The head of the city’s Human Resources Administration publicly apologized Friday to the mother whose baby was ripped from her arms by police officers at a Brooklyn benefits center.
HRA Commissioner Steve Banks called what happened to 23-year-old mom Jazmine Headley at a SNAP center in Boerum Hill on Dec. 7 “completely unacceptable” and something that “should never happen again in New York City.”
“On behalf of our agency and our dedicated front-line staff in all five boroughs, I apologize to Jazmine Headley and her one-year-old son and to the people of the City of New York for the actions that were taken that day,” Banks said in a statement.
Also on Friday, Banks suspended two HRA peace officers for 30 days without pay as a result of the incident. The Department of Social Services “will file disciplinary charges against them that could result in termination,” Banks said.
He noted that “some additional matters are still under investigation.”
Headley, who had the charges against her in the matter dropped by the Brooklyn DA, has claimed she got into a quarrel with the HRA officers because she was sitting on the floor of the benefits center with her 17-month-old son, Damone Buckman III, because there were no chairs available.
When the mom did not immediately comply with the guards’ orders that she either stand up or leave, they called the NYPD, whose officers were caught on video in a dramatic scene wrestling Headley’s baby from her arms.
In his statement, Banks outlined steps the agency is taking “to make sure that this intolerable incident results in change for New Yorkers who seek help in HRA offices.”
“As reflected in the NYPD body worn camera videos, there were multiple points at which this incident could have and should have been defused,” Banks said.
He noted that in the future, “unless there is an immediate safety threat, I am directing that HRA peace officer shall not request the intervention of the NYPD without first contacting the Center Director or Deputy Director or her/his designee to attempt to defuse the situation by addressing a client need.”
According to Banks, within the next 90 days, the Department of Social Services will conduct “retraining sessions” for all HRA peace officers and the new training will be “a mandatory annual requirement for each officer.”
He added that the NYPD and DSS “will develop a protocol for determining appropriate instances in which HRA peace officers in HRA Centers should seek the assistance of the NYPD.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement Friday: “This incident was chaotic and difficult to watch, and clearly something went wrong.”
“The NYPD has conducted a strenuous review of what happened, because the public deserves answers, and we must take every opportunity to continuously strengthen how the NYPD serves the people of New York City,” O’Neill said. “This review shows that prior to the incident depicted on public video, NYPD officers are working with the client to de-escalate the situation. The review also shows that there are policy improvements we can make, both in NYPD procedure and in our coordination with fellow agencies. Our cops have challenging jobs, and we need to do all we can to ensure they have the tools, policies and support to best serve everyone in our city.”
An internal NYPD probe into the matter found that the incident was “escalated by HRA personnel, and would likely have been avoided without that escalation,” the police department said.
When NYPD officers arrived on the scene at the benefits center, they continuously requested that Headley leave the office as HRA officers directed.
“After a final terse verbal exchange between Ms. Headley and an HRA officer, Ms. Headley turns, appearing to head toward an exit, when the HRA officer grabs Ms. Headley’s arm, resulting in both being pulled to the ground,” the department said. “This action initiates the events that appear in the video that has been publicly viewed. NYPD officers then engage to effect the arrest.”
As a result of the incident, the NYPD identified areas for policy change that includes establishing “clear procedural guidelines governing interactions between NYPD and HRA officers, including identifying the agency and supervisor in ultimate command when both agencies are responding.”
The department said it will also deploy an NYPD supervisor when the department responds to calls for service at HRA facilities and “review all tactics for NYPD officers in situations when a subject is holding a young child; develop and implement a specific and improved training program for all NYPD officers for such scenarios.”
The NYPD’s investigation included a review of cellphone video, a review of NYPD officers’ body-worn camera footage, a review of two 911 calls and interviews with Headley and her mom Jacqueline Jenkins, and the grandmother who took custody of the one-year-old child.
The NYPD officers, and HRA officers and personnel were not interviewed at the request of the Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney, the NYPD said.