Officer placed on modified duty after video shows takedown

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is condemning a “troubling” video showing a plainclothes NYPD officer tackling a man who was watching an arrest and apparently attempted to intervene. The incident prompted outrage over the use of police force and raised questions about their role in enforcing social distancing measures.

De Blasio criticized the footage on Twitter, saying he was “disturbed by it.” “The officer involved has been placed on modified duty and an investigation has begun,” de Blasio said Sunday. “The behavior I saw in that video is simply not acceptable.”

The video, which was released on social media, showed officers over the weekend handcuffing people for violating social distancing orders before one of them turned his attention to a man, identified as 33-year-old Donni Wright, who approached them. The mask-less officer told Wright to move back and took out his taser gun — while Wright, who can’t be seen on camera, took a “fighting stance against the officer,” according to an NYPD spokesperson.

Moments later, the clip showed the officer grabbing Wright and slapping him across the face. The officer dragged Wright, continued to punch him and put his knee on top of his neck until another officer arrived, the video shows. Wright was charged with assault on a police officer, menacing, resisting arrest, obstruction and two counts of disorderly conduct, police said.

De Blasio addressed the video again during his Monday coronavirus briefing. “The video was very troubling. What I saw was unacceptable, and obviously discipline was swift by the NYPD,” de Blasio said. “But I want to note that that video is more and more of a rarity, what you saw there is more and more of a rarity.”

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who was also in attendance, said he wasn’t “happy” with the video, but people “need look at it in the context of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of encounters across the city.”

Critics said the NYPD’s enforcement of social distancing was not equal throughout the city as photos emerged over the weekend of large gatherings in parks. One image that went viral — and was later shared by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — showed a park completely packed with people.

Addressing the photos, de Blasio said he’s instructed the NYPD to increase enforcement in the park. He also said his office will share more data about social distancing enforcement in the coming days, as requested by Williams.

“The incidents we saw this past weekend in our parks and on our streets and social media feeds have made it abundantly clear that the same historical disparities in police enforcement are reflected in and magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic response,” Williams said in a statement to CBS New York. “This inequity is made clear when some violating social distancing receive a mask while others receive a summons, when some are warned and others violently arrested.”

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