MANHATTAN — Police repeatedly punched a man, dragged him off a train, threw him to the floor of a Manhattan subway station and pepper sprayed him, body camera video released Wednesday shows.
The officers had confronted the 30-year-old man on May 25 for taking up more than one seat in the mostly empty subway car, a crime that hasn't been prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office since 2016. Joseph, whose full name isn't being used because he fears retaliation from police, was charged with felony assault after Vance's office upgraded charges against him. He could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Officers said Joseph kicked NYPD Officer Adonis Long's hand while "flailing his arms and kicking his legs" as he was removed from the train. A spokesperson for Vance's office said Joseph was charged with assault because Long "reported an injury requiring medical attention subsequent to the arrest."
"After a thorough investigation, our prosecutor intended to offer the individual an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal at his next court appearance," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "The District Attorney was provided with the available footage last night and determined that our office will advance the case for this purpose, dismiss the Assault charge, and offer an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal for the remaining misdemeanor charge."
The Legal Aid Society, which is representing Joseph, called Wednesday for Officer Long and Officer Shimul Saha, who was also involved, to be fired. An NYPD spokesperson said the use of force is under review.
Long and Saha confronted Joseph around 12:30 a.m. on May 25. After Joseph was told to leave the train, he moved to another subway car. Police followed him.
"Step off the train," an officer can be heard saying on video. "You're holding up the train for everybody. Step off or I gotta drag you off."
Joseph asked them how he was holding up the train and refused to get off. When Officer Long reached out for Joseph's arm, the subway rider pushed Long's hand away.
"Don't touch me," Joseph can be heard saying. "Don't touch me. Get off of me."
Video shows Officer Long repeatedly punch Joseph in the face. Long and Officer Saha pulled Joseph from the subway car. Joseph's glasses flew off his face in the struggle and he was thrown to the ground in the station.
One officer pulled Joseph over to a wall while the other kicked his belongings off the train. Police told him to sit down and then pepper sprayed him in the face when he didn't immediately comply.
Joseph turned to the wall and covered his eyes; he cried and took a few steps away from police, then fell to the ground where he continued to cry. Officers made him stand, but then told him again to get on the floor.
"Help me," Joseph cried as he got down on the ground.
Video shows Joseph, face bloodied, struggled with police while on the floor. Officers pulled at his hair and held a hand on his neck. One of Joseph's shoes came off. He asked to be allowed to stand up.
"I'm having a panic attack, please," he said. "I'm sorry. Please, guys, you're killing me."
Joseph was taken to a local hospital on a stretcher.
He was charged by police with resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration and taking up more than one seat on the subway.
Edda Ness, a staff Attorney with the Manhattan Trial Office at The Legal Aid Society, called the "brutal attack" on Joseph "both unconscionable and completely indefensible."
"The body worn camera footage speaks for itself: these officers singled out our client for taking up two seats on a virtually empty subway car and then resorted to violence as their first impulse," Ness said. "Officers Long and Saha should be fired immediately. It’s equally shocking that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, despite seeing this video, chose to bump up the charges against our client. We are calling on them to dismiss these charges immediately in the interest of justice."