High-ranking NYPD officer could be fired for actions during 2020 protest in Brooklyn


Police watchdogs say an NYPD inspector violated department policy during a 2020 Black Lives Matter Protest outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn by stomping on a man’s head and shoulder while he lay on the ground in the fetal position. But at an administrative trial Wednesday, the officer’s defense attorney argued that his client used a reasonable amount of force to subdue someone resisting arrest.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates claims of officer misconduct, reviewed the incident and has charged Inspector James Palumbo with excessive force. The agency has asked the police department to fire the inspector.

“Anything less would tarnish the reputation of the NYPD,” CCRB prosecutor Fredy Kaplan said in his closing statement.

NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Trials Paul Gamble will review the case and determine whether he broke policy. Then, the police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, will decide whether to discipline Palumbo, who joined the department in 2000 and has no other substantiated complaints on his record.

The NYPD said in an email that “the administrative process is ongoing” and declined to comment further.

The case stems from a seconds-long encounter around 10:15 p.m. on June 2, 2020, just days after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.

A 15-second video published by the New York Times shows Bryan Baez running down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn as three officers chase after him. Then, Baez falls to the ground and curls into a ball on his side.

“Alright, alright, alright,” he shouts as the three officers begin hitting him repeatedly with their batons. “I’m done. I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.”

Then, an officer in a white shirt — since identified as Inspector Palumbo — runs up, puts his right hand on one of the officer’s shoulders and lifts his leg up and down twice in the vicinity of Baez’s head and shoulder. It’s unclear from the video exactly where his foot touches down.

The question at issue in the trial is whether the inspector stepped on Baez, or if he stomped.

During the trial, the inspector testified that he ran over when he heard yelling and saw the officers beating Baez with batons. As a supervisor, he said, he wanted to help control the situation and get the man into custody. Palumbo said it looked to him like Baez was trying to get up. So, he said, he stepped on the man’s shoulder to stop him. Then, he said, he lost his balance and stepped down again.

The inspector said his foot hit Baez’s shoulder, but not his head. He said that he was also trying to move one of the officers away from Baez.

But prosecutors said the inspector “stomped” on Baez when he wasn’t a threat.

“He can say it any way he wants,” Kaplan said. “What you see is what you see.”

The two sides frequently bickered and raised objections against each other during the day-long trial. Gamble, who was overseeing the proceedings, played referee.

At one point when Kaplan used the word “stomp” while questioning Palumbo, the attorney stopped mid-sentence to announce for the record that the inspector had rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows. Palumbo’s defense attorney, Louis La Pietra, admitted that he, too, had been rolling his eyes. The judge temporarily stopped the proceedings.

La Pietra argued that his client couldn’t have used excessive force, because photo and video taken shortly after the incident didn’t appear to show any marks on Baez’s face or neck. He said the man looked “cherubic” in his arrest photo — not injured.

The CCRB’s sole witness, NYPD Supervising Investigator Benjamin Shelton, pointed out that photo and video of Baez from after the incident don’t show his whole body. He also said that evidence of an injury isn’t necessary to prove that an officer has used excessive force.

The NYPD Patrol Guide allows officers to use force “when it is reasonable to place a person in custody.” But, it also instructs officers to “prioritize de-escalation, whenever possible” and says that “unreasonable” force will be “deemed excessive.” The force guidelines do not say that force must cause injury to be considered excessive.

The defense attorney also cast doubt on the authenticity of the Times video. He noted that the clip was edited to slow down certain moments and highlight portions of the video frame, as part of what he called an “expose” published when criticizing policing was the “flavor of the day.”

The CCRB said that it also acquired an unedited version of the video.

Neither Baez nor any other protesters who were outside the Barclays Center that night testified at the trial. The CCRB said Baez’s attorney declined to participate while he is pursuing legal action against the department. His attorney did not return a phone call.

The trial comes at the tail end of years of CCRB investigations into the NYPD’s response to city-wide protests after the murder of George Floyd, which prompted a flood of civilian complaints and lawsuits.

Attorney General Letitia James has sued the city and the police department, arguing that officers used excessive force and violated protesters’ constitutional rights. A Department of Investigation report also concluded that the NYPD’s response to the protests “undermined public confidence.”


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