NYPD under fire for video of pregnant woman hitting ground

Disturbing video of Brooklyn woman, five months pregnant, in a scuffle with police sets off another community relations crisis for the NYPD, which is battling controversy over street tactics in the outer boroughs. 

New York City police officers are under investigation this week after a bystander used a smartphone to capture a particularly rough arrest of a Brooklyn woman five months pregnant.

The video shows the arrest of Sandra Amezquita, a Colombian immigrant and mother of four, who fell belly first onto the pavement as officers wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her hands behind her back. The incident occurred during an early morning melee Saturday in Sunset Park – a neighborhood sometimes called Brooklyn’s “Little Latin America,” since more than half its residents are Latino.

The video also shows another officer violently shoving an unidentified woman to the pavement as she stands near the arrest. Police simply issued Ms. Amezquita a summons for disorderly conduct, but the other woman, reported to be a friend, was neither arrested or accused of a crime. 

The disturbing video is a blow to the New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who has made a priority of improving police relations with minority communities, after more than a decade of bitter contention over NYPD street tactics, including curbing stop-and-frisk tactics.

It's also created a fresh community-relations crisis for the New York City Police Department, which this summer has endured relentless criticism from minority communities after a number of smartphone videos captured the fatal arrest of Eric Garner, a 350-pound black man who suffocated to death as police wrestled him to the ground in July.

The city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and a district attorney has convened a grand jury to consider charges against the officer, who contributed to Mr. Garner’s death by using an apparent chokehold banned by NYPD policy.

After the Garner incident, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced that his department would begin an unprecedented series of “refresher courses” for its officers – annual in-service training that would focus on de-escalating violent street encounters and train officers to treat all citizens with respect, even during arrests.

The training, Commissioner Bratton told lawmakers this month, would teach officers “how to talk to an initially uncooperative person with the goal of avoiding a physical confrontation.” He also said the training would emphasize “how to physically restrain a suspect who continues to resist arrest without harm to that individual or the officer.”

On Monday, the NYPD was praised for its uncharacteristic restraint during a boisterous protest on Wall Street, as over 1,000 climate protesters clogged traffic in acts of civil disobedience. Even critics said police officers used internationally recognized “best practices” to contain the political march against capitalism and climate change, which led to over 100 arrests in the city’s Financial District.

But Monday’s “Flood Wall Street” protest, with echoes of the Occupy movement in 2011, occurred in a highly media-visible area of Manhattan – not in the outer-borough minority neighborhoods that have bristled under the aggressive street tactics of the NYPD.

“It's appalling,” said Sanford Rubenstein, Amezquita’s attorney. “It's clear to me when an incident like this occurs you understand why police-community relations are at an all-time low," he told The Associated Press.

The scuffle occurred after Amezquita and her husband, Ronel Lemos, attempted to intervene as police arrested and allegedly began to beat their 17-year-old son, Jhohan Lemos, who was accused of carrying a knife and resisting arrest around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday.

The elder Mr. Lemos was also arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the arrest of his son. Photos show the younger Mr. Lemos with his eye swollen shut and lacerations to his cheek and forehead following his arrest.

Amezquita reportedly suffered vaginal bleeding after her arrest, and bruising to her belly and arms.

“I was afraid something happened to my baby,” she told The New York Daily News on Tuesday. “I am still afraid that something is wrong,” she said.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled New York’s version of stop and frisk to be unconstitutional, saying it targeted minorities and violated previous limitations to stop and frisk that had kept the practice within legal bounds.

But videos such as those depicting Amezquita’s rough arrest have thwarted many of the De Blasio administration's efforts, and tensions among minorities and the NYPD remain strained.

“What we see is a woman who's trying to protect her son, who is being stopped and frisked by police, and she became a victim. Slammed onto the floor,” said Dennis Flores, founder of  El Grito De Sunset Park, a community social justice group organized in 2002.

“She's bleeding and she's having complications,” Mr. Flores told a local news station.

The video, too, comes less than a week after another Sunset Park cop was suspended after onlookers used their smartphones to record him kicking a street vendor.

"This is the second video in a week,” said New York City Councilman Carlos Menchaca to the local ABC News affiliate. “It's disgusting. This needs to stop. I spoke with the chief and the captain. We have a systemic problem with this precinct. We need to solve it now.”

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