CROWN HEIGHTS — An officer caught on tape beating an unarmed man inside a community center for at-risk Jewish youth last Monday has been relieved of his gun and badge pending an NYPD investigation, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
New York City politicians and residents of Brooklyn's close-knit Jewish community were outraged after surveillance tape surfaced Sunday night showing two officers from the 71st precinct apparently beating a young man who had been staying at the ALIYA Jewish outreach center and synagogue on Oct. 8.
"This is clear and convincing evidence of police brutality," said City Councilwoman Letitia James, who joined Assemblyman Dov Hikind and other elected officials at a press conference Monday decrying the beating. "Homeless people should be treated with more respect than that which is exhibited by this video."
The altercation began just after 4 a.m. last Monday, after a volunteer security guard, identified by the organization and in court papers as Zalman Trappler, roused Ehud Halevy, 21, who had been sleeping in the center's lounge for more than a week.
According to the criminal complaint, Halevy was sleeping naked on a couch in the women's section of the center.
"Zalman woke him up and told him to get dressed, and he didn’t appreciate being woken up. It must have turned verbally confrontational," said Rabbi Moishe Feiglin, who runs the center on East New York Avenue and said he frequently hosts youth with nowhere else to go. "That’s what it started over, put on your pants."
Feiglin said Trappler would have known that Halevy was a guest of he center, but apparently called police anyway. What followed was a confrontation with two officers from the 71st Precinct, who can be seen on the surveillance tape rousing a shirtless Halevy, and striking him repeatedly after he appears to resist their attempts at escort him outside.
"They’re in there prior to [the beginning of the tape]for a good five minutes trying to tell the guy you have to leave the location," a police source told DNAinfo.com New York. "They had no intention of locking that guy up, none."
Police sources confirm that the male officer in the video, identified in court papers as Luis A. Vega of Brooklyn's 71st Precinct, was put on modified duty. Halevy was arrested and charged with assault, trespass, resisting arrest, and harassment.
"Police responded to a call of a dispute inside of a synagogue's outreach center in Brooklyn, where a man refused to vacate the women's portion of the center," said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. "The officers used force to affect the arrest."
Friends say Halevy, who was released last week on $1,500 bail, has been staying with a girlfriend in Manhattan since the incident.
"He's really upset about it," said pal Danny Grill, who called Halevy bright and quiet, and insisted his friend was never one to make trouble.
It's unclear exactly how local news website CrownHeights.info obtained the video, which leaked late Sunday night.
"We didn't want the video to get out the way it did," Feiglin said. "It was subpoenaed by the legal aid team. From then we don’t know what happened to it."
But for Feiglin, the real concern his how to rebuild trust with the vulnerable population he serves.
"The whole center is on edge," the rabbi said. "A lot of members who were there that night ran off — we haven't seen them since."