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NYPD officer points taser at bystander during arrest that started as social distancing violation — then takes bystander to ground, punches him

But police said the bystander 'took a fighting stance against the officer' — and video just may back that up

Image source: Twitter video screenshot

A New York City police officer was caught on video pointing a taser at a bystander during a Saturday arrest on the lower east side of Manhattan that escalated from a social distancing violation — and then the officer took down the bystander, punched him, slapped him, and placed him under arrest, Gothamist reported.

But police told the outlet the bystander "took a fighting stance against the officer" — and surveillance video recorded from an opposite angle may back that up.

What are the details?

Witness Daquan Owens recorded cellphone video of the incident that's gone viral and told Gothamist it all started when plainclothes officers approached a man and a woman talking outside a deli around 5:30 p.m. and ordered them to separate. Owens told the outlet the man and woman were six feet apart in keeping with social distancing rules to fight the coronavirus spread.

"They were social distancing," Owens added to Gothamist. "The girl was standing by the phone booth, the guy was sitting on a milk crate."

But according to the surveillance video, while the pair appeared to stay six feet apart, the woman eventually walked up to the man and stood right next to him — and then police approached them.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

"When the cops pulled up, she said he's not doing anything," Owens added to the outlet. "They grabbed her and started tussling with her. Then the guy on the milk crate got mad and started yelling at police."

Police told Gothamist that Shakiem Brunson, 31, "became aggressive towards officers and resisted arrest" while Ashley Serrano, 22, allegedly tried to stop police from taking Brunson into custody and also was arrested.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

NYPD Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell told Gothamist in a statement that "a group was observed" on the corner "in violation of social distancing orders" — and when officers approached them to order them to disperse, police "observed a bag of alleged marijuana in plain view."

A third arrest

Owens' video begins as the pair were being placed under arrest — and soon one of the officers turns and walks toward bystander Donni Wright, 33, and points a taser at him, the outlet said. The taser's pulse is audible, but it isn't clear if it's discharged.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

The cellphone video also appears to show Wright advancing toward the arresting police before the officer turns and walks toward Wright and orders him to "move the f*** back right now." As the officer places the taser back into his holster, he asks Wright, "What are you flexin' for? Don't flex."

NYPD stated that Wright "took a fighting stance against the officer," Gothamist reported, adding that the clip shows Wright from behind holding his hands at his side with one fist clenched.

"Donni wasn't being aggressive, he was just talking," Owens told the outlet. "He never raised his hands or hit him. Cop just took it upon himself to start beating on him. I was standing right next to him. I could hear everything."

However, both Owens' cellphone video and the surveillance video appear to show Wright taking a step toward the officer before the officer took him down.

What happened next?

Owens' video shows the officer punching Wright, slapping him, then dragging him by the wrist to the edge of the sidewalk where the officer gets help from a fellow officer in handcuffing Wright.

Image source: Twitter video screenshot

Here's Owens' cellphone video. ( Content warning: Language and racial slurs):

Here's the surveillance video recorded from an opposite angle. ( Content warning: Racial slurs):

PSA4 NYPD Anti-Crime Officers Assault 1 girl & 2 guys Over Social Distancing (STORE VIDEO) youtu.be

What else are police saying?

The NYPD told Gothamist the incident is under investigation, and the outlet added that NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he's seen the video and that one officer has been placed on modified duty.

"It started out as a social distancing enforcement," Shea added to Gothamist. "It's being investigated currently by our Internal Affairs Bureau.

What happened to Wright?

Wright is charged with assaulting an officer, menacing, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, and disorderly conduct, the outlet reported.

His mother Donna Wright added to Gothamist that her son was still in jail Sunday morning.

"This is our neighborhood for over 35 years," she said. "Donni happens to be an employee with [NYC Housing Authority] for 10 years. He doesn't have a criminal record. He was going to the store after work, and the officer punched him to the floor."

What about the other suspects?

Brunson faces charges including criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana, and resisting arrest while Serrano also faces a charge of criminal possession of a weapon, as well as resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, the outlet said.

What are other officials saying?

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein both called for an investigation of the incident, Gothamist said.

The Legal Aid Society condemned the arrests and called on the NYPD to release the names of all officers involved in the incident, the outlet noted.

"City Hall and the NYPD need to seriously reconsider social distancing enforcement that leads to escalations involving the use of tasers and violent assaults," Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society told Gothamist. "What is equally disturbing is that some of these officers — who were ostensibly enforcing social distancing laws — were in violation of those same very laws themselves by not wearing protecting masks, endangering the lives of all New Yorkers around them."

One last thing…
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