The NYPD will not discipline the police officers who helped pry Jazmine Headley's 18-month-old son from her arms, after a "strenuous review" conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau found no wrongdoing on the part of the police.
In a statement released late Friday, Police Commissioner James O'Neill conceded that "clearly something went wrong" during the "chaotic" arrest of the 23-year-old mother. But he pinned the blame on actions taken by Human Resources Administration personnel before police arrived on the scene. "This review shows that prior to the incident depicted on public video, NYPD officers are working with the client to de-escalate the situation," the commissioner said.
Widely-seen cell phone video taken at the Boerum Hill benefits offices begins as Headley is laying on the ground, surrounded by HRA security guards—known as "peace officers"—and two uniformed police officers. A police officer repeatedly attempts to yank the child away from Headley, at one point lifting the woman into the air as she desperately holds on to her son. The same officer later pulls out a stun gun and waves it at the crowd and distressed mother.
Over the weekend, Headley told the Times that she'd arrived at the assistance office determined to reclaim child care vouchers that the city had recently cut off after she began a new job as an office cleaner. After waiting for hours, she took a seat against a wall of the office with her son—drawing the attention of one of the security guards. "I should've left, and I didn't because if I would've left, my son would not have the things that he needs," she said. "My main objective was to get there, handle business and get home."
She remembers "being talked to very viciously" by security guards and asking to speak with a supervisor. She says that the guards returned with two police officers and that what happened next was a blur. According to the NYPD's investigation, an HRA officer escalated the dispute by pulling Headley to the ground.
A law enforcement source told the Times that police body camera footage shows a security guard threatening to separate Headley from her child if she doesn't leave the office, then lunging at her after a tense verbal exchange. "Everyone tumbles down," the source said. Headley was subsequently arrested on charges of resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child and criminal trespass. The charges were eventually dropped, and a judge ordered her released from Rikers Island after five days.
Two HRA peace officers, Toyin Ramos-Williams and Betinna Barnett-Weekes, were suspended for 30 weeks without pay for their role in the incident. Greg Floyd, president of the Teamsters Local 237, which represents the security guards, has blamed Headley for the encounter, claiming that she bit an officer and used her child as a shield. A photo shows bite marks on one peace officer's arm, and the officer was reportedly taken to Methodist Hospital by an EMT crew.
Internal agency reports from the Human Resources Administration that were leaked to the Daily News and the Post state that there was a chair available when a private security supervisor asked Headley to move up off the floor where she was sitting. The reports assert that “she became very loud, irate and was using profanity towards the security supervisor.”
Despite the alleged biting, Headley was not initially charged with assault, but with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and trespassing. The Brooklyn D.A. later dropped all of the charges against Headley, after the video went viral.
An NYPD spokesperson said the department did not interview HRA officers or personnel as part of their review, at the request of the Brooklyn District Attorney.
The Mayor once again has deferred to the NYPD to police themselves. Think about the message this sends to the force. You can do anything & face no consequences. If someone sues, the city (read: taxpayers) will pay out on your behalf. Eric Garner's killer is still on the force.
— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) December 17, 2018
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did not publicly address the incident for three days, has faced repeated challenges over the last week to more forcefully condemn the police officers' actions. During his weekly appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning, the mayor lashed out at those critical of his silence, attacking a "wildly inaccurate" Times editorial and the "simplistic analysis" of those in his own party questioning his professed commitment to police reform. He has so far refused to say whether the officers should face discipline and insisted earlier in the week that "by the time the NYPD arrived, the situation was already out of control."
According to an NYPD spokesperson, the two police officers were cleared following a review of publicly available video, 911 calls, interviews with Headley and her mother, and body camera footage. The department has so far declined to name the officers or release their body camera recordings, citing a lawsuit brought by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
As a result of the investigation, the department said that it would review tactics for NYPD officers in situations when a person is holding a young child and create guidelines for interactions between the NYPD and the HRA.
In her interview with the Times, Headley said that the harrowing experience with police officers and city workers was not uncommon for New Yorkers seeking social assistance. “It’s the story of many other people, it’s not just my story," she said. "My story is the only one that made it to the surface."