The Nassau County Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the arrests of Black Lives Matter protesters last week in East Meadow, police said Monday.
The Friday night arrests of three men were captured on numerous bystander videos and one of the clips showed several officers arresting a protester walking in the street while lugging a speaker on wheels on Carman Avenue at the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike. It went viral on social media, with more than 6.7 million views.
"Police Officers repeatedly asked for these specific protesters to not march in the southbound lanes of traffic and they continued to do so anyway placing not only themselves, but our police officers and motorists in danger," Nassau Police Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said in a statement Monday. "Even though we don’t have a complainant, Internal Affairs is investigating. The Police Department values each demonstrators peaceful right to free speech, however, the safety of all is paramount."
Two of the men arrested, protest organizer Tiandre Tuosto, 25, and his brother Terrel Tuosto, 28, both of West Hempstead, said in an interview that they had been protesting at different locations across Long Island following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
The Tuosto brothers said they had always been able to walk freely in all lanes of traffic, and the restrictions put in place by Nassau police to keep protesters on only one side of the street as they marched Friday along Hempstead Turnpike, impeded their constitutional rights of free speech.
“They see us protesting every day, so they think if they arrest us, this whole thing will die down,” said Tiandre Tuosto, who was arrested first by police and said an officer punched him in the back of his head. “That's all we have is peaceful protests. For this to happen, it's uncalled for and unjustified.”
Terrel Tuosto, whose arrest was featured in the viral video, added: “They know that we're leading these protests. They see it as an opportunity. They're sick of it. They’re sick of shutting roads down, so they orchestrated our arrests.”
Each was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly obstructing traffic in East Meadow, according to their desk appearance tickets. Both are due in court on Sept. 10.
The brothers said they were consulting an attorney, but had not yet retained one as of Monday. Terrel Tuosto said officers put their knees in his neck and back as he was on the ground being handcuffed.
LeBrun did not respond to the specific allegations made by the brothers about excessive force used on them.
Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder has said his officers had closely coordinated on the protesters' route, but they had deliberately veered from the course.
Ryder said "one of the individuals decided to jump into oncoming traffic" causing a car to come to a "screeching halt,” referring to Tiandre Tuosto without naming him.
In response, he said: “I'm chanting ‘peaceful protests.’ I could have stepped on the divider, you could have said, ‘hey, hey wait, over there,’ but instead they just grabbed me up.”
In the arrest on the viral video featuring Terrel Tuosto, Ryder said the man "decided to go around the officer, bumped him a little bit."
Terrel Tuosto said it was the officer who purposely bumped into him. “He stopped walking abruptly and leans back, to make it look like I made the initial contact, at which point they threw me to the ground, and planted their knees on my back and the back of my neck and told me I was resisting.”
The third arrested protester, who Newsday has not been able to identify, Ryder said, "pushed my lieutenant."
The Tuosto brothers said their arrests have not slowed them down. They’ve continued to demonstrate, and will be back in East Meadow for another protest Tuesday.
“I see that not talking about it and acting like it's not there is not the way to fix it,” said Terrel Tuosto. “People just want to ignore it. That’s how Long Island is. It's a lot of racism and a lot of segregation, but it's all under the veil. It's covert racism. To fix it, we kind of gotta make people a little uncomfortable and speak to the facts of how Long Island is.”