Friday was a busy day at the Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, where New Yorkers can apply for food stamps and other forms of public assistance. The drab, gray building was packed, and lines were moving slowly.
Jazmine Headley wanted to get a voucher for city-funded day care so she could find someone to look after her 1-year-old son, Damone, while she went to work as a cleaner, her mother would tell reporters.
Instead, Headley, 23, ended up behind bars — and at the center of the latest viral video to inspire outrage over alleged police brutality.
Now, five days after police arrested Headley — and after an investigation into an “appalling” video that showed police pulling her child from her arms — authorities announced plans to drop all related charges against her.
“Continuing to pursue this case will not serve any purpose and I therefore moved today to dismiss it immediately in the interest of justice,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. “Discretion is the better part of valor and we must be thoughtful and compassionate in evaluating the merit of our cases.”
The two-and-half-minute video posted to Facebook shows Headley lying on the floor, surrounded by uniformed New York police officers and security guards. She holds her 1-year-old son firmly in her arms as the officers try to yank the child away.
“They’re hurting my son,” she screams again and again. Unmoved, the officers keep on tugging. As onlookers gather around and begin filming the commotion, one officer pulls out a stun gun.
“It’s hard to watch this video,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) wrote on Twitter in the initial aftermath, calling the violent arrest “unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking.”
Headley was arrested on multiple charges after she sat on the ground in the Human Resources Administration office and refused to stand when security guards and police commanded it.
“The security guard, I guess she came over and told her she couldn’t sit there,” Nyashia Ferguson, who shot and posted the video on Facebook, told WCBS. “So she’s like, ‘Where am I going to sit?’ ”
Told that she would just have to stand, Headley refused.
“She was like, ‘What is the crime? What did I do wrong?’ ” Ferguson said. “And then it just escalated.”
Eventually, the officers in the video are seen prying the boy from Headley’s grasp. Those in the room can be heard loudly protesting the officers who had pinned the woman to the ground to handcuff her.
She was arrested on charges of acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration, criminal trespass and resisting arrest, all misdemeanor offenses.
And though all those charges were dismissed Tuesday morning, Headley remained in jail on Rikers Island through Tuesday night for an “unrelated warrant” out of Mercer County in New Jersey, authorities said. A media spokesman with the Mercer County prosecutor’s office said that warrant was issued in July 2017 after Headley failed to appear in court for an arraignment on charges of third-degree credit card theft and fourth-degree trafficking in personal identifying information.
Brooklyn Defender Services filed a motion asking that Headley be released on the out-of-state warrant, founder and Executive Director Lisa Schreibersdorf said in a statement. Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Craig Walker granted it and Headley was released on her own recognizance.
Representatives from Brooklyn Defender Services frequently visited Headley and spoke with her by phone. “She is staying strong,” Schreibersdorf said early Tuesday. “We are keeping her updated on the public attention her case has received and she is heartened by the outcry and support.”
At a rally for Headley’s release Tuesday afternoon outside New York city hall, New York Attorney General-elect Letitia James joined several city council members to condemn the officers' actions and call for a full investigation.
“Though the charges against Jazmine Headley have been dismissed, that does not change the fact that her arrest shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” James wrote in a statement on Twitter. “We still need to have a full-scale investigation into what happened, so that it never happens to another mother again.”
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post on Monday, a New York police spokesman called the video “troubling.” Police also said that office staff and security guards at the benefits office made multiple attempts to get Headley to leave “due to her disorderly conduct towards others, and for obstructing the hallway.” When that failed, they called 911.
Two human resources peace officers were placed on modified duty after the incident, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at an unrelated event Wednesday. There are ongoing investigations at both the Human Resources Administration and the New York Police Department, the mayor said. He has not been in contact with Headley, but said he would be happy to be if she wanted.
Speaking publicly on the incident for the first time since it occurred, De Blasio called it “deeply troubling” and “100 percent unacceptable.” He apologized to her on behalf of all New Yorkers.
“We will get to the bottom of exactly what happened and we will put in place specific changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” de Blasio said.
Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, said in his statement that he was “horrified” by the “violence depicted in the video."
“It is clear to me that this incident should have been handled differently,” Gonzalez said. “The consequences this young desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it.”