After an outcry that a group of homeless men seen in a now-viral video fighting with a police officer—who repeatedly told them to back away—had not been charged with any crimes, the NYPD announced that they would file more serious charges against three of the suspects, including riot, obstructing governmental administration and, for one of the men, attempted assault.
The new charges stem from an incident at the East Broadway subway station on December 23rd. Around 10:30 p.m., Officer Syed Ali was asked to assist a woman who said she was being harassed by a group of men on the platform. Some of the men apparently confronted Ali, and video shows the officer warning them to not approach him and using his baton as well as his feet to fend them off. A bystander is seen trying to prevent the others from going near Ali, but at one point, one of the men tries to charge at Ali. The man ends up stumbling into the tracks:
This is what the men and women in uniform sign up to do each day. Face the danger, no matter what type just to make sure people we serve are protected. Great work done by our proud member who showed restraint and bravery. He’s also a ranking member in @USArmy @NYPDTransit @NYCPBA pic.twitter.com/5FWcFWDE24
— NYPDMOS (@NYPDMuslim) December 24, 2018
Ali called for power to be cut to the tracks so the man could be pulled up to safety. Police did not initially charge the men; they were instead transported to a nearby hospital "due to their highly intoxicated condition," according to the official NYPD statement.
After being released from Beth Israel hospital, the NYPD told Gothamist the group returned to the same station, and were subsequently arrested for being outstretched in a subway station. The Manhattan D.A.'s office declined to prosecute, and a spokesperson said, "When people are arrested for attacking officers, we prosecute them. These men were not arrested for attacking an officer. They were arrested for sleeping on the floor of a subway station — a rules violation, not a crime."
Nevertheless, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and others pounced on the DA for not prosecuting the men, with PBA president Pat Lynch issuing a statement saying, "These men chose to drink to excess and then to attack a police officer like a pack of jackals when given a lawful order to move on. They should be held accountable for their actions.”
On Wednesday, NYPD Sergeant Jessica McRorie said the men would face more serious charges, announcing that the NYPD "has reviewed the incident that took place in a Manhattan subway station on 12-23-18 with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. It has been determined that two individuals will be charged with Riot and Obstructing Governmental Administration and one individual will be charged with Riot, Obstructing Governmental Administration, and Attempted Assault."
Eliseo Alvarez, 26, was arrested and charged with attempted assault, obstructing governmental administration, riot, attempted criminal possession of a weapon, and menacing. Juan Nunez, 27, was charged with obstructing governmental administration and riot. The third individual is still wanted by the NYPD.
Officer Ali had no idea the video was so widely seen. The NY Times reports that he "does not use social media" and "did not know he had even been filmed."
But Officer Ali said he was glad it was filmed because it allowed him to reconstruct the episode.
“The tension and the adrenaline was at full throttle, where I couldn’t even tell you the details the video is showing,” he said. “It may have saved me. Officers get crucified for garbage sometimes.”
The episode began when a woman at the East Broadway subway station on the Lower East Side told Officer Ali she was scared because a group of people were bothering her. He said he told the men to leave the station.
“That’s when I saw they started becoming a little aggressive, more combative,” he said. “The video kind of shows what happened after that.”
The Times has written about the officer before: In 2017, Ali, who is Muslim, was detained at JFK Airport after being a two-year Army Reserve deployment in Iraq.