Video of plainclothes NYPD officers grabbing a young woman from a protest and putting her into an unmarked vehicle has ignited questions about police tactics, but the department says the actions taken against a suspected vandal were appropriate and warranted.
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the controversy Wednesday, with the mayor saying he felt the arrest was effected in the wrong place at the wrong time and Cuomo calling video of it "incredibly disturbing."
The arrest occurred Tuesday evening as a group of protesters made their way down Second Avenue at East 25th Street in Manhattan. Video of it has been seen over 7 million times on Twitter. In the footage, multiple men can be seen grabbing 18-year-old Nikki Stone, who was among several other protesters leading a larger group of demonstrators participating in a 24-hour protest, and forcing her into an unmarked van.
As Stone was being taken away, the other protesters rushed over to see what was going on. Uniformed officers kept the demonstrators away, using bicycles as barriers, the video showed.
Police sources told NBC News that the arrest was conducted by undercover NYPD officers. Stone was among 12 people who were arrested, according to the NYPD.
After the arrest gained attention online, the NYPD said that Stone "was wanted for damaging police cameras during 5 separate criminal incidents in & around City Hall Park." The department also noted that officers were hit with rocks and bottles while bringing the person into custody, and in a subsequent tweet, said that the "Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects."
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Police sources said that the arrest during the protest by the Warrant Squad was the only way to charge her, noting that Stone is homeless and the demonstrations are the only place where officers can find her.
"They actually snatched up and took a woman who was in our camp and drove off, which initiated aggression from our camp," one protester said.
Stone was later released from custody early Wednesday after being given a desk appearance ticket, according to NYC Councilmember Carlina Rivera.
Abolition Park, the group leading the 24-hour protest, told News 4 in a statement that Stone was "as fine as one could be after being abducted in broad daylight."
"She is being kept safe in an undisclosed hotel. The group is currently at central booking providing jail support for beloved photog/activist Buddii, who was also unlawfully arrested yesterday," the statement continued.
Stone's mother told NBC New York in a statement that police told her daughter to "act like a normal f------g human being and not some animal." She also said that once they arrived at the precinct "the refused to allow her to access her contacts on her phone, in order to call me or anyone she was with prior to the arrest."
Protesters likened the arrest to the actions of federal officers in Portland, Oregon, who were sent by President Donald Trump to quell weeks-long protests, but law enforcement officials say federal officers were not involved in any capacity, nor have they been involved in any protests in NYC so far.
"Anything to me that slightly suggests that is troubling to me and should not be seen in this city. This is not Portland," de Blasio said Wednesday. "I think it was the wrong time, the wrong place to effectuate the arrest."
The mayor reiterated his message from the last week that he will not allow the president to deploy federal officers on the streets of New York City. Cuomo has also said he personally told Trump it wouldn't be necessary.
The governor addressed the arrest Wednesday as well, saying it was "so outrageous" that the initial thought was it must be federal action. He described the NYPD's actions as "obnoxious" and "wholly insensitive," saying the video highlighted the larger need to repair community and police relationships.
Another video of the incident was posted to Twitter by the Police Benevolent Association. The footage shows officers telling protesters to move back while using their bicycles as a barrier. The PBA also said the protesters were "assaulting cops, throwing rocks and bottles," though that's not captured in either video.
The president of the Detectives' Endowment Association released a searing statement late Wednesday, calling out the governor, mayor and other elected officials who criticized the arrest.
"Instead of thanking the Detectives ... the Governor chose to play politics and brand the Officers’ actions as ‘obnoxious.’ No, Mr. Governor, those Detectives did what the government asked of them. What’s ‘obnoxious’ is your unjustified criticism of those men and women who are holding this City together, and the only ones preventing its descent into lawlessness," said Paul DiGiacomo in the statement. "The politicians all seem to be trying to one-up each other and, in the process, they continue, unfairly, to demonize our police for no good reason."
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams tweeted that he found the incident concerning, and was trying to get answers. In a letter from Williams released Wednesday evening, he said what he saw demonstrates "a clear need to change how we police protesters engaging in their rights to assemble and gather," and wondered how the tactics used by the NYPD were chosen in relation to the allegations against Stone.
Other elected officials like Rep. Jerry Nadler, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer are also calling for an immediate investigation into the tactics used to arrest Stone.
"This video — of a protester in New York City being thrown in an unmarked van — is terrifying and should be unacceptable to everyone who respects the constitutional rights this country was founded on," Rep. Nadler said.
There was also video showing more protesters clashing with NYPD officers later on near Madison Square Park. The protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, have been going on for two months and most of it has been peaceful despite some flare-ups.
The NYPD said Monday that 303 department vehicles have been vandalized since Floyd’s May 25 death, causing nearly $1 million in damage.
Last week, police in riot gear cleared a month-long encampment in front of New York's City Hall, days after the NYPD's top chief and several other officers were hurt as anti-police and pro-police protesters clashed on the Brooklyn Bridge.