De Blasio Says Man Tased By NYPD On Subway Acted Aggressively, But Criticizes Lack Of De-Escalation

Mayor Bill de Blasio said a man stunned by NYPD officers on the subway last week after allegedly helping someone farebeat acted aggressively, but also blamed the officers involved in the arrest for not defusing the incident.

“We’re very clear in our training of our officers: the goal is to de-escalate,” de Blasio said at his Thursday morning briefing. “Clearly, here, we did not end up with the de-escalated situation.”

The incident happened July 6th at the West 116th Street and Lenox Avenue 2 train station in Harlem, according to police. They say the man, David Crowell, had helped an acquaintance enter the subway station without paying by holding the emergency door leading to the platform. According to police, this prompted officers to confront and stop Crowell inside the subway car.

Body camera video released by the NYPD on Wednesday shows Crowell agitated as he’s confronted by officers, cursing and making a veiled threat at one of them, leading one of the officers to say, “go ahead.” One officer is heard in the video calling for backup before the body camera video is cut off.

The body camera video was released shortly after another video surfaced on social media showing officers rushing inside the subway car attempting to arrest Crowell. He tries to exit to another car as another officer holding a Taser re-directs him back. As several officers try to grab Crowell’s arms to arrest him, a struggle ensues. An officer then stuns Crowell in the back, falling to the ground. Crowell suffered bleeding on his back, according to a spokesperson for New York County Defenders, which is representing him.

Crowell was charged with third degree menacing, second degree harassment, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration in the second degree. None of the charges stemmed from him allegedly assisting someone farebeating, an infraction the Manhattan District Attorney has declined to prosecute since 2017, issuing summonses instead.

“The charges levied against Mr. Crowell are legally insufficient,” Bethany Bonsu, the attorney representing Crowell, said in an emailed statement. “There was no reason for almost 10 NYPD officers to corner Mr. Crowell on the subway and tase him.”

Bonsu said the release of Crowell’s prior criminal history is a form of “character assassination” and is unfounded.

“Just because a Black man has tattoos, that does not mean they are gang affiliated. This is classic NYPD gaslighting to divert attention from their own bad behavior and violence,” Bonsu said.

De-escalation, as the term implies, involves officers attempting to defuse a confrontation through verbal commands, tone, and respecting someone’s personal space before getting physical.

While de Blasio blamed officers for not de-escalating the situation, Heath Grant, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the incident proved to be much more complicated.

He notes that while the officer heard in the video isn’t exactly exhibiting “textbook verbal judo” to bring the situation under control, there was an attempt made.

“I don’t think there’s a complete absence of de-escalation, if that’s what people are arguing,” Grant said. “It’s possible more could’ve been done.”

He notes that in these instances, an incident can escalate by a matter of seconds, leaving officers little time to de-escalate. He also acknowledged that it’s unclear what escalated the situation between the body camera footage released by the NYPD and what was posted on social media.

Jennvine Wong, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s cop accountability project, criticized the officers approach as over the top.

“One thing I would note is the fare is $2.75. We have six salaried officers on here,” Wong told the NBC 4 New York. “The money spent would have been much better spent buying Metrocards for those who can’t afford them.”

De Blasio, who noted fares should always be paid, said the incident will be reviewed.

“This needs to be looked at carefully to see what can be done differently going forward,” de Blasio said.