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Mass Arrests After Bottles Hurled at Cops From Bronx Building

By Patrick Wall | March 29, 2012 1:44pm

The YouTube video of the incident contains explicit language.

CONCOURSE VILLAGE — A wild melee broke out in the Bronx Saturday after scores of police officers stormed a six-story building where glass bottles had been hurled from a roof at cops below.

As police surrounded the building at 355 E. 163rd St., some 50 people gathered outside, sparking fights with officers that left one cop with an injured hand and at least 10 people — including four who are younger than 16 — under arrest on charges ranging from rioting and disorderly conduct to assault, according to police.

Criminal complaints charge that those arrested were "pushing, grabbing, and kicking" officers as they tried to find and capture the people who had thrown the bottles, and that members of the crowd refused to disperse.

But witnesses and people named in the complaints say they were merely bystanders who police indiscriminately arrested, including an eighth-grade boy who said he was pepper-sprayed and punched soon after returning from Saturday school and a mother who said she was pepper-sprayed and arrested while trying to stop her sons from joining the fray.

"We don’t assume all cops are bad, so how can they assume all of us are bad?" asked the mother, Trina Stephenson, whose charges include disorderly conduct, rioting and resisting arrest.

The police department’s press office did not respond to questions about the incident or allegations by people involved. The Bronx District Attorney's office provided criminal complaints for the six adults arrested, but not the juveniles.

According to witnesses as well as people who were arrested, on Saturday evening some building residents and a few police patrol officers were standing near the corner of 163rd Street and Teller Avenue, where a mobile police surveillance tower was installed about two weeks earlier due to gang activity in the area.

Sometime before 6 p.m., the first bottles began to fall and shatter on the pavement, sending residents scurrying and officers calling for backup. One officer from the 44th precinct who asked not to be named said objects had been thrown at cops from rooftops in that area before.

As officers arrived, they began to round up young people who were standing around the intersection or in the courtyard of the complex that includes the building from where the bottles were tossed, according to witnesses.

A police van soon carted away several suspects, most of them young people, witnesses said. But more bottles continued to fall, prompting more officers to arrive.

A YouTube video containing explicit language taken from one of the buildings in the complex shows dozens of marked and unmarked police cars filling multiple blocks around the intersection.

While officers flooded the building and courtyard, residents of the complex began to gather outside to see what was happening and to check if anyone they knew had been arrested.

Stephenson, 33, who was outside when the bottles landed, said that when she saw the first wave of officers arrive, she rushed to grab her two teenage sons. She was shielding one son and clutching the other when cops began to pull the three apart, then pepper spray and handcuff her, she said.

Stephenson, who lives in Middletown, N.Y., but was visiting relatives in the neighborhood where she grew up, said she and others were careful not to fight officers during the incident.

"We’re not stupid," she said. "We know what’s going to happen if we hit them back."

Alshante Baker, 14, an eighth grader at nearby Bronx Early College Academy, had just returned from classes he takes at the school on Saturdays to prepare for the high school entrance exams.

After he dropped his backpack in his aunt’s apartment inside the complex, he went back to the courtyard to find out what was happening.

As soon as he stepped outside, police officers yelled at, shoved and handcuffed him, and he was hit with pepper spray in his left eye, he said. He was then arrested.

Baker’s father, Jermaine Brown, 40, said his son is a straight-A student who spends most afternoons inside to avoid trouble.

"They arrested a model kid for no reason," Brown said Monday afternoon, before taking his son to the hospital to have his eye examined.

A small riot broke