has concluded the officers were under siege and attempting to avoid harm. The matter remains under investigation by several city agencies.
James, a Democrat, is expected to issue a report on her findings by the end of the month.
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