A sergeant for the city's Department of Homeless Services is facing charges of excessive force and filing a false police report after video surfaced of him stomping on a man's head more than ten times at a Manhattan homeless shelter.
Cordell Fitts, 34, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the March 6th, 2017 incident, in which the former "peace officer" was caught on video repeatedly pummeling a homeless person in the shelter's lobby. The confrontation allegedly began with Fitts placing his hand on the man, who then took a swing at the officer.
According to federal prosecutors, Fitts then "kicked and stomped on the head of [the man] approximately 11 times...and punched him in the area of his head approximately two additional times."
Following the violent incident, Fitts filed a police report defending his use of "necessary force," and claiming that the victim admitted to him, "I am off my psych medication and going through a lot." But prosecutors say those statements were false, and that the officer was merely attempting to "cover up and justify the assault."
"Fitts’s alleged conduct not only betrayed his duty as an officer to protect those under his charge, but also violated the law," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. "When the constitutional rights of individuals experiencing homelessness are violated, particularly by law enforcement officers, we will act aggressively to bring wrongdoers to justice."
It's unclear if prosecutors have spoken with the victim of the alleged assault. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office said he couldn't comment on additional details of the investigation, including the extent of the injuries suffered by the victim. Whether the man was arrested, and what he may have been charged with, also remains unknown.
In some ways, the incident calls to mind the recent arrest of Jazmine Headley, whose 1-year-old child was ripped from her arms during a widely-condemned incident at a social services office in Brooklyn. That encounter, which was captured on cell phone video, involved both peace officers with the Human Resources Administration and NYPD officers (the peace officers resigned, while the police officers were not punished).
Testifying about her "dehumanizing" treatment at a recent City Council hearing, Headley spoke about the many ways the city's most marginalized populations are mistreated by city employees, and called for reforms to the Human Resources Administration. "I was just a number, a ticket, a problem, and I know each day, so many people have the same experience," she said.
The incident involving Fitts occurred at a shelter on 30th Street in Manhattan maintained by the Department of Homeless Services, which is part of the Human Resources Administration. The homelessness agency was previously its own department, but was merged with the city's welfare services by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016.
Fitts, who has since resigned from his position, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. You can read the full complaint here.