AFRICANGLOBE – In an episode starkly contrasting with the non-indictment of a police officer for the death of a man whose final words gave life to the international rallying cry “I can’t breathe”, a New York City police officer has been indicted for stomping on the head of a Brooklyn man pinned to the floor and pleading “Help me”.
The stomping incident was captured on camera on 23 July, less than one week after Eric Garner was strangled to death – also caught on camera – by an NYPD officer who was not indicted.
In the new indictment, NYPD officer Joel Edouard, 37, was arraigned on Tuesday in Brooklyn supreme court, charged with a count of assault, a count of attempted assault and a count of official misconduct in connection with the arrest of Jahmiel Cuffee last July. If convicted, he faces up to one year in jail.
“Police officers put their lives on the line everyday to keep us all safe,” the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said in a statement crafted carefully not to criticize the force.
“However, this defendant allegedly stomped on the head of a suspect as he lay on the ground, which is unacceptable for a police officer. While a serious matter, this indictment should not reflect on the great work being done throughout the city by the vast majority of police officers who perform their duties honorably.”
Thompson said Edouard and his partner noticed Cuffee, 32, allegedly drinking on the sidewalk and holding what appeared to be a joint in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The officers attempted to arrest Cuffee, but he resisted, Thompson said.
The incident is one in a spate of recent alleged police brutality or misconduct cases that have been caught on video.
In this video, Edouard and his partner tussle with Cuffee, who is Black. As they pin him to the ground, Cuffee gasps: “Help me. Help me.”
As the officers struggle to place handcuffs on him, a crowd begins to gather, taunting, goading and even advising the police. Bystanders are shouting and shrieking in the background. “Stop pushing him,” a woman screams, as an officer bends Cuffee’s arm back and yells: “Stop resisting.”
The man recording the video tells the officers: “I got you on camera. I have you on camera,” as a woman runs over to try to push the officers away.
In the seconds that follow, Edouard briefly pulls his gun from his holster and then replaces it. He then gets up, and strides away as if to cool off while the other officers keep Cuffee pinned. But then Edouard returns. He walks over to Cuffee and stomps his head into the ground.
The crowd gasps. Someone shouts: “You can’t do that.”
According to the investigation by the district attorney’s office, Cuffee suffered abrasions and later headaches from the incident.
An NYPD spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Edouard was placed on modified duty following the incident. He was ordered to surrender his gun and shield and restricted to administrative duty pending an investigation by the department’s internal affairs bureau. The charges against Cuffee have since been dropped.
On Tuesday, Edouard was released without bail and ordered to return to court on 24 March 2015.
Thompson has made clear that he is not afraid of prosecuting officers for aggressive policing.
In December, he said: “Acts of police brutality are not only crimes against the individual victim but also are attacks on the communities in which they occur.
Eduardo is the third cop to be indicted by Brooklyn prosecutors in recent months. A spokeswoman for the DA’s office said prosecutors are investigating at least six other police brutality cases.
Thompson’s office is also handling an investigation into the fatal police shooting of Akai Gurley, a Brooklyn man the city’s police commissioner, Bill Bratton, called “a total innocent”. The NYPD has described the incident as an “accidental discharge”. Thompson has impaneled a grand jury to review the evidence in the Gurley case, in which he pledged a “full and fair investigation”.
In the Garner case, a Staten Island grand jury failed to find criminality in the arresting officer’s actions. A Staten Island supreme court justice is due to hear oral arguments this week from a number of advocates petitioning the court to release the grand jury minutes.
By: Lauren Gambino
NYPD Stomp On Man’s Head