The incident came on the heels of another violent encounter between police and New Yorkers who were camping out on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk near Tompkins Square Park Nov. 10.
New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are investigating the police beating of a homeless man during a videotaped arrest in the West Village last Wednesday, City Limits has learned.
A cell phone video taken at the scene Nov. 10 shows Officer Juan Perez of the 6th Precinct pummeling the man, Borim Husenaj, after Husenaj put his arm on Perez’s neck while lying on the ground and trying to stop cops from cuffing him. Another officer is seen removing Husenaj’s arm and holding it while Perez repeatedly punches Husenaj outside a MacDougal Street restaurant. After delivering the blows, Perez can be seen checking his knuckles as Husenaj lays on the sidewalk, unmoving.
A CCRB spokesperson said the agency is investigating the arrest and the beating.
An NYPD spokesperson said the two officers responded to a 911 call reporting a “disorderly” person and found Husenaj drunk and holding an open bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey while arguing with someone else. When the officers called for an emergency medical team, Husenaj grew “increasingly confrontational and uncompliant,” prompting officers to arrest him, according to a criminal complaint. During the arrest, Husenaj tensed up to resist the handcuffs and then grabbed Perez’s neck, the criminal complaint continues.
The NYPD did not provide a response to questions about the CCRB probe.
Perez has been the subject of seven previous CCRB investigations, including four separate claims of excessive use of force, according to the agency’s complaint database. Investigators could not substantiate one of the claims, found the complainant uncooperative in a second, closed another pending a lawsuit and exonerated Perez for a fourth, records show. In 2013, he countersued a newspaper publisher who had settled a federal lawsuit with the city after he said he was roughed up by Perez and his partner. The newspaper publisher admitted to slapping Perez in the face, though Perez later withdrew the complaint.
Husenaj, who is charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, two misdemeanors, was released without bail Nov. 11, said Caitlyn Fowles, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Fowles said the DA’s Police Accountability Unit is reviewing the incident.
Husenaj and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
The “disturbing” beating provides a glimpse into how police encounters with homeless New Yorkers can escalate into needless violence, said Coalition for the Homeless Senior Policy Analyst Jacquelyn Simone.
The city’s annual census of street homeless New Yorkers identified 2,376 different people bedding down in public places between Jan. 26th and 29th, compared to 3,857 on Jan. 27, 2020, according to results released in May. Advocates say the 2021 tally is likely a significant undercount following a spike in enforcement to move people off the streets.
The risk of violence only underscores the need for non-punitive outreach, private transitional housing and permanent affordable apartments for people who opt not to enter the city’s crowded shelter system, Simone said.
“If people have stable housing, they take for granted having a door that locks and people sleeping outdoors don’t have that privacy,” Simone said. “If someone is stably housed, they have privacy if they’re having a mental health challenge or they’re inebriated. People who are unhoused are forced to live their most private and embarrassing moments in public.”
The incident came on the heels of another violent encounter between police and New Yorkers who were camping out on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk Nov. 10.
NYPD officers teamed up with workers from the Parks and Sanitation departments to throw away tents at the base of Tompkins Square Park, where a small group of men and women had been staying. Workers from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) were on hand during the sweep, also known as a clean-up.
During the sweep, filmed by a local activist, one of the men laid on his tent in an attempt to stop city workers from tossing it. Three officers struggled to handcuff the man as he kept his arms rigid. “The individual refused to remove his property and leave the location after numerous lawful commands,” an NYPD spokesperson said.
The man pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief after a tent pole scratched a parked car during the arrest. He could not be reached for comment and the tents were gone Monday, though an outreach worker shared photos of Department of Homeless Services (DHS) staff posting new flyers notifying homeless New Yorkers about future clean ups.
At the same time, the agency has opened hundreds of new beds, known as SafeHaven beds, intended to appeal to street homeless New Yorkers who have opted not to enter the larger shelter system. DHS added 1,300 SafeHaven beds with fewer restrictions and no curfew to its shelter system last year, with the total number now around 3,000. The agency has said that its current outreach model, known as HOME-STAT, has helped more than 4,000 people move off the streets and into shelters since 2016.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said last year that the city wanted to limit the role that police play in homeless outreach—something housing and homeless advocates have long pushed for. The city also removed the NYPD from its “Homeless Joint Command Center,” which officials use to surveil and track street homeless New Yorkers.
“The NYPD played, I think, a constructive role, but as we’ve talked about how to figure out what needs to be shifted to civilian agencies, what can be effectively shifted?” the mayor told reporters in July 2020, adding that the city is “trying to figure out the right way to help get homeless folks the help they need, the SafeHavens.”
But four men staying in the tents ahead of the sweep Nov. 10 said they did not know how to access any city shelter other than entering the large intake facilities that the city lists on the clean-up notices. City Limits had visited the cluster of tents along the park after learning of a sweep scheduled for Nov. 9. Sanitation workers and the NYPD passed by that night without commencing the clean-up.
“If you have questions regarding this New York City clean-up and the special help that we can provide for you to come inside, please speak to an outreach worker, or contact the DHS Street Homeless Solutions Unit,” read one flyer spotted near the park during City Limits’ visit, though the space below that message—where a phone number and email address for that DHS Unit is supposed to be listed—was left blank. Another line on the flyer advised people to call 311.
“Communication is key. Let us know what services you have for us,” said a man named Tony, who was among those staying near the park and who asked not to use his last name because he said he has a city job and fears retaliation. “All they say is, ‘Go to Bellevue. Go to Bellevue. I want to know if I can go into a SafeHaven.”
Tony said he would accept a placement in a private room or a larger shelter if he knew it was well maintained and safe. “Damn right I would,” he said. “You think I’d rather be on the street?”
“I just want to go to a place where I can put a key in the door,” he added.
After the sweep, Tony said police and city workers threw away his birth certificate along with his tent.
Another man named James, who declined to give his last name, also said he would be up for entering a private room, like the hotel rooms the city rented out to stop the spread of COVID-19 in DHS shelters. The city moved people out of those hotels and back into congregate shelters between June and September, despite outcry from advocates and people experiencing homelessness.
“People would rather be in the streets than the shelters,” James said. “They had that hotel thing going good. They should have stuck with that.”
And a third man, David Thompson, said he has an apartment in the Bronx lined up but doesn’t know where to go in the meantime.
“I’m not safe in a shelter,” Thompson said. “I’m not safe in the street neither.”