Brooklyn Heights man arrested in crackdown on dogs in Cadman Plaza Park

Ticket blitz causes brouhaha, distracts from Parks Dept. accomplishment

September 18, 2023 Mary Frost
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The owner of a puppy was led away in handcuffs on Sept. 14 as part of a Parks Department crackdown on dogs romping on the artificial turf in Cadman Plaza Park.

The arrest was the surprising outcome of a campaign to keep the newly-installed $800,000 field — used by kids and sports teams — free from dog poop and urine. 

In the midst of a ticket blitz by a team of Park Enforcement Patrol officers Thursday morning, Brooklyn Heights resident Hamid Rahmanian, 55, was arrested at roughly 8:30 a.m.

A PEP officer told the Brooklyn Eagle, “He wouldn’t give his identification.”

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PEP officers gave out numerous summonses to other dog owners that same day, but Rahmanian was the only person arrested. 

This woman was issued a summons by PEP officers this past Thursday after she threw a ball onto the artificial turf for her dog at Cadman Plaza Park. She was hit with extra penalties because her dog was off-leash after 9 a.m. Note: The dog owner’s face as been blocked out. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

‘A 7-month-old puppy’

Rahmanian told the Eagle that the incident began when he threw a ball onto the “real” grass area surrounding the artificial turf, but his dog ran onto the turf. “It’s only a 7-month-old puppy, and training is a work in process,” he said. 

The pup was on the turf “literally 20-30 seconds,” he said. “The minute I took her off, four officers hovered after me like they were after a murderer.”

The PEP officers demanded Rahmanian’s identification, but he did not have it on him (though he does carry a copy of his ID, which he did not immediately produce). “I can call my wife to bring my ID,” he said he told them.

Rahmanian said the officers told him that he must immediately give them his ID, “Or else you have to go to prison.”

He said he was in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “I was laughing.”

All of a sudden, he said, another officer took one of his hands and put him in handcuffs, telling Rahmanian not to argue. (Rahmanian says he was not arguing.)

Rahmanian said he told the arresting officer at that point that he had a picture of his ID in his pocket, but the arresting officer said it was too late — that once the handcuffs were on, they couldn’t come off. Rahmanian said he “begged the officers for mercy,” but to no avail.

“A nice lady named Jordan asked if she could call someone, and I gave her my wife’s number,” he said. Jordan took care of the puppy until his wife, who was working, could retrieve it.

Rahmanian is an artist, playwright and filmmaker whose work has appeared in the Sundance and Tribeca Film festivals and numerous other venues. He said he was worried that the handcuffs were so tight they were harming his hands. “I asked them to please loosen them,” but the police did not do so, he said.

Rahmanian said he was taken to the 84th Precinct on Tillary Street. He asked to be put in a holding cell by himself because he had just recovered from COVID-19, and the police did so. 

The police asked him to open his cellphone, he said. “When I opened the phone, they took it.” He doesn’t know what the police did with his phone while it was in their possession, Rahmanian said.

Rahmanian received two summonses — “No ID, and dog on turf,” he said. “I have to go to a hearing in December.”

Rahmanian said the whole experience was traumatizing. “It makes me feel unsafe.”

Numerous signs saying “No Pets On Turf” have been affixed to the tree pits around the new artificial turf at Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn. (The baby stroller in the background is also not permitted.) Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Didn’t believe warnings

The Cadman Park Conservancy, Brooklyn Heights Association and Parks Department have been warning pet owners for weeks that the no-dogs-on-turf rule was going to be enforced. 

“Dogs are not, and have never been, allowed on the artificial turf,” Lara Birnback, BHA’s executive director (and dog owner) told the Eagle in an article published in early September. “I appeal to my fellow dog owners to respect this rule,” she said.

Doreen Gallo, president of the Conservancy, told the Eagle she had been visiting the park during morning hours last week to caution dog owners that Parks would soon begin issuing summonses.

She specifically remembers warning Rahmanian because he was so “dismissive,” she said. “It was on Tuesday, two days before his arrest. He was charming and the dog was cute.” However, “He kept throwing his ball and the dog was all over the field.”

“He was throwing on the turf, and I asked him not to and [told him] why,” Gallo said. “He was totally irreverent, and pretended he was trying to curb the dog while throwing a ball with one of those plastic ball throwers.” He excused the dog whenever it ran onto the field by saying, “Oh, he’s only a puppy, 7-months old,” she said.

Gallo said that other pup owners were happy to get the heads-up, but Rahmanian was an exception. (She added that baby strollers, bikes and chairs are also not allowed on the turf.) 

Still, Gallo said that she was surprised the situation escalated to an arrest. 

