Shortly after 7pm Friday an angry crowd of about 20 people cursed at three New York Police Department officers –who were joined by a fourth– as they struggled with a Black man, wrestled and then pinned him to the ground.
Several people yelled that the officers were choking the man.
The incident occurred outside a Duane Reade store on 145 Street and Bradhurst Avenue in Harlem. Police later say the man was charged with robbery. Witnesses said he had shoplifted items by concealing them underneath his shirt including body lotion.
Agitated and horrified onlookers yelled and cursed loudly at the police officers and urged them to get off the man after the four officers appeared to pin him down with their hands and knees.
When the man’s head emerged from the scrum of officers he appeared to be unconscious with his mouth open and his eyes bulging as he was rolled on his back after appearing to be handcuffed.
“Oh, he’s dead,” one bystander yelled; “murder!” someone else yelled.
Scores of officers from the 30 precinct converged on the location as medical personnel removed the man from the scene.
Officer Mason, a police spokesperson on Saturday told The Black Star News that she did not have any information about the suspect’s condition.
She identified him as Roberto Marrero, 38, and said the suspect had punched the Duane Reade store manager after he had been stopped when the manager noticed a bulge in his shirt.
She said the suspect also pushed and attempted to punch a police officer when the officer tried to prevent him from punching the store manager.
Officer Mason said Marrero was arrested and charged with robbery, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest, obstruction of government administration and petty larceny. The spokesperson said Marrero had a past record for similar robberies.
A person close to the store manager and who was also at the scene blamed Marrero and said had he followed instructions and agreed to be handcuffed the incident never would have escalated. “As a Black man, many of us have experienced bad incidents with bad cops. But in this case the man was wrong. He should have followed instructions,” he said.
The store manager himself when contacted by telephone by The Black Star News, declined to comment and wouldn’t even say whether or not he had been punched by Marrero. He also declined to respond when asked whether there was store surveillance video showing the suspect punching him.
Another angry witness who is White, and said he experienced discrimination as a Catholic before moving to the U.S. from Northern Ireland, said when he arrived on the scene outside the store that it was Marrero who asked a Duane Reade security guard, as officers arrived on the scene: “Why did you punch me?” He says he actually didn’t see any punches thrown and that it could have been done inside the store.
The witness said when he asked one of the officers why she continued to kneel on the suspect’s chest when he told them he had stents she said “who cares?”
“Can you believe that?” the witness said. “Even if he didn’t have stents when he was already down they’re still leaning on him. That man could have died. She and all the other officers should be fired. Who do they think they are? We’re not living in a dictatorship.”
Another angry witness who gave his first name only as Ferguson said all incidents involving New York Police and civilians should be investigated by the federal government.