NEW YORK — Brooklyn’s district attorney has dismissed all charges against a mother who was violently separated from her toddler son by officers in a videotaped encounter at a city social services office that has sparked outrage.
Jazmine Headley, 23, has been in jail since Friday, when she was arrested after a dispute with a guard in a crowded waiting room.
District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Tuesday that he was “horrified by the violence depicted in the video,” which showed officers yanking Headley’s 18-month-old son from her arms.
Nyashia Ferguson, a witness, said a security officer confronted the woman, who had been sitting on the floor of the crowded city Human Resources Administration (HRA) office for hours because of a lack of chairs. Headley’s family told CBS New York she had been waiting nearly four hours to renew daycare vouchers.
“The security guard, I guess she came over and told her she couldn’t sit there. So she’s like, ‘Where am I going to sit?’ She was like, ‘I guess you’re going to just have to stand.’ She said, ‘Well, I’m not going to stand with my son,'” Ferguson told CBS New York. “She was like, ‘What is the crime? What did I do wrong?’ And then it just escalated.”
Staff and Human Resources Administration peace officers — law enforcement officers who work at the city’s Human Resources Administration facilities — asked the woman to leave because of what they called disorderly conduct towards other people, but they said she refused and police were called. Police responded, and the woman ended up lying face-up on the floor during a tug of war over the child. At one point, an officer can be seen on the video pulling her stun gun and pointing it at people in the angry crowd.
Headley was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a child and trespassing. Before the charges were dropped, Gonzalez’s office tweeted on Monday that they didn’t request bail for Headley and that she was being held over an unrelated warrant for her arrest out of New Jersey.
The office said they are investigating the arrest. In a statement, Gonzalez said “it is clear to me that his incident should have been handled differently.”
Statement from Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez regarding #JazmineHeadley: pic.twitter.com/U5jF1mnZJa
“An HRA officer escalated the situation as Ms. Headley was about to leave the premises, creating an awful scenario of a baby being torn from his mother,” his statement continued. “The consequences this young and desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it: she and her baby have been traumatized, she was jailed on an unrelated warrant and may face additional collateral consequences.”
The New York City Police Department, which called Friday’s confrontation “troubling,” said security guards had “brought the woman to the floor” before officers arrested her as she resisted. Ferguson disputed that, saying a police officer had forced the woman to the floor. Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the NYPD officers’ body cameras will be reviewed.
“It’s disturbing, but we have to see what led up to the event. What were the actions of the people from HRA, what were the actions of our police officers?” he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the prosecutor’s decision on Twitter. “This morning my office spoke to the Brooklyn DA about dropping the charges against Ms. Headley. I applaud the DA’s decision to do so. She should be reunited with her child as soon as possible,” de Blasio wrote.
Headley’s family told the station the ordeal and the use of force were unnecessary.
“There was no reason for NYPD to tug and pull like the way they did with him — he was rag-doll basically. And she was really trying to protect him, and you heard him screaming,” said the child’s grandmother, Jacqueline Jenkins, who is now caring for the boy. “Had anybody listened to her, then maybe things would’ve went a different way.”
The HRA peace officers have been placed on modified duty, the station reports. Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said in a statement Monday he was “deeply troubled” by the incident that occurred in a place that should be “safe havens for New Yorkers needing to access benefits to improve their lives.”
He said he would implement re-training on de-escalation for staff, security guards and peace officers.
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