Representatives of LGBT advocacy groups held a news conference outside New York City police (NYPD) headquarters on Tuesday to denounce what they called the unjustified arrest of three gay men and an assault against two of them by officers who reportedly shouted anti-gay names at the men.
Josh Williams, 26, and his roommates, Tony Maenza and Ben Collins, both 24, have accused the officers of falsely charging Williams with urinating on the grounds of the 79th Precinct police station in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as they were walking home about 4 a.m. on Sunday, June 2.
The LGBT representatives and three members of the New York City Council who joined them at the news conference said they were especially troubled that the alleged police attack on the gay men came on the heels of a string of anti-gay hate crimes in New York over the past several months, including the murder of a gay man in Greenwich Village in May.
The three men “reported that they were walking past the 79th Precinct when an NYPD officer accused one of the men of public urination and attacked him, throwing him against a police car,” said a statement released by the New York Anti-Violence Project (AVP), an LGBT group that organized the news conference.
“The officer was joined by other officers who also attacked the man, throwing him to the ground and pepper spraying him while he was in handcuffs,” the statement says. “The survivor was handcuffed tightly, causing lacerations. The survivor’s injuries were treated at a hospital, where he was again restrained with wrist and ankle cuffs.”
The Village Voice reported it learned through an unnamed source that the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau opened an investigation into the incident “after someone apparently associated with the precinct filed a complaint.”
The AVP released a video of part of the incident that Maenza says he took with his cell phone, in which silhouettes of the police officers and the three gay men can been seen in the darkness shouting at one another.
Although the video is too dark to show anyone’s face, a cluster of officers can be seen holding down a person on the ground.
“He didn’t do anything,” one of the men shouted in the video. One of the officers shouted back, “Get the fuck out of here.”
The three or four-minute long video, which has been posted on YouTube, ends with Maenza demanding that the officers identify themselves with their badge numbers and telling them he filmed “the whole thing.” When the officers don’t respond to Maenza’s call for their identities the gay men and the officers can be heard exchanging insults, with both sides cursing at one another.
“He didn’t piss, he didn’t fucking piss on anything,” one of the gay men shouted. “You’re a fucking asshole,” one of the officers shouted back. “What a fucking bunch of pigs,” one of the gay men yelled.
In a statement emailed to the Washington Blade, Deputy New York Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne said the incident began when an officer “observed a male urinating on a dumpster in the precinct parking lot” near the precinct’s gasoline pumps.
“The same police officer approached the individual, who was uncooperative and refused to ID himself,” prompting the officer to attempt to arrest the individual, who was later identified as Josh Williams, Browne said in his statement.
“The individual, who appeared highly intoxicated, was combative and uncooperative,” Browne’s statement says. “He resisted arrest and force was employed to arrest him, during which he incurred a laceration to the cheek and bruising.”
Browne’s statement says police charged Williams with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and urinating in public. He said officers arrested Collins and Maenza on a charge of obstructing governmental administration.
According to Browne’s statement, officers filed that charge because Collins and Maenza allegedly interfered with Williams’ arrest by “getting in between the suspect and the officers, trying to pull the suspect away, and refusing to leave police department property when directed.”
Cynthia Conti-Cook, an attorney representing the three gay men, said in a statement released by the New York Anti-Violence Project that the arrests were unjustified and the officers rather than her clients should be charged with committing a crime.
“We call for all charges to be dropped,” she said. “We call for charges to be brought against the police who assaulted, verbally abused and arrested my clients. We will hold these officers accountable today, we all will feel safer in our communities tomorrow,” Conti-Cook said.
In an interview with the Village Voice, Williams said one of the officers started to assault him when Williams asked whether he and his roommates were being detained.
“He rolled his eyes and sort of snapped, twisting an arm behind my back and slamming me against a car,” the Voice quoted Williams as saying. “I was able to ask him what was going on, and he slammed me against the car and pepper-sprayed me. I was blinded and disoriented.”
Sharon Stapel, the Anti-Violence Project’s executive director, told the Blade that the three men were held overnight in a police holding cell and released following a court arraignment.
She said Collins and Maenza agreed to an offer by prosecutors known as an “adjournment in contemplation of a dismissal,” or ACD, plea in which the case against them will be dismissed in six months if they are not arrested again.
Stapel said the three men came to AVP for assistance following their arrests. She said the group waited a little over a week to publicly announce the arrests and what she called the improper action by the police officers to give the men a chance to think about whether to go public with what happened to them.