Man who recorded rough subway arrest explains why he sprung into action

Posted at 7:59 PM, Jul 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-25 10:29:07-04

EAST HARLEM (PIX11) -- It was an apparent chokehold beating by police recorded on cellphone video that was first reported by PIX11 News. Now, it's led to an NYPD internal investigation, and the bystander who recorded the video that opened up that probe talks about it one-on-one with PIX11 News.

"Once I start seeing him knee him in the face, that's when I was like, 'Let me get my phone out and start recording,'" Shaquan Jefferson said about the scene he and other passersby saw in the entrance to the 125th Street station on the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 subway train lines on July 14.

The cellphone video 27-year-old Jefferson recorded shows two NYPD officers trying to subdue a man who appears to be resisting. One of the officers is seen thrusting his knee into the head of the man in custody, then putting the man into a chokehold, and repeatedly punching him.

"It's not what police are supposed to be doing," Jefferson said. "They're supposed to be protecting us."

Since PIX11 News first broke this story on Tuesday, it has been reported by a wide variety of media outlets and, the NYPD has confirmed, its internal affairs bureau has opened up an investigation into the specific incident and the officers involved, as well as into the occurrence of chokehold detentions.

NYPD official policy has forbidden chokeholds for some two decades, but the East Harlem takedown, as well as the chokehold arrest and subsequent death of Eric Garner on Staten Island last week, are strong indications that officers still engage in the practice.

Jefferson also pointed out that one key aspect of the situation he observed and ultimately recorded was that the takedown happened after the arrestee -- 22-year-old Ronalds Johns -- had done as the officers had first instructed.

He'd been facing the wall, Jefferson said, after having been detained by the two transit division officers on suspicion of fare evasion.

"He had his hands behind his back," Jefferson said. "The cop kept telling him, 'Turn around.'"

"He just stood with his hands behind his back, [facing] the wall."

But when Johns wouldn't turn around, as the officers subsequently ordered, one of the cops turned Johns around, Jefferson said, and put his hand in front of Johns's face.

"The boy pushed [the officer's] hand out his face, and that's when the officer grabbed him in a headlock and tried to slam him on the floor," Jefferson said.

That's when he put his iPhone into action, recording video just inches away from the scene.

"I wanted to get his badge number and his face," Jefferson said.

Both arresting officers, PIX11 has learned from law enforcement sources, are now on medical leave following this incident, which happened three days before the chokehold arrest of Eric Garner on Staten Island. Garner, a 43-year-old husband and father, died in police custody.

In the takedown Jefferson recorded at the subway station, Johns refused medical assistance, despite having a bloody nose and bleeding bruises on his face.

"There was no need for the punching, the kneeing, things like that," Jefferson said about what he'd observed. "I think [one of the two officers] overstepped his procedure."

Jefferson said he appreciated that the internal affairs investigation is under way, and he hopes it results in discipline.

"I think he should be off the force," Jefferson said about one of the two officers, who is seen doing most of the beating in the video Jefferson recorded. "If he's doing stuff like that, it's no telling what he'd do in another situation."

"I'm happy," Jefferson said, "that someone is taking some action and doing some justice."

He also said that his act of video vigilantism was helpful in at least one other way: helping his family to move on from personal tragedy. Jefferson's 29-year-old brother had been killed in May, when the motorcycle he was riding got hit by a car, throwing him into traffic, in which a truck ran him over.

"[To come] from one tragedy, to see my other son do good, brings a blessing to my heart," Jefferson's mother told PIX11 News, with tears running down her cheeks.

Meanwhile, Johns was charged with three misdemeanor crimes related to the fare jumping of which he was accused. He was released from custody by a judge pending trial.