New York City police officers are coming under fire after a "troubling" video surfaced showing them ripping a baby from the arms of a mother who had waited at a social services office for four hours seeking help, police and the woman's relatives said.
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Jazmine Headley, 23, was arrested on charges of resisting arrest, committing an act in a manner injurious to a child, criminal trespass and obstruction of governmental administration, according to the NYPD.
A judge also issued a restraining order against her, barring her from coming near her baby.
Headley was booked into the Rikers Island jail pending a court hearing on Thursday.
Two HRA peace officers were placed on modified duty as a result of the incident, Steven Banks, commissioner of the city Human Resources Administration, said in a statement Monday evening, saying he is "deeply troubled by the incident." Officers and staff will be trained "better" to diffuse situations "before the NYPD is called for assistance" and will also be offered refresher de-escalation training, Banks said.
"HRA centers must be safe havens for New Yorkers needing to access benefits to improve their lives," Banks said. "...The HRA Peace Officers who were involved in this incident are currently on leave, and they will be placed on modified duty when they return to work pending our investigation of what happened.”
James O'Neill, commissioner of the New York Police Department, described the video as "disturbing."
"The video, obviously, is disturbing. It's very disturbing to me," he said Monday afternoon. "I'm a dad. I have two kids. But being a cop is a really difficult job."
O'Neill said an investigation of the incident had been launched by the NYPD and Banks.
"We’re trying to get as much video as we can," O'Neill said. "We’ve got to see what led up to the incident. What were the actions of the people from HRA? What were the actions of our police officers?"
"We do get called to HRA facilities now and again," he said. "We have to figure out the protocols and work with HRA to figure out a better way to do things."
Headley's mother, who witnessed the arrest, claims city Human Resources Administration security guards and police officers were in the wrong and responsible for letting the incident escalate into pandemonium.
"I was devastated to see something like that happen to my daughter and grandson," Headley's mother, Jacqueline Jenkins, told ABC New York station WABC-TV.
No available seats
The office was crowded and there were no seats available when she and Headley arrived, Jenkins said. She said her daughter sat on the floor with her 1-year-old son, Damone, to keep him calm.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former New York City police captain, said at a news conference Monday outside the social services office that the "horrific" incident should have never happened.
"We are better than the images we witnessed over the weekend," Adams said. "This should be a place where families come to regain their dignity and respect instead of having it ripped from them."
He demanded a full investigation by the NYPD and that all charges be immediately dropped against Headley.
"Something's terribly wrong when the most well-trained police department can't resolve a dispute with a mother and child without looking like the president's southern border strategy. We must do better," Adams said, referring to the Trump administration's practice of separating children from parents caught illegally crossing the border.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a tweet that the video is heartbreaking and "hard to watch."
"This is unacceptable, appalling ...," he wrote. "I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justifies this."
This is unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking.
I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justifies this.
It’s hard to watch this video. https://t.co/5TPN03fHU6— Corey Johnson (@CoreyinNYC) December 9, 2018
NYPD officers respond to call
NYPD officials said in a statement that they were called to the city Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn just before 1 p.m. on Friday.
"The NYPD was called after office staff and HRA peace officers made unsuccessful attempts to remove this individual from the facility due to her disorderly conduct towards others, and for obstructing a hallway," police said in a statement.
Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said her office has assigned an attorney to represent Headley. She said the woman went to the social services office to determine why daycare vouchers for her child were suddenly cut off.
She said Headley took a day off from her job as a security guard in hopes or resolving the daycare problems. She said Headley had been waiting at the office for four hours before the police were called on her.
"When people come to this office, they are here because they are in crisis," Schreibersdorf said. "Instead, they escalated the situation by bringing the police department in."
Both Adams and Schreibersdorf said the incident could have been avoided had officials at the office just went and found a chair for Headley or spoke to her calmly.
Jenkins said the HRA guards told her daughter she could not sit on the floor because she was blocking a hallway. When she refused to stand, a supervisor called the police, she said.
'They're hurting my son!'
A cellphone video taken by Nyasia Ferguson, one of several taken by people who were also waiting at the office, shows at least three NYPD officers, including a sergeant, on top of Headley, who refused to let her child go.
"They're hurting my son! They're hurting my son!" Headley is heard screaming in the video.
One officer appeared to grab Damone and yank hard several times in an attempt to remove him from Headley's arms. A crowd of people gathered around the officers yelling for them to stop and attempting to explain that Headley had not been bothering anyone.
At one point, an officer is seen in the video pulling out a stun gun and appearing to point it at the crowd, ordering people to step back. The officer also appeared to point the stun gun at Headley, but it was never deployed, the video shows.
"I was just disgusted and scared," Ferguson told WABC. "I thought the cops [are] supposed to help you -- they just straight up came and attacked the lady."
Police were eventually able to wrest the baby away and place Headley under arrest. The city Administration for Child Protective Services was initially called in to take custody of the child, who was later turned over to Jenkins.
Police officials said the HRA guards were the ones who initially took Headley to the floor when she refused to leave.
"NYPD officers then attempted to place her under arrest. She refused to comply with officers' orders, and was then taken into custody," according to the NYPD statement.
Police said no one was hurt in the confrontation.
The NYPD called the incident "troubling" and said the encounter was "under review." The statement said the review will include all available video that captured the incident.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office was also conducting an investigation of the incident. A spokesperson for the district attorney said prosecutors do not plan to proceed with the charges against Headley.
New Jersey warrant
Headley was being held on an unrelated warrant from Mercer County, New Jersey, Schreibersdorf said.
A warrant for Headley was issued by a Mercer County Superior Court judge on July 17, 2017, when Headley failed to appear for an arraignment, Casey DeBlasio, a spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, told ABC News on Tuesday morning.
Headley was indicted by a grand jury in March 2017 on two felony counts of third-degree credit card theft and one count of fourth-degree identity theft, DeBlasio said. Headley was arrested on July 23, 2016, in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, as part of a police investigation into the use of counterfeit credit cards, she said.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said it was reaching out to New Jersey authorities on behalf of Headley "to expedite her release."
"These police officers were put in an impossible situation. They didn't create the dispute at the HRA office -- as always, they were called in to deal with the inevitable fallout when the rest of our City government fails in its task," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York, said in a statement.
He said the officers involved in the encounter with Headley were trying to protect the mother and child, while at the same time enforcing the law.
"The event would have unfolded much differently if those at the scene had simply complied with the officers' lawful orders," Lynch said. "The immediate rush to condemn these officers leaves their fellow cops wondering: when confronted with a similar impossible scenario, what do you want us to do? The answer cannot be 'do nothing.'"