The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office will investigate an incident in which police officers are suspected of slamming two women, one of them pregnant, to the ground last week in Sunset Park, the pregnant woman’s attorney Sanford Rubenstein said in a press conference yesterday.
“If criminal charges against the officers are appropriate, bring it!” said Rubenstein after a meeting with chief of the DA’s new civil rights bureau, Marc Fliedner. Rubenstein said it was “very important” for the family of the pregnant woman, Sandra Amezquita, that an investigation, independent from one being conducted by the NYPD, be carried out. “This family wants justice,” he said, and expects “the police officers to be held accountable.”
At about 1 a.m. on Sept. 22, officers from the 72nd Precinct in Sunset Park tried to arrest Amezquita’s 17-year-old son Jhohan Lemos for carrying a knife – he was eventually arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest and harassment. Officers say Amezquita, who is 5 months pregnant, tried to intervene in the arrest; she said in a press conference that she “went to console him.”
The scene that then unfolded was filmed on a camera-phone and published on Facebook a day later by El Grito De Sunset Park, a police watchdog association in the neighborhood.
On the video, an officer appeared to push Amezquita, who fell belly-first onto the ground where the officer, soon helped by a colleague, then straddled her. A few seconds later, another woman, Mercedes Hidalgo, came close to the altercation: an officer sent her rolling on the concrete. Hidalgo later said in a press conference that she was trying to warn officers that Amezquita was pregnant.
Amezquita and her attorney later released images of bruising on her stomach, and said it was caused by an officer beating her with his baton.
“My back still hurts,” Amezquita said yesterday. “I pray to God that my child isn’t born sick.” Rubenstein said doctors said there was “no way to tell “ whether there would be further complications.
Amezquita was charged with disorderly conduct and her husband, Ronel Lemos, who was also at the scene, was charged with assaulting a police officer. Attorney Darren Fields, who represents them in the criminal case, said yesterday that he hoped the DA’s investigation would “verify that no crime was committed” and eventually lead to the charges being dropped.
A week earlier, El Grito de Sunset published another video, this time showing a police officer kicking a street vendor on the ground for failing to close up shop on time after the annual neighborhood’s parade. That officer has since been suspended. Rubinstein confirmed that one of the police officers “who pushed” this time was now on modified duty, and added that he was now “looking for prosecutors to charge, if needed.”
Rubenstein said he hoped the DA’s investigation would give a “picture of the truth that demonstrates what should not be happening in that city.”
Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, said he appreciated that the DA would pursue an independent investigation. “Whenever the police investigates on the police, it goes nowhere,” he said.
While the New York Times reported that some residents “praised the police for remaining attentive to quality-of-life concerns,” Flores said yesterday that the distrust of the community toward the police was growing. He said he was surprised that, even after the attention brought by the first video, the police violence still “escalated.”
The case now “has the public attention that it deserves,” said Rubenstein, who is known for calling media attention “the trial before the trial” in his book, and who has been involved many times in cases of police violence.
Flores wants to use this public attention to “create a popular people’s movement,” he said, that demands the removal of Police Commissioner William Bratton. Flores said he held Bratton’s “broken-windows policy, which is targeting quality-life crimes,” directly responsible for the rise in police violence.
An anti-police-brutality rally march sparked by the incident was already held last Saturday. Today, El Grito and other neighborhood associations will join a town hall meeting about police conduct and accountability, hosted by the NYC Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.