A New York City police officer was arrested on Thursday morning and charged with illegally using a chokehold to subdue a man on the boardwalk at a Queens beach, officials said.
The officer, David Afanador, was suspended on Sunday hours after cellphone video was posted on social media that showed him holding his arm around the man’s neck during an arrest on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk. The man, Ricky Bellevue, 35, appeared to lose consciousness.
Officer Afanador, 39, turned himself in at the Queens district attorney’s office to face charges of second-degree strangulation and first-degree attempted strangulation, according to a police official. The charges were reported by NBC New York on Wednesday night.
Officer Afanador is the second New York City police officer to face criminal charges for using excessive force this month, after mass protests across the country against racism and brutality in policing. The demonstrations were sparked by the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, one of several killings of black people by the police and white vigilantes in recent months.
Spurred by the unrest, the New York State Legislature and New York City Council passed separate laws making it a crime for police officers to use chokeholds. Officer Afanador, however, is being charged under a pre-existing statute.
It was a police officer’s use of a banned chokehold that caused the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island father who was being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. Five years later, the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was found guilty at a departmental trial of using an unauthorized hold and was fired.
The Police Department banned chokeholds long ago, but officers have continued to use them on the streets. In 2015, the department added an exception to the ban, allowing the police to use the maneuver in extreme circumstances.
Officer Afanador was among several officers who were responding to complaints about someone yelling at bystanders and kicking cans on the boardwalk on Sunday morning, the police said.
The officers arrested Mr. Bellevue and during a takedown, Officer Afanador used a chokehold for at least 10 seconds before letting go, the video shows. Officer Afanador is Hispanic. Mr. Bellevue is black.
The felony charges suggest that investigators believe Mr. Bellevue may have briefly passed out because of the chokehold. The top charge carries a sentence of two to seven years in prison.
The district attorney’s office said it would not prosecute Mr. Bellevue, who was one of three men the police approached on the boardwalk.
Video from Officer Afanador’s body camera showed the officers talking to three men who appeared intoxicated. Officer Afanador commented in the video that he recognized one of the men, later identified as Mr. Bellevue, as a mentally ill man he had seen before.
The officers shrugged off the men’s taunts for more than 10 minutes before Mr. Bellevue appeared to reach into a trash can and pick something up. He asked officers twice if they were scared before Officer Afanador lunged toward him.
It was Officer Afanador’s second time facing prosecution. In 2014, he was charged with assault after video emerged of him pistol-whipping a 16-year-old boy during a marijuana arrest in Brooklyn. The video, obtained by DNA Info, contradicted the officer’s account of the boy tripping and falling, the teenager’s lawyer said at the time.
Officer Afanador was acquitted after a bench trial and returned to the police force.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a city watchdog agency, investigated the incident and found that Officer Afanador had used excessive force, according to agency records. It remains unclear what punishment, if any, was imposed by the police commissioner, who has the final say in disciplinary matters.
Officer Afanador was the subject of seven other complaints investigated by the review board between 2009 and 2014. Six contained allegations that he used excessive force, including a chokehold in 2010, according to the records. He was also accused of abusing his authority to stop people on the street and search them, refusing to obtain medical treatment for someone, and using discourteous language.
None of the allegations were proven. In four cases, he was exonerated on one or more of the complaints. One case was truncated after the person who filed the complaint became “unavailable,” according to the records.
Hundreds of civilians have filed complaints since Mr. Garner’s death, accusing officers of using chokeholds. Even when the board’s investigators determine the claims to be true, however, serious punishment has been rare.