National News

Council Speaker Calls Police Response ‘Out of Control’

Posted January 11, 2018 11:21 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — The newly elected City Council speaker, Corey D. Johnson, on Thursday accused New York City police officers and federal law enforcement agents of acting violently during an immigrant rights protest in which two council members and more than a dozen other demonstrators were arrested.

The protest began at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in lower Manhattan and continued down Broadway as demonstrators tried to block an ambulance that was carrying an immigrant rights leader, Ravi Ragbir. A lawyer for Ragbir, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who had been fighting deportation, said that he had fainted during a meeting with immigration officials after being told he was to be detained.

Video taken during the protest showed police officers grabbing Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, pulling his suit coat over his head and accusing him of resisting arrest, even though he was seated on the pavement. At another point, he was held firmly and surrounded by officers.

The police also arrested Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, pushing him against the hood of a car. He later grimaced in pain as he sat, with his wrists handcuffed behind him, on the pavement on Broadway in front of City Hall. His suit coat was torn down the side.

“It got a little too rough here today from law enforcement,” said Johnson, who also took part in the protest. He spoke a few feet from where officers stood over a group of handcuffed protesters, including Williams. Angrily addressing a senior police official at the scene, Johnson said, “Your people were out of control!”

Referring to the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, he added, “I want the PC to call me now!”

As the chaotic scene unfolded on the street in front of City Hall, mayoral aides and other city officials came out of the building to watch.

Later on Thursday, at a City Hall news conference, Johnson, who was elected as speaker on Jan. 3, said the protest had been peaceful and that it “turned needlessly violent at the hands of ICE agents, and there were some members of the NYPD who were involved as well.” A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the federal agents involved were not with ICE but were officers with the Federal Protective Services who guard federal buildings.

Johnson said that even though he was not blocking the ambulance carrying Ragbir, a police officer “shoved me and almost knocked me over.”

Johnson said that he had a brief telephone conversation with O’Neill, who told him that the police were reviewing videotape of the episode.

A Police Department spokeswoman said 18 people were arrested, but it was not immediately clear what the charges were.

Ragbir, 53, became a permanent resident of the United States in 1994. In 2000 he was convicted of wire fraud in a case related to loan documents, according to his lawyer, Alina Das.

He served a prison sentence and in 2006 was ordered to be deported, but was eventually granted a stay that had been extended until this month. On Thursday he went to a scheduled check-in with immigration authorities, as protesters rallied outside the federal building to support him.

After regaining consciousness he was handcuffed and put into an ambulance, according to his wife, Amy Gottlieb. Then, what had started as a peaceful rally turned raucous when word spread of his detention. Protesters rushed to try to block the ambulance.

A Fire Department spokesman said that Ragbir had been taken to Bellevue Hospital Center for evaluation, and the ICE spokeswoman said he was later taken into custody.