Benoit, 21, identifies as black Hispanic, and came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was four years old. He is among hundreds of protesters to bring formal complaints against the NYPD over its use of force during the demonstrations, which took a violent, destructive turn over the course of several nights with widespread vandalism and looting.
The city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent agency which reviews allegations of bad behavior by members of the New York Police Department, has received 633 grievances in the last week, officials said. By comparison, 533 complaints were filed for the entire month of April, the most recent data publicly available.
Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea have promised to investigate all allegations of improper police action reported during the protests. Late Friday, Shea issued a statement calling attention to two unrelated incidents and announced that those involved would be either suspended or transferred while disciplinary action was considered.
“There are other matters that we are actively investigating,” the statement says, “and we will be transparent as the process continues.”
Law enforcement advocates have been quick to point out that, during the protests, there have been numerous incidents of violence against police. Dozens of police vehicles have been vandalized or set on fire. An NYPD sergeant in the Bronx was hit by a car, and a lieutenant was hit in the head with a brick. Bottles of water and other projectiles have been hurled at police officers, too, leading to aggressive arrests.
Benoit was not arrested or given a summons, so it is unclear why police force may have been used against him. He maintains he was standing on the sidewalk filming other police interactions when he was targeted. Video posted to his Instagram page captures officers in riot gear charging toward him before Benoit dropped his phone. Police can be heard yelling, “Get back!” A male voice later says: “Don’t touch me.”
Sgt. Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokeswoman, said Friday that officials were aware of the video and that the incident was under internal review. She declined to comment further.
Benoit, a college student who recently took a break from school, was with hundreds of activists at Dekalb and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn at the time of the encounter. He said he turned on the phone’s flashlight so police knew they were being recorded. Minutes prior, he said, he was pushed by a different officer.
“I’m on the sidewalk. I was never on the street. I couldn’t have been on the street — the police officers with riot shields were blocking us,” Benoit said.
Other video posted to social media shows him slumped on the sidewalk, bloodied and disoriented. At one point, he spits out blood.
He felt “like half of my face was missing,” he said. “ … All I felt was blood dripping down,” he said, noting that his glasses were broken during the altercation and that he believes his injuries may have been more severe had he not been wearing them.
An ambulance brought Benoit to a nearby hospital, leaving behind his phone and backpack. He was later moved to the emergency room at Mount Sinai, closer to his East Harlem home, where he was seen by a specialist and remained until late Sunday afternoon.
Benoit is represented by an attorney, Paul Prestia, who filed the CCRB complaint on his behalf as well as a notice of claim against the city, which is the first step required to pursue a lawsuit. Prestia hopes the CCRB complaint can help identify the officers involved.
“The flagrant, unprovoked attacks by New York City police officers on peaceful protesters like Mr. Benoit cannot be tolerated,” he said, adding that he finds it “ironic that people in our city who are peacefully protesting police brutality are being brutalized by police.”
Lilly Gottlieb, another protester, took Benoit’s phone and backpack, and helped track him down at the hospital. She said they were among the “front line” of protesters — and that the people in that group were not fighting with police. Gottlieb, Benoit and others “all had their hands up, no one was provoking them,” she said.
“Again,” Gottlieb said, “it all started with the police.”