The first NYPD cop arrested under New York's chokehold law was cleared Tuesday by a Queens grand jury that declined to indict him for using a banned chokehold.
Former NYPD Officer David Afanador - he quit the department for unrelated reasons - was charged by Queens prosecutors with using a banned chokehold to take down 35-year-old Ricky Bellevue on Beach 113th St. and Ocean Promenade in Rockaway Beach on June 21, 2020.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and Queens DA Melinda Katz noted that the law bars her from discussing the case. Katz said she is seeking release of the grand jury minutes in hope of providing some transparency about the case.
Afanador placed Bellevue in a chokehold just a week after New York passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which made police use of banned chokeholds a felony. The law was named for Eric Garner, the Staten Island father of five who died after ex-NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold in June 2014.
Afanador's lawyer, Steve Worth, said the former cop felt his use of the chokehold was justified.
"He testified before the grand jury," said Worth. "They heard his testimony, and they believed his testimony that was acting in the best interest of - [that] he acted in the professional sense of an officer. He committed no crime in his actions."
"His testimony in essence was that he was keeping pressure to keep his head down, not choking him, so that the other officers could handcuff him," Worth said. "When they told him he was handcuffed, he released his hold."
Footage from Afanador's body-worn camera captured the incidents that led up to his use of a chokehold.
Three men taunted and insulated Afanador and some of his colleagues for about 10 minutes before one of them approached one of the cops.
Afanador claimed he saw Bellevue reach for something, and that's what caused him go after him.
"They were all talking all types of crazy stuff to us. We did nothing. I don't care. Anybody can say whatever they want to us," Afanador told a woman at the scene. "What changed everything is when he grabbed something and squared off, and was gonna hit my officer who's standing over there."
Bellevue was arrested and later released. Katz later dropped the charges against him. Bellevue's family has said he is bipolar and was not receiving psychiatric services when he enountered Afanador and the other officers.
Afanador faced up to seven years in prison if indicted and convicted of strangulation and attempted strangulation.
"This is outrageous and a miscarriage of justice," said civil rights activist Rev. Kevin McCall, who acted as the Bellevue family spokesman. "This is the third time he's getting off. Ricky Bellevue deserves justice."
A lawyer for the Bellevue family said the civil lawsuit against Afanador and the NYPD is still active.
Afandor, 39, joined the NYPD in 2005 and was investigated eight times by the Civilian Complaint Review Board before he resigned earlier this year.
In 2016, he was acquitted of assaulting a 16-year-old during a marijuana bust in Brooklyn by shoving a gun in the teen's mouth and cracking his teeth.
One of the 18 accusations against him involved excessive force for an alleged January 2010 chokehold, a claim unsubstantiated by a CCRB probe.
He resigned from the police department after an incident March 21 in which he was arrested in Long Beach for shooting into the Atlantic Ocean.
Long Beach Police responding to a report of shots fired found Afanador on the Long Beach Boardwalk near Franklin Blvd. with a loaded pistol, three loaded high-capacity magazines, and alcohol. He was with three other people, including Jennifer Sonnick, 36.
Cops believe Afanador fired into the ocean several times before handed his gun to Sonnick so she could have a turn. That case is still pending.
With John Annese and Graham Rayman