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According to a news release on Thursday, New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer David Afanador was charged with “attempted aggravated strangulation and strangulation in the second degree" after being caught on body camera video using a banned chokehold on Ricky Bellevue on June 21. Afanador is Hispanic. Bellevue is black.
If convicted, Afanador can face up to seven years of imprisonment.
The video shows Afanador pinning Bellevue facedown in the ground with his hand on Bellevue’s neck while three other officers handcuff him, causing Bellevue to momentarily lose consciousness.
“Only after another police officer pulls on Afanador’s back does he remove his arm from around Bellevue’s neck,” wrote Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in the news release.
Afanador was allegedly using a chokehold banned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 12 under the Eric Garner Anti Chokehold Act, following nationwide protests ignited by the death of George Floyd, a black man, under the custody of white former police officer, Derek Chauvin.
The Act is named after Eric Garner, another black man who was killed by a chokehold under police custody in 2014.
Katz wrote, “The ink from the pen Gov. Cuomo used to sign this legislation was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit.”
“Police officers are entrusted to serve and protect – and the conduct alleged here cannot be tolerated. This police officer is now a defendant and is accused of using a chokehold, a maneuver we know has been lethal. This Office has zero tolerance for police misconduct.”
According to the news release, Afanador and other officers were responding to a call of someone engaging in disorderly conduct shortly after 8 a.m. on Sunday. During that time, Bellevue and two other white men taunted and heckled the police officers.
At one point Bellevue appeared to retrieve a can from a bin asking the officers if they were scared. Then the officers grabbed Bellevue, pinning him to the ground.
Katz wrote in the news release, “Body worn camera footage shows these police officers were cursed at and badgered. Every day, however, police officers find themselves in circumstances that require them to exercise restraint and are charged with de-escalating potentially volatile conflicts.”
“According to the complaint, Officer Afanador’s alleged actions showed his intent to impede the normal breathing or circulation of Bellevue when he placed his arm around the man’s neck and only relented when his fellow officer intervened.”
Bellevue suffered a head injury during the incident and was subsequently taken to hospital.
Bellevue’s attorney, Lori Zeno said, “His hair and his skin on his scalp were just ripped off. It was a big round spot. Just blood, that’s all you could see, all the skin was gone."
On Thursday, Afanador pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in the Queens County Criminal Court, according to his police union attorney Steven Worth.
He was released without bail by Queens County Criminal Court Judge Danielle Hartman after he surrendered his passport and agreed to stay away from Bellevue. His next hearing is on August 3.
Worth told CNN, “It’s troubling that prosecutors are now succumbing to political pressure to make summary arrests a few days after the incident rather than conduct a thorough investigation. It seems that everyone is entitled to due process these days but police officers.”
According to records provided by New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, Afanador has eight civilian complaints involving the use of force in his record. In seven cases he was exonerated for the allegations. In 2014, he faced criminal charges for pistol-whipping a teenage suspect causing him to break two of his teeth. However, he was acquitted in 2016.
On Sunday Afanador was suspended without pay after the video was released and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced a criminal investigation into the matter. Bellevue was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.
However, according to Bellevue’s attorney, Katz declined to prosecute him.
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