Felix Rivera-Pitre, the protester who was filmed being punched in the face by a white-shirted NYPD officer, has reportedly retained civil rights attorney Ron Kuby in the face of accusations that he tried to assault the officer. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne claimed that Rivera-Pitre instigated the confrontation by attempting to elbow Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona in the face, and authorities want to charge Rivera-Pitre with attempted assault on a police officer, obstructing governmental justice, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement that when Cardona attempted to arrest Rivera-Pitre, "others in the crowd jumped in on the officer," and when Cardona got to his feet, "he was sprayed in the face with an unknown liquid coming from the suspects direction." The video below shows the incident, and Cardona wiping something from his eyes.
We witnessed Cardona minutes after the incident, rubbing his shoulder and conversing with the officer who stood next to him as he punched Rivera-Pitre, and it did not appear that his eyes or face were injured. "On the off chance they were intending to arrest him for injuring the captain's fist with his jaw, I strongly suggest that you decide not to add insult to injury and avoid such a retaliatory move," Kuby wrote in a letter to the NYPD and Manhattan DA's office.
Rivera-Pitre, who has been living with HIV for 21 years, told us yesterday that he was protesting because his health care benefits were shrinking, something he felt was unfair given the recent bank bailout and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. "It's getting very difficult to take care of myself. After rent, I have to live off $300 a month," he said. "It's tough for people in my health and in my circumstances to get by."