An Occupy Wall Street protester who was caught on videotape getting punched in the head by an NYPD deputy inspector filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officer on Thursday.
The demonstrator, Felix Rivera-Pitre, 37, said in the excessive force complaint that videos widely distributed on the Internet show that he was "sucker-punched" and knocked out without provocation by Dep. Insp. Johnny Cardona during an Oct. 14, 2011 march.
"The force of the blow knocked Mr. Rivera-Pitre to the ground and ripped the earring from his ear, tearing his left earlobe and creating a pool of blood," said the suit. " . . . Cardona continued to strike and/or kick Mr. Rivera-Pitre as he lay semiconscious on the asphalt."
As the incident gained notoriety in 2011, police alleged that Rivera-Pitre had tried to elbow Cardona in the head. But he was never charged, and eventually met with the Manhattan district attorney's office to file a complaint against the officer.
The district attorney's investigation of Cardona has never been resolved -- the same posture as another notorious Occupy Wall Street incident that drew wide interest on the Internet in 2011, the pepper-spraying of several protesters without obvious provocation by Dep. Inspector Anthony Bologna. Bologna was disciplined by the NYPD, but the district attorney still has his case under review.
Rivera-Pitre's Manhattan lawyers, Ron Kuby and Lea Speiss, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance for failing to take action in 15 months. "If Cy Vance is looking for a New Year's resolution," Speiss said, "this should be it."
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, and Vance's office declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the city law department said, "We will review the papers upon receipt."
Roy Richter, president of the NYPD's Captains Endowment Association, described Cardona as a "well-respected senior officer," and said his "actions were appropriate given the situation at hand."
The lawsuit does not quantify the damages sought. But it alleges that Rivera-Pitre, who is an HIV-positive activist from Queens, suffered lacerations, bruises and intense pain in his jaw, as well as "humiliation, fear, anxiety and embarrassment."