Stephanie Dorceant, a 29-year-old barista and aspiring filmmaker, was walking home early on Saturday morning with her girlfriend, Nandi Allman, when a man bumped into her. It was around 2 a.m. and a cab had just dropped them off a few blocks from the apartment they share in Flatlands, following an Afro Punk Festival battle of the bands in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Dorceant said she asked the man, 6 feet tall, 200-pounds, if he was okay, and he responded, "mind your own business, you fucking dyke."
He continued to curse Dorceant; she told him not to talk to her that way; and he proceeded to beat and choke her, according to her account. "Call the cops! Call the cops!" he yelled out to the cab driver, who was still at the curb, frozen in place. He then slammed Dorceant to the ground and placed his hands around her neck, as Allman desperately tried to pull her away, according to the couple.
"I truly thought I was going to die," Dorceant said. She bit the man and he released somewhat, but not entirely. They were just steps from the 63rd Precinct station house. Four officers in uniform approached.
"It wasn't until five seconds before they arrived that he said he was a cop," Allman said.
Now, after two days in jail, including one on Rikers Island, a $1,000 bail payment, and the filing of two felony assault charges against her, Dorceant knows that the man she encountered was Officer Salvatore Aquino, who was off-duty at the time. Allman said she was detained at the precinct for 20 minutes, then released, and only got a call from Dorceant once that weekend, shortly after her arrest. Dorceant said no one ever told her why she was in jail.
Dorceant has retained lawyers and, in addition to trying to have the charges thrown out, she wants Aquino charged with a hate crime, and to sue the city for his alleged misconduct. But the felony charges, plus charges of harassment, menacing, and resisting arrest, are no small thing, and Aquino has a different account of what happened. He told prosecutors that Dorceant, 5-feet-6 and 110 pounds, according to Allman, bumped into him as he was walking to his car, then followed him and punched him in the face. He claimed further that she bit him over and over, in the arms, chest, finger, and torso, and that he had face and head bruises to match hers. Both were treated at hospitals.
Aquino described observing three people arguing just before the altercation. Dorceant said it was just Allman and her, and that Aquino may be referring to "his imaginary friend." According to the couple, Aquino said he feared her bite had given him HIV, prompting the court to have her tested. The test came back negative, Dorceant said. She called the situation "a nightmare."
"The crazy thing is my friends and I have talked about police brutality, hate crimes, and I never thought for one second that would be me," she said. "This whole ordeal has been really surreal for me. I feel like one day I'm going to just wake up."
An NYPD rep said that an internal investigation into the matter is underway, and the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office's Civil Rights Bureau is also looking into the incident. Aquino and a partner, Mohammed Raza, were sued for alleged unreasonable force and false arrest in Brooklyn federal court in 2011. That lawsuit, in which the plaintiff said the pair slammed him to the ground, cuffed him too tightly, and had him jailed for 12 hours on a baseless charge that Aquino swore to, settled out of court for $5,000. Noting that tomorrow is the first anniversary of Eric Garner's unpunished death, Dorceant's attorney Ken Womble said he has no faith in the NYPD to police itself. His colleague Ben Moore declared that Dorceant will prevail.
"We are confident that these charges will be dismissed against Stephanie and confident also that this officer, this renegade officer will be prosecuted," Moore said.