Alleged Cop Attack on Harlem Dirt Bike Rider Under Investigation
HARLEM — The Civilian Complaint Review Board is investigating allegations that NYPD officers kicked and punched a Harlem dirt bike rider whose bike is branded "Spider-Man" — and then took his bike on a joy ride.
Linda Sachs, a spokeswoman for the CCRB, said the independent agency is looking into a report of police misconduct involving Benjamin Charles.
Charles 31, a construction worker, says cops pulled him off of his dirt bike Aug. 21 at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 116th Street, and that he was hit by cops in the head and ribs.
"I'm on the floor and they are beating me down. They kicked me all over, in the head, the ribs and the groin," said Charles who recently graduated from City College of New York.
"They hit me hit with [a] baton and then someone takes mace and sprays me for 10 seconds. It felt like they were trying to empty the can in my face," he added. "This is police brutality. They were not acting like professionals."
Charles says he was riding his Spiderman-themed dirt bike south on Frederick Douglass Boulevard when an officer stepped off the sidewalk and tried to hit him with a baton, causing him to swerve to avoid being hit. After he turned the bike around to complain to the officers, he says they grabbed him and threw him to the ground.
"They had him on the floor. The female cop ran over and started kicking him in the head," said Adama Bagayoko, 26, a freelance videographer who says he witnessed police on top of Charles.
"They were on top of him kicking him and punching him," Bagayoko, who works at a nearby bakery, added. "One cop had his knee on his neck."
A video of the incident obtained by DNAinfo.com New York shows several officers on top of Charles. Another officer rolls the bike on the sidewalk and then dumps it on the ground.
One officer appears to move his foot in a kicking motion. An officer then flashes a light in the camera to block the videographer from filming.
"Everybody's gotta go now," one officer is heard saying.
A day after the incident, Charles had scabs and scars on his face he says came from the officers beating him while his face was on the ground.
A picture witnesses took that evening also shows two NYPD officers riding a dirt bike.
"The cops was on the bike riding it down the avenue. If we can't ride the bike, what gives them the right and privilege to ride the bike," Bagayoko said.
Charles is in the process of retaining a civil lawyer and says he plans to sue the NYPD. He is represented in his criminal case by prominent criminal defense attorney Anthony Ricco.
An NYPD spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the criminal complaint, Charles was weaving in and out of traffic on his dirt bike, popping wheelies and swerved his dirt bike at police officers "causing those officers to jump back onto the sidewalk to avoid being struck."
The complaint also charges that Charles screamed and cursed at officers, threatening to "get" them. He was also charged with resisting arrest, allegedly flailing his arms and causing swelling under one officer's eye and lacerations to another's elbow that required treatment, according to the complaint.
Charles was charged with assault, menacing, resisting arrest and reckless driving but was released on his own recognizance by a judge.
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, dirt bikes are only approved for off-road use because they are not equipped with the proper gear such as turn signals, reflectors and headlights. Riders who appear on the roadways are "subject to arrest," according to the DMV.
The allegations come weeks after Eddie Fernandez, a dirt bike rider in the Bronx, was killed on Aug. 11 when his bike was rear-ended by an NYPD cruiser. The passenger in that incident, Adalberto Gonzalez, who suffered a broken leg in the incident according to his lawyer, is suing the NYPD for $20 million claiming they acted negligently.
Residents of neighborhoods such as Harlem and Hunts Point in the Bronx have complained about the dirt bike riders for years, saying they flaunt traffic laws, speed, ride on the sidewalk and create noise pollution.
Police in several precincts have a no-pursuit policy in place because, they say, chasing the dirt bike riders would further endanger the public.
Cator Sparks, president of the 122nd Street Block Association, says his housemate was recently threatened by a dirt bike rider who drove up onto the sidewalk where several children were standing after they took a picture to report the rider to police.
Sparks said the riders endanger the public and create noise pollution but the police response has been inadequate.
"These bikers should go up to Bear Mountain. I see hundreds of drivers up there having a blast," Sparks said. "There's no need to do this in the city and disrupt and endanger millions of people."
But riders like Charles, who goes by the street name Benmore, says dirt bike riding keeps kids out of trouble. Riders would not be on the street if they had a track in the city to drive on, Charles added.
He has recently met with a Harlem community group to discuss the issue and has attended a couple of meetings of the 28th Precinct's Community Council.
Even if riding in the city is illegal, Charles says the police had no right to beat him.
"It's a traffic violation. The law does not say because I'm on a bike you have a right to kill me or beat me down," he said.