After an off-duty undercover police officer was arrested Tuesday for his involvement in the highly publicized motorcycle gang assault on an SUV driver, sources told NBC he had also spied on Occupy Wall Street as a member of the NYPD Intelligence Division. Now members of the movement remember "Albert," or more accurately, Detective Wojciech Braszczok, as a quiet, omnipresent demonstrator who would show up at your birthday party, sleep on the street, and get arrested at a demonstration.

Braszczok's arrest on the job came during a demonstration at Grand Central Terminal on August 17, 2012. Photographer Danielle Kelly accompanied a group of 30 or 40 people, some of whom were affiliated with Occupy, who marched from Bryant Park to Grand Central to protest the Citizens United decision.

“They released some balloons, and they started mic-checking,” Kelly says. “That’s when the three people got arrested.” Kelly’s photographs from that day clearly show that Braszczok was one of those handcuffed and detained.

The three were arrested and their charges were eventually dropped. The two other arrestees brought a civil suit against the MTA, but Braszczok inexplicably (perhaps now less so) declined to join it. The suit was eventually settled.

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(Danielle Kelly / Gothamist)

Braszczok’s surveillance apparently extended beyond political demonstrations to the hurricane recovery work of Occupy Sandy. In November, the detective tweeted about an Occupy Sandy meeting in the Financial District. Participants remember him as a regular presence at Occupy Sandy’s operations as well.

“He was at 520 Clinton and Sunset Park,” an occupier named Casper recalls, referring to Occupy Sandy’s two main distribution hubs. “I saw him there a lot.”

People who remember Braszczok say he first showed up around October of 2011, when Zuccotti Park was still occupied. During the Zuccotti Park days and in the months immediately after, he helped maintain the occupation’s storage facility and some nearby office space it was allowed to use.

Casper described "Albert" as a quiet man with a strong Polish accent. “I never trusted the individual,” he says. “I always thought he was shady, the vibe he gave off. He’d come up to people and start a conversation, ask their age, their information, where they’re affiliated.”

Braszczok presented himself as someone with nowhere to stay, sleeping first in the park, then bunking with protesters at a series of churches throughout New York after the eviction, then joining the dwindling crowds that tried to stand on their right to public demonstration, first on the steps of Federal Hall, then in Union Square.

As Occupy began to ramp up its preparations for May Day with Spring Training exercises through March and April of 2012, Braszczok was there, tweeting his support.


It was in this same period that he began to follow the twitter accounts of John and Molly Knefel, two journalists who frequently covered Occupy Wall Street.

“It’s definitely creepy and unsettling to think of this guy monitoring conversations and actions and tweets that were all part of this nonviolent social movement,” Molly Knefel says. "Once you know you're being surveilled, it changes the way you think and the way you act.”

Most Occupy Wall Street participants assumed that undercover police had infiltrated their ranks, but many said yesterday that they were taken aback at how far the 32-year-old detective had taken his work. “I mean, he came to my birthday at the Blarney Stone,” said one occupier who asked to be identified by his Twitter handle, @SeaNick_. “He was there ‘til like 4:30 in the morning with us. I never thought anything of it.”

When he learned yesterday that the quiet person he knew as "Al" was actually an undercover cop, Nick said, he was shocked. “It really creeps me out, to be honest with you,” he said. “I wish I knew more: What was he expecting to find out? I mean, going to protests or meetings, I guess there’s something to that. But why are you coming to my birthday party?”

Braszczok also attended the birthday party of another occupier, Shay Horse, less than a month ago, on Septmber 14. Horse said he met Braszczok at a march in the early summer of 2012, when protesters were holding “casserole” rallies in support of the Quebecoise student movement. Soon, he was seeing him everywhere.

“The Trinity Church occupation, the Occupy Goldman Sachs action up at Lloyd Blankfein’s house, he was at every major action and some of the minor ones,” Horse said.

Dallas, another long-time Occupy participant, recalls an incident on one of the casserole marches early in the summer of 2012. “We were all on the east end of Times Square, on 46th cops started getting belligerent, and this guy ran at them, and he wound up with a broken collarbone. The undercover, he’s the guy who helped me move the injured person out of the street and into a store so we could call an ambulance.”

If Braszczok was seemingly ubiquitous, his surveillance didn’t always translate into immediate action on the part of his uniformed colleagues. In July of 2012, this reporter was invited to observe the secret basement planning session for an action by a small group of occupiers planning to chain themselves across the exit ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge the following morning to protest the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling. Among the half-dozen activists attending the meeting? Braszczok, sitting quietly in the corner, pledging to take part.

The next morning, as the activists assembled near the off-ramp, Braszczok was nowhere to be found, texting the organizers that he couldn’t get off work.

If the cops knew about the action, they evidently judged it was too poorly organized to be worth blowing Braszczok’s cover. They let the activists bring their plan to its haphazard fruition before descending and arresting the participants.

Detective Braszczok, sporting a fauxhawk, a grey hoodie, and black tennis shoes, on the steps of Federal Hall during Occupy's Spring Training in April of 2012 (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

By all accounts, Braszczok’s surveillance of Occupy Wall Street extended all the way through 2013. In April, he was seen at a small protest led by Icelandic Parliamentarian Birgitta Jondottir in support of Jeremy Hammond, and a few days later he tweeted his presence at a demonstration for the same cause. Dallas, the occupier who moved his injured comrade with the help Braszczok’s help, says he saw the detective in Zuccotti Park last month for Occupy's two-year anniversary and shook his hand.

Occupy participants are still digesting the news that "Albert" was a cop. On Twitter, some are calling out other suspected undercovers. Others are urging against the self-destructive suspicion that police moles often produce in political movements. Some activists, nursing vague recollections of seeing “Albert” at the NoNATO protests in Chicago and the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, are combing through old photographs to confirm their recollections, knowing that an undercover NYPD officer traveling outside his jurisdiction to spy on activists, while not unprecedented, could create yet another legal headache for the police

But for many occupiers, the primary reaction yesterday was one of indignation—while painting Occupy Wall Street as a public menace, the NYPD was infiltrating it with a man who is now facing assault charges.

"It's interesting to think about how much stupid time and money and resources have been wasted surveilling us," Clark Stoekley, a Newark artist and activist who was active in the early days of the movement says. "We're nonviolent...Police are the enemy, not the occupiers."

Nick Pinto is a freelance writer living in New York. His previous coverage for Gothamist includes a recent federal court hearing into the NYPD's surveillance program, the trial of Vietnam veterans arrested at the Vietnam Memorial and the NYU expansion plan.

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