The homeless services officers who detained a Queens man who took a photo of an officer who wasn't wearing a mask have been suspended for 30 days, according to the Department of Homeless Services.
While Anshuman Bhatia was walking home in Queens, he took a photo of a uniformed DHS cop who wasn't wearing a mask—a recurring theme among government employees and officials who implore the public to wear masks to mitigate COVID-19 but are often seen without face coverings themselves.
After he took the photo, the cop and another officer—supervising officer Ian Bourne and officer Joseph Coye—detained Bhatia and issued him a harassment summons, cuffing him for 45 minutes in a room inside a hotel, which has been repurposed as a COVID-19 emergency housing shelter. Bhatia also alleges that one of the officers made homophobic remarks toward him.
The department is now moving to fire the officers involved.
"As a result of our review of this incident, we have determined that the actions described, including unjustified detainment and false reporting of the incident to us by the officer, are an absolutely unacceptable abuse of authority and breach of trust, which we will not tolerate at our Agency," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement. "As a result, we are bringing charges that may result in the termination of the officers involved."
Bourne and Coye will be suspended without pay for 30 days, the department said. When they return, they'll be placed on modified duty while the agency pursues termination through charges pursuant to civil service and union rules.
"Ensuring a safe, supportive environment for clients, staff, and community members alike, is our top priority as we help New Yorkers in need get back on their feet at our shelter locations," the DHS spokesperson said. "We are deeply sorry for the experience Mr Bhatia had to endure here."
The department was unable to provide details on what its investigation found since it is an ongoing disciplinary matter, but a spokesperson said there was "no basis for detainment, there was no threat to or harassment of the officer."
Bhatia said, "It's thrilling to hear this news, and it's amazing the pace that has happened."
He was detained July 12th. The DHS suspended the officers 12 days later, and two days after Gothamist reported on the incident.
"I would say that to see accountability on individual officers' levels—I think there can be a larger discussion about whether paid or administrative leave is actually accountability—but the fact that they're not on the beat anymore is accountability in my eyes, [to] some degree," Bhatia said.
But the scenic and lighting designer hopes for more systemic change.
"How many more cases are there like this that are not getting a similar attention that I'm that I'm receiving?" he said. "It's like a mixed emotional bag right now."
His lawyer, Gideon Oliver, said the suspension was "lightning fast" compared to his experiences with officers in the NYPD.
"Ultimately cops policing cops, which is what this is another version of, is not a model for justice," said Oliver, who has only been in contact with the DHS following a freedom of information request for security camera footage. "A real model for justice would take ... true community transparency and community control, which I doubt is a part of the process."
The DHS said the summons is expected to be vacated or withdrawn.