A New York City police officer who was suspended after putting a man in what authorities said was a banned chokehold now faces criminal charges
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NEW YORK —
Moving swiftly amid a global furor over police misconduct, New York City prosecutors on Thursday filed criminal charges against a police officer caught on video putting a Black man in what they said was a banned chokehold.
Officer David Afanador pleaded not guilty on Thursday to strangulation and attempted strangulation charges stemming from the confrontation Sunday on a Queens beach boardwalk. He was released without bail.
It is the second time the 39-year-old Afanador has faced criminal charges for alleged brutality in 15 years on the police force. In 2016, he was acquitted on charges he pistol-whipped a teen suspect and broke two of his teeth.
Afanador’s lawyer said his client was facing a rush to judgment in the wake of protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and public pressure to hold police officers accountable for alleged misconduct. Floyd was killed a month to the day before Afanador’s arrest.
“It’s become fashionable for prosecutors to make summary arrests of police officers without a full and thorough investigation,” lawyer Stephen Worth said. “The concept of due process seems to go out the window.”
The NYPD suspended Afanador without pay after cellphone video surfaced showing officers tackling 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue and Afanador putting his arm around Bellevue’s neck as he lay face down on the boardwalk.
Body camera footage released Sunday night by police showed that for at least 11 minutes before Bellevue was tackled, he and two other men — one of whom shot the cellphone video — were shouting insults at officers, who implored them to walk away.
After suspending Afanador, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday that the officers had acted with “extreme restraint” and that the men taunting with sometimes foul language should also be condemned.
“But at the end of that story, an officer put his hand around a person’s neck, and that (officer) was dealt with swiftly and was suspended,” Shea said.
Bellevue’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said in a statement that Afanador’s arrest is the “first step in getting justice for Ricky Bellevue.”
“The next step is for this police officer to be convicted and sentenced to jail,” Rubenstein said.
Chokeholds have been banned by the New York Police Department for years. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a measure outlawing them statewide.
“The ink from the pen Gov. Cuomo used to sign this legislation was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit,” District Attorney Melinda Katz said of Afanador.
The chokehold issue has been particularly fraught since the death of Eric Garner after an officer put him in a chokehold in 2014. In that case, a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved. A federal civil rights investigation also concluded without charges being filed.
Afanador is the second NYPD officer to face brutality charges this month.
Officer Vincent D’Andraia pleaded not guilty June 9 to assault and other charges days after a bystander recorded him violently pushing protester Dounya Zayer to the ground during demonstrations over Floyd’s death, causing her to hit her head on the pavement.
Zayer, testifying last week at a hearing on police violence, said she has suffered constant migraines and struggled to keep down food since the May 29 shove left her in the hospital with a seizure and concussion.
“Where are the good cops that I keep hearing of?” Zayer said.