Carroll Gardens resident James Veronico was walking back from the laundromat on Tuesday morning a little after 10 a.m. when he noticed construction had begun again at 395 Clinton Street, between Union and President streets. Work on the new four-story townhouse started back in September of 2013, but had stalled, and Veronico snapped a few photos, thinking he'd send it to a real estate blog to note that construction was back underway. That's when, he says, a uniformed building inspector rushed towards him. Veronico started filming because, he said, "I thought, if this guy gets out of hand, we need something to show what he did."
The inspector swatted at Veronico's phone but, Veronico said, hit his hand instead. All told, according to Veronico, the inspector hit his hands twice, and once grabbed his arms and pushed him off of some landing steps. In the series of videos Veronico uploaded to YouTube, we learn that the inspector's last name is Nuñez and he comes from Queens. He also says, "Get that phone off my face, bro" over and over—and over. Here are the subsequent videos, in what Veronico said is chronological order.
For those who don't feel like watching 10 minutes of video: at one point, two contractors from the work site walk over and demand to know who hired Veronico to film them. Unsatisfied with his answer, they later return to question his mental state. "You smell from alcohol," one says, and Inspector Nuñez readily picks up on the theme, saying, "Yeah, he's drunk."
(Reached by phone, Veronico said that when it comes to drinking, 10 a.m. is "a little early for me.")
The antagonistic trio then debate the legality of photographing from a public sidewalk and Veronico notes, rightfully, that even photographing through a home window is legal. Nuñez's argument on the other hand—"I'm a city official. You cannot record me."—holds no water. Nuñez reaches his most agitated just before cops arrive, smoking angrily and alternating between threats and claims of victimhood.
Veronico: Dude, they're right here. Are you gonna attack me in front of the cops?
Nuñez: Ooh I would love that, bro. I would love to knock your ass out, bro.
Veronico: I don't want to hurt you at all.
Nuñez: Really, you gonna hurt me, bro? You gonna hurt me now? You wanna threaten me now?
Later Nuñez asks, "Oh, I hit you? It's on tape? You got marks? Because when I hit, papa, I mark."
The police arrive and, as Veronico predicted, affirm that he has the right to film anybody he wants on a public street. Veronico said the cops asked if he wanted to press charges against Nuñez for harassment, but he declined.
"I thought, you know what, I've got enough weirdness for one day," Veronico said.
Still, he is confused about why Nuñez was acting "like I caught him robbing a bank, or carrying off with the Lindbergh baby." Asked if it looks like there is anything suspicious about the construction site, he said, "actually, you get the opposite impression," citing its prominently posted permits, and saying the site is tidy and the work unobtrusive. Contractor BBM Construction Corp. does owe $2,500 for failing to certify correction of an immediately hazardous building violation—namely, the lack of handrails into the building's basement—and paid $1,231 for starting excavation back in March without notifying the Department of Buildings, a fine knocked down from $6,000 city records show.
Absent more information, though, Veronico's main concern is the behavior of the building inspector.
"A city official shouldn't act like that," he said.
Department of Buildings spokesman Alexander Schnell said, "The department will be reviewing the incident and taking appropriate action where necessary."