An NYPD officer from Long Beach was released without bail Thursday after surrendering on charges that he used a chokehold to subdue a man Sunday in Far Rockaway, officials said.
David Afanador, 39, was released on his own recognizance after a video court arraignment on charges of strangulation and attempted strangulation, said his defense attorney, Stephen Worth.
Afanador entered pleas of not guilty to the charges during the appearance before Queens Criminal Court Judge Danielle Hartman and is due back in court Aug. 3, according to Worth. The confrontation was captured on police body cameras as well as bystander videos and soon went viral.
The charges against Afanador are believed to be the first against a police officer in the state since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, about two weeks ago, signed a law criminalizing the use of a chokehold by law enforcement officers in a life-threatening way. The tactic was barred by the NYPD years ago but came up for renewed scrutiny in 2014 after an officer used a chokehold in Staten Island on Eric Garner, who later died. Cuomo signed the new law as part of a group of police reform bills.
“The ink from the pen Gov. Cuomo used to sign this [law] was barely dry before this officer allegedly employed the very tactic the new law was designed to prohibit,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz in a statement, adding that if convicted, Afanador faces up to 7 years in prison.
In a telephone interview with Newsday, Worth said it has become fashionable for prosecutors to go after cops and Afanador will fight the case to protect his livelihood.
Afanador confronted Ricky Bellevue, 35, of Queens, and two other men about 8:30 a.m. on June 21 at the boardwalk area near Beach 113 Street, according to police reports.
Along with other officers, Afanador had responded to the location after police received reports of someone screaming and yelling at people on the boardwalk. The videos show Bellevue and the other men haranguing and yelling obscenities at the officers. Bellevue said on video that he was bipolar.
At one point, Bellevue appeared to retrieve a can from a trash can, a gesture Afanador characterized on the videos as threatening.
The alleged chokehold occurred as Afanador and the other officers grappled with Bellevue to arrest him.
“Yo, stop choking him bro,” one bystander is heard yelling at the cops.
Katz, in her statement, said the videos showed Bellevue appear to go limp and lose consciousness. It was only after another officer pulled Afanador back that he removed his arm from Bellevue’s neck, Katz said.
Police body camera videos made available by the NYPD show Bellevue on the ground surrounded by Afanador and other officers. While the images appear to show Afanador using a chokehold, it isn't clear that Bellevue ever loses consciousness before being quickly brought to his feet and escorted by two officers to a patrol vehicle. Bellevue was treated for a head laceration. Queens prosecutors decided not to prosecute him.
Since the incident, Afanador, who was assigned to the 100th Precinct, has been suspended without pay for 30 days, the NYPD said.