The NYPD officer who was captured on video appearing to kneel on a Black man's neck during a January arrest in Queens will not be prosecuted, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said Friday.
In a statement, Katz did not name the officer but the Queens Eagle identified the man as Officer Thomas Montario of the 113th Precinct.
Montario was part of a group of responding officers who arrested Long Island resident Sircarlyle Arnold on January 2nd in Jamaica, Queens, on misdemeanor reckless endangerment for allegedly operating an illegal ATV. He also committed four other vehicle traffic offenses, according to police.
In bodycam footage released by the DA’s office, witnesses yell at Montario as he kneels on Arnold’s upper body as he is lying on the ground with his hands behind his back.
“Look at his knee! Look at his knee!” a witness shouts while another person yells “Take your knee off!” The video released by the DA’s office does not clearly show where Montario’s knee is on Arnold’s body, but another cellphone video seems to show that he is kneeling on Arnold’s neck.
The incident drew comparisons to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes until he stopped breathing. Chauvin is now on trial for murder.
Still, Katz said there was “insufficient evidence” that Montario used an unlawful method of restraint on Arnold, and could not bring a case against Montario under a chokehold ban passed by the City Council in the aftermath of Floyd's death, which makes it a misdemeanor for cops to use several methods of restraint, including kneeling on a person's back or neck, or restricting the flow of air by blocking their windpipe, in the course of an arrest.
Katz said “While I fully support the spirit of legislation that prioritizes police accountability and thereby promotes community engagement, the elements of AC 10-181 (the chokehold ban) are not satisfied in this case.”
She added, “Specifically, in order to satisfy the statute, one of two things must be made out which the evidence does not show happened here: The law requires a finding that the officer involved restricted the flow of air or blood by either compressing Mr. Arnold’s windpipe or the carotid arteries on each side of his neck. There could be no such finding under the facts here. Neither did the evidence support a finding that air or blood flow were restricted by sitting, kneeling or standing on the neck in a manner that compresses the diaphragm.”
Katz said her office conducted a “thorough investigation that included consultation with two medical experts and an NYPD expert in Physical Training and Tactics, interviews with multiple officers and Sircarlyle Arnold, and extensive review of NYPD Body Worn Camera footage.”
Prosecutors have previously said the bodycams worn by Montario and other arresting officers were “damaged during the arrest” by being dislodged and possibly run over by car, making the footage unusable, the Queens Eagle reported.
Arnold said in a January interview that he was participating in a group ride-out for a recently deceased friend when he was arrested and had no intention of defying the officers' orders. He said he was dismounting his quad bike when he was thrown to the ground unexpectedly by several officers.
"You guys treated me like this for no reason after all this stuff that just went on?" Arnold said at the time.
The charges against Arnold have been dismissed by Katz’s office, the Queens Eagle reported. NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason said the department's "internal investigation is ongoing."