Recently released surveillance and body camera footage showing an NYPD van fatally hitting a man on a busy Brooklyn street in April raises questions about whether the officers involved were driving safely and following their training in the moments before and after the crash, several experts said.
Surveillance video from the night of the incident shows Officer Orkhan Mamedov driving through the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Schenectady Avenue around 8 p.m., moving quickly along a painted median, and striking Ronald Anthony Smith. Smith, 53, was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital after sustaining “severe body trauma,” according to police. The NYPD shared few other details after the crash.
Six edited and redacted videos released by the state attorney general’s office last month paint a fuller picture of what happened on the rainy night of April 7. They include four recordings from cameras mounted on police poles that show the vehicle’s path on Eastern Parkway and two recordings from the body cameras of Mamedov and his partner, Officer Evan Siegel. News of the video was first reported by Streetsblog.
The four videos from the poles are sometimes blurred by rain drops, and their picture freezes at several points. They show the police van with its emergency lights on, driving along rain-soaked Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights from Buffalo Avenue to Schenectady Avenue. At times, the van is moving quickly enough to pass nearby vehicles.
A spokesperson for the NYPD would not say whether the van was responding to an emergency call at the time. However, multiple news outlets have reported that the officers were transporting at least one person who was under arrest — not responding to a 911 call.
The NYPD did not respond to multiple questions about the officer’s actions in the body camera footage, citing an open investigation by its Force Investigation Division. The Civilian Complaint Review Board is also reviewing the incident for potential NYPD policy violations. The state attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation, as state law now requires the agency to do for all killings by law enforcement. The office will decide whether to bring criminal charges against Mamedov or his partner.
Several policing experts who reviewed the footage for Gothamist had questions about the van’s speed — especially on a rainy night. Shamus Smith, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former NYPD officer who was an instructor at the training academy for almost five years, wondered if there was a legitimate reason for the police van to be driving faster than the speed of traffic. The NYPD patrol guide instructs officers to “drive at a slow rate of speed except under exceptional circumstances or extreme emergency.”
Jeffrey Fagan, a policing expert at Columbia Law School, said in an email that the footage of the car driving onto the median looked like a “cascade of negligence.” He said the officer should have been driving with more caution, given that the rain could have impaired his vision.
More questions than answers
The three-minute recordings from Mamedov’s and Siegel’s body cameras provide a closer look at the officers’ response, though they are redacted at some points to hide Smith’s body. They show Mamedov unzipping Smith’s jacket and sweatshirt and starting chest compressions, but then stopping to pick up his phone, and again a few moments later to look inside his car. He repeatedly stops the chest compressions — which he sometimes appears to be performing with just one hand — while he talks to someone he calls ”sarge” on the phone. When an ambulance pulls up, he stops again.
“What happened?” the ambulance driver asks.
“I hit him,” Mamedov says, before resuming chest compressions for a few more seconds. Then, the video ends.
Smith credited Mamedov for acting quickly and communicating a sense of urgency while asking for help. He said only using one hand for chest compressions “may not have been the best way” but noted that Mamedov was multitasking. He also said that most NYPD officers don’t receive advanced CPR training. Instead, they’re given basic tools to respond until more experienced medical professionals can take over.
In 2017, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law requiring all police officers in cities with 1 million or more residents to go through CPR training every two years. As of 2021, NYPD records show, all patrol, transit and housing officers had received some form of CPR training.
Jim Bueermann, former chief of the Redlands Police Department in California and a senior fellow at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University in Virginia, said Mamedov looked “distracted” and questioned why the officer was trying to do multiple things at once. He said that after Mamedov put out his initial call for help, he should have focused on rendering aid and let his partner help out with other tasks. He said it looked like Siegel — who had been with the department for less than a year — wasn’t doing much of anything.
“If there is a need to talk on the radio or on a cell phone and they're together, that's what that officer should be doing,” Bueermann said. “And the guy who is giving the stricken person first aid should be focusing on giving him first aid and doing CPR, or whatever it is he is doing.”
About 40 seconds into the recording captured on Mamedov’s body camera just after the crash, Mamedov’s cellphone appears in his hand in the bottom-left corner of the video. For about two seconds, it shows what looks like a soccer match playing on the screen, before the officer closes the window to make a call.
Smith was concerned when he saw the soccer game playing on Mamedov’s phone, but he said it was unclear if or when he had been watching the video prior to the accident.
“I think it’s certainly an observation and a finding,” Smith said, adding that he would want to ask anyone else who was in the car if he were investigating the incident. “But I think in this case, unless somebody else speaks out, it’s a null finding.”
Bueermann said that if he were investigating the case, finding out whether the game was playing on the officer’s phone would be one of the first questions he would want to answer. He also wanted to know why the sound didn’t turn on in either of the body camera videos for more than a minute. Watching the footage, Bueermann said, left him with more questions than answers.
It is rare for NYPD officers to face criminal convictions when they kill someone. Out of 81 state investigations into killings by NYPD officers since the probes became mandatory in the spring of 2021, only one resulted in criminal charges, and it was for an off-duty incident, according to the attorney general’s office.
The Police Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, did not respond to a request for comment. Efforts to reach the officers involved were unsuccessful.
Siegel, who was in the passenger seat on the night of the incident, is now working patrol in the 73rd Precinct, according to his officer profile on the NYPD’s website. Mamedov’s profile shows that he has been reassigned to the NYPD’s Video Interactive Patrol Enhanced Response, or VIPER, unit in Brooklyn – a unit that monitors security footage at public housing complexes. A 2011 New York Post report found officers assigned to VIPER teams are often accused of serious wrongdoing. The police department did not respond to questions about Mamedov’s responsibilities with the unit. Mamedov’s CCRB record shows that two prior complaints have been substantiated against him — both in cases where he forcibly took someone to the hospital. The NYPD took no disciplinary action in one case, while a decision is pending in the other.
‘He was a speed bump to them’
Imani Henry with Equality Flatbush said he canvassed the neighborhood with other community organizers to try to find out what had happened after the crash, since the NYPD didn’t immediately identify the man who had been run over. He said many community members already have a fraught relationship with police. Officers have killed and shot multiple people in the area in recent years, including Eudes Pierre, who officers fatally shot in December 2021 just feet from the crash site. Smith’s death reignited those tensions for some people, Henry said. .
“It is yet again what that feels like, because we all care about that family,” he said.
“He was run down in the street like he was nothing,” Henry said. “He was a speed bump to them.”
Julie Floyd, Smith’s sister, said she hopes the officers will be held accountable for taking her brother’s life.
“I think they need to pay a price,” she said. “They need to be fired.”
Floyd said Smith had been staying at a shelter temporarily when he was killed, but that most of the time he lived with her. She misses watching comedies and Dragon Ball Z on TV with him, playing Crazy Eights at family parties, and going shopping together. She misses his sarcasm and his laugh, and how he was always there when she needed him.
Floyd has other brothers and sisters, but said that she and Smith had a special bond.
“Me and Anthony are adopted,” she said. “So, that was the only blood I had.”