While sitting in a cell on Riker's Island, facing charges that he assaulted a police officer, Ehud Halevy worried that he had unknowingly struck one of the cops who arrested him during a fracas at a Crown Heights youth center on Oct. 8.
"I was surprised there were so many charges," he said on Wednesday. '[The public defender] said I could get up to seven years."
After contemplating the incident, he told the lawyer "It's not true, it's a lie," and asked her to contact Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, director of the Aliya Center for at-risk youth, where the incident took place and see if the incident was captured by a surveillance camera.
Two weeks later, all charges against Halevy have been dropped by the Brooklyn District Attorney, and he and his lawyers are awaiting the results of a police investigation of the incident while contemplating a civil suit.
The silent video, now widely posted on the Internet, captured two officers, Luis Vega and Yelena Bruzzese, repeatedly striking Halevy, using a baton and pepper spray, after he refused to leave the center, where he had permission to crash from Rabbi Feiglin. Vega is seen in the video assuming a boxing stance at the outset of the physical confrontation.
While Halevy, who says he is 5"10 and weighs about 160 pounds, resisted being handcuffed, he is not seen hitting anyone. A prosecutor cited the video in asking a judge to drop the charges.
But Halevy, 21, said he is not angry about the incident.
"I have no anger in my consciousness; maybe in my sub-consciousness," said the soft-spoken ex-yeshiva boy, who left his Israeli immigrant parents' Flatbush home recently because of religious differences. He ended up at the center because he was familiar with it from his time at a yeshiva high school in Crown Heights.
Halevy said he now spends his time working on a software program that would translate many languages into a universal code based on symbols.
Speaking to two reporters at the Midtown offices of his lawyers, he recounted some details of the incident but declined to answer some questions at the behest of counsel.
Halevy was also charged with marijuana possession, but that charge was considered "fruit of a poisoned tree," said his lawyer, Norman Siegel. "He should have never been in the police station where they emptied his pockets."
Halevy said that when the cops first arrived he believed the matter would be quickly sorted out because the rabbi had allowed him to sleep on the couch at the center's lounge each night for a month prior. It's not clear why another person at the center, which is under Orthodox auspices, called the police on the morning of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret.
Asked about the verbal exchange with the police leading up the arrest, Halevy said, "I don't remember the words. They woke me up. [Bruzzese] spoke to me first saying, 'you have to leave, you're not welcome here.' I responded, 'Yes I am, I have permission, I have a right to be here, I'm not leaving.' When [Vega] wouldn't listen to me and said I had to leave I swore at him."
Halevy declined to provide further details of the exchange.
After his release on $1,500 bail on Oct. 11, Halevy said he saw the man who called the police to have him removed at the Aliya Center and the man, identfied by the Daily News as Zalmy Trappler, apologized to him. "I forgave him," said Halevy.
When first asked to leave the center by Trappler, whose role at the center is unclear, Halevy said he did not recognize him. "I was staying there for a while and I hadn't seem him before."
He said that while in jail he was offered protective custody by jail officials, but when told by other inmates that it was extremely restrictive, he declined. "In the general population you can walk around at lunch time and look out the window." But Halevy spent his entire jail stay without his glasses.
Halevy said since the incident he has re-established communication with his family. Siegel said Halevy's father had called and offered his full support. Halevy is currently staying at the home of a friend.
Siegel also said he believed the city would settle any civil claim because the video footage is so damaging to the NYPD.
"The video speaks for itself," he said. "This was not reasonable force; this was excessive force. The Patrol Guide has specific protocols on how to handle a situation like this."
He said the officers should have investigated Halevy's claim that he was not trespassing before trying to arrest him.
Supporters of Halevy started an online petition drive calling for the charges to be dismissed.
Related Recommended Reading
Get The Jewish Week Newsletter
The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.