Officials call use of force excessive; Jewish youth center employee regrets calling 911.
New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board and the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau are probing the case of a man beaten by cops inside a Crown Heights Jewish youth center during an Oct. 8 arrest, a police spokesman said Monday.
“The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau opened an investigation of the incident yesterday, after having seen a video of it,” Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told The Jewish Week in an e-mail. “The matter was also referred by IAB to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. One of the officers, [a male Hispanic, age 49] and assigned to the 71st Pct. has been placed on modified assignment while the incident is under investigation.”
A surveillance video (below) showing two cops pummeling the shirtless man, Ehud Halevy, 21, after they were called to remove him from the lounge of the Aliya youth center on East New York Avenue was released Sunday by the website CrownHeights.info and immediately led to accusations of excessive force.
The police allege Halevy assaulted a cop, resisted arrest and was in possession of marijuana.
Halevy had permission to sleep in the center but a volunteer called the police. The volunteer, Zlamy Trappler, 24, later said he regretted making that call, telling the Daily News, “I should have let him sleep.”
“There was a miscommunication,” the founder of the center, Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, told The Jewish Week. “He needed a place to crash for a little bit while he gets his life together. The person who locked up didn’t recognize him and for some reason asked him to leave, and it got confrontational.”
(Note: This video and its title were created and posted by CrownHeights.info)
Halevy was held for four four days and released Oct. 11 on $1,500 bail. His whereabouts were not known on Tuesday and he could not be reached for comment. Rabbi Feiglin said Halevy was “traumatized” and did not want to be contacted by anyone.
He said Halevy was from Flatbush and currently between jobs but provided no other details. He said the center had retained a lawyer on Halevy’s behalf but he was not ready to disclose who it is.
As of Tuesday, Browne did not respond to two emails asking if all charges against Halevy were still pending.
Rabbi Feiglin said the center has a policy against drug use on premises but would not ban someone because of it. He said on prior occasions marijuana had been confiscated at the center by staff.
Aliya (Advanced Learning Institute for Young Adults) was founded in 2003 by Australia-born Rabbi Feiglin, who is a first cousin of an Israeli political figure with the same name.
According to its website, the center “is committed to serving spiritual, physical, educational, emotional and vocational needs of young adults in the Crown Heights community.”
The incident unfolded about 5 a.m. during the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Halevy had been staying at the center for about a month.
The video shows a gloved, male officer assuming a boxing stance during the confrontation, before hitting Halevy repeatedly with his fists. The officer’s female partner is also seen hitting him, using a baton.
The video also shows Halevy strenuously resisting efforts to handcuff him before the scuffle ensued, but never shows him attacking the cops.
The cops involved were identified by The Daily News, citing the criminal complaint, as Luis Vega and Yelena Bruzzese. The court documents also allege Halevy threatened to punch the cop, the News said.
Additional officers from the 71st Precinct soon arrived to assist, although by that time Halevy is seen on a couch in a defensive posture.
Although the video has no audio, reports say Halevy tried to tell the cops he had permission to sleep at the youth center.
In his statement, Browne said, “Police responded on October 8 at 5:12 a.m. to a call of a dispute inside of a synagogue’s outreach center in Brooklyn, where a man refused to vacate the women’s portion of the center. The officers used force to affect the arrest, in which Ehud Haleavy [sic] M/W/21 was charged with assault, trespass, resisting arrest, harassment, and unlawful possession of marijuana.”
Prior to the announcement of an internal affairs investigation, community leaders and elected officials on Monday morning gathered in Crown Heights to call for disciplinary action.
“These appear to be two of the worst members of the NYPD,” said Councilman David Greenfield, who represents Borough Park and Midwood, in a statement. “It is an embarrassment to the entire outstanding police department that two trained and armed police officers were unable to arrest this individual without resorting to the disturbing violence clearly shown on the video.”
Greenfield also called on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes to investigate whether there was criminal behavior. He is co-sponsoring legislation to establish an inspector general of the NYPD to investigate abuse allegations, currently handled by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
In addition to Crown Heights Jewish leaders, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Council member Letitia James and other officials attended the press conference on Monday. Halevy was not present.
A spokesman for Anti-Defamation League on Monday told The Jewish Week the agency had no comment about the incident at this time.
Barry Sugar, founder of the Jewish Leadership Council, a group that has been critical of the NYPD and DA’s conduct toward the Crown Heights Jewish community,
said in an interview Monday that “we have reached out to the police department on a number of occasions regarding violent attacks [against civilians] and they have not been responsive.”
He said Halevy “had permission to stay there and told the officers I will get you the phone number of the dean of the center. The person who called [the police] had no authorization.”
Sugar said there had been an incident a few months ago at the center in which a police patrol asked youths outside the center to extinguish a barbecue and the youths refused, resulting in one arrest. He described the incident as tense. Rabbi Feiglin confirmed that the incident happened but said the person involved surrendered peacefully to the police.
When told by The Jewish Week that the officer involved in the Oct. 8 incident was placed on modified assignment, Rabbi Feiglin said, “We’re very happy they are investigating, and we hope this doesn’t happen again.
“We want members of our youth center to feel like they are coming to a safe haven and a place they can call home and be protected and that trust was lost.”
Reaction to the video was mixed.
“A petition should be started to demand that the male officer is fired immediately,” Eric Krasner posted on The Jewish Week’s Facebook page in a thread about the incident.
But David Pitch countered in the same thread, “Totally justified. They actually teach boxing in the academy. The officers received a 911 call from the security guard who couldn’t handle the situation, the perp resisted arrest and took a fight position and then chest-bumped the officer. … It’s insulting that Hikind would create such a tumult over nothing. Officers are not paid to take punches from the public...”