This dog runs free — legally — on the real grass at Cadman Plaza Park. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Some call it ‘draconian’

The abrupt escalation from lax enforcement to a full-scale ticketing blitz was described by some dog owners in the park on Thursday as “draconian” and “out of proportion.”

“There should have been a warning period,” one said.

By all reports, Parks has, in the past, often closed their eyes to dogs running on the artificial turf, especially during the off-leash hours of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. 

Dog owner Brian McCormick told the Eagle early in September that, despite the posted signs, “Many residents in fact allow their pets on the turf during off-leash hours, even throwing balls to them … The Parks Department has very infrequently shown up to enforce the rule, but it’s also notable that many of the signs appear to have been unofficially removed over time.”

Lola, a service dog, with Heights resident Andrea Demetropoulos in Hillside Dog Park. Demetropoulos told the Brooklyn Eagle in early September that dogs don’t belong on the artificial turf in Cadman Plaza Park. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Comments flying in the neighborhood 

Locals in parks and commenters on social media and the Brooklyn Heights Blog all had plenty to say about the ticket blitz and the arrest of Rahmanian.

One of these was Rahmanian’s wife, who posted Thursday on the NextDoor app, “Warning for dog owners: this morning, my husband was manhandled by the parks police, cuffed, arrested, and put in solitary confinement for an hour, because my six-month-old puppy ran onto the new turf at Cadman Plaza and he didn’t have identification on him …”

While numerous NextDoor neighbors said they backed the park’s “no dogs” policy, there was surprise and sympathy about the treatment Rahmanian received.

While NextDoor member Beatrix (no last names used without permission) said it was not acceptable for dogs to “leave their business” as hundreds of children and adults play on the field daily, a neighbor named Barbara responded, “That doesn’t explain away the cop’s egregious behavior!” 

“I’m so sorry this happened. It sounds absurd,” wrote NextDoor member Peter, who added that he was “glad they’re trying to keep the dogs off the new turf,” but had questions about the need to carry an ID at all times.

PEP officers are state certified Peace Officers and, as such, can make arrests. While a person is not required to carry ID in New York, if they are issued a summons and refuse to produce ID, the police may detain them until they can be positively identified, according to the website of the ACLU of New York (NYCLU). 

On Friday, Parks Department spokesperson Chris Clark told the Eagle he would look into the matter and provide more information later this week.

Parks did a ‘fantastic job’

The Conservancy and the Brooklyn Heights Association don’t want the dog kerfuffle to overshadow the accomplishment of the Parks Department in getting the field open ahead of schedule.

“The Cadman Park Conservancy,  the BHA and the community advocated for replacement turf for several years in advance of funding allocated by Councilmember Lincoln Restler,” Gallo told the Eagle. “While there’s a turf divide over the athletic field’s usage, let’s not lose sight of the Parks Department’s achievement.”

“NYC Parks did a fantastic job getting the turf replaced in record time and we are really grateful for that. It’s a great amenity for all of us in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn and for visitors from elsewhere,” said Lara Birnback, BHA’s executive director.

“Hopefully going forward all park users, dog owners and families alike can share the space and respect each other and the work that went into getting the new field,” she added.

Nearby off-leash dog parks include the Hillside, Adam Yauch and Brooklyn Bridge Park dog parks.


An ‘abuse of power’ or refusal to comply?

The issue of whether or not Rahmanian deserved a summons for allowing his dog on the artificial turf is not really the point, he told the Eagle on Tuesday. 

“The issue is really about the abuse of power by the police department,” he said. “There is no justifiable reason why someone should be arrested and taken to jail because their dog walked onto fake grass. The correct response would be a warning. If that didn’t suffice then a ticket. But they should have allowed me to either show the photo of my ID on my phone or allowed my wife to come down with my ID.”

However, Parks Department spokesperson Chris Clark told the Eagle on Tuesday that the issue was actually that Rahmanian did not produce ID when asked. 

“We have consistently worked hard to ensure that park patrons are educated on the rules and that posted signage at the park is clear,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, in this incident, the patron refused to comply with the rules as stated by both PEP and signage on site, and did not cooperate when asked for identification information.” 

A Parks Department person familiar with the incident said that Rahmanian was given the opportunity to verbally identify himself, but did not comply and instead “opted” to travel to the precinct for verification there.  

Rahmanian said the officers at the precinct allowed him to use the identification image stored on his cell phone in lieu of a paper ID, but disputes the contention he was given this opportunity while still in the park.

According to Parks, handcuffs are standard when PEP officers are transporting anyone to the precinct in a shared vehicle, for the safety of the officers. When a person is brought to a holding cell, it is standard procedure to remove their property from their person, for their own safety and the safety of everyone in the precinct, Parks said.

Rahmanian received a criminal court summons for failure to comply with officers and an “OATH summons” for a dog on the turf.

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