Authorities in New York City have opened an investigation after publication of a security camera video showing two police officers beating a shirtless man in a Jewish community center sparked a local outcry and led to calls of “senseless” police brutality.
“It was very painful to see one of our members being treated like that,” Rabbi Moishe Feiglin, director of the Alternative Learning Institute for Young Adults, the facility where the incident occurred, told The New York Times in an interview after seeing the video.
“It seemed like a senseless beating and we felt compassion for this young guy being beaten like that. We all need to have more compassion,” Feiglin said.
The clip, captured by a surveillance camera in the center’s lounge, shows 21-year-old Ehud Halevy fending off blows for more than two minutes as he is repeatedly punched in the torso and head by New York Police Department officer Luis Vega and hit with a baton by another officer, Yelena Bruzzese.
A New York police spokesman said Vega had been placed on modified duty pending the investigation.
The incident at the Jewish center occurred on October 8 but became a focus of public attention this week after the surveillance camera video was published by CrownHeights.info, a community news website focusing on the Crown Heights neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York City and on Jewish issues.
Both the New York police and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office have opened investigations into the videotaped incident and it has also been referred to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates allegations of abuse of authority by the police, officials said.
The beating occurred after a volunteer at the center, identified in a Times blog post as Trappler Zalman, called police and reported that a man was “sleeping naked” in the lounge of the center. Police said in a statement that the man in question – Halevy – was sleeping in a section of the center reserved for women.
Feiglin told The New York Times however that Halevy had permission to sleep at the center, because he needed a “place to crash for a short period.” The rabbi said he was unsure why the volunteer called the police, because Halevy had been sleeping in the lounge for about one month.
In the video, Halevy appears to be asleep on a couch when he is awakened by the two officers. The video has no sound but the body language of the people on camera makes clear the rising tension as the confrontation continues.
At one point, as Vega appears to be preparing to handcuff him, Halevy throws up his arms and pushes back. Moments later, Vega crouches and delivers the first blows. After a few minutes, more than 10 officers enter the room and Halevy is eventually dragged off of a couch onto the floor and handcuffed.
In their report, the officers said they had “become alarmed and annoyed” by Halevy’s behavior during the incident, which occurred shortly after 5am. One of the officers reported receiving a sprained wrist in the altercation.
Feiglin, quoted by The New York Times, said Halevy participated in many of the center’s programs that are focused on education, spiritual and counseling services for “at risk” youths.
Halevy has also been charged with assault, trespass, resisting arrest, harassment, and unlawful possession of marijuana.
Steven Banks, attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society which is representing Halevy, said the alleged beating marked a “new low” for New York police.
“You have to wonder when this is going to end,” Banks told the Times. “This is yet another instance of over-policing in which a situation could have been addressed without an arrest, let alone the use of force.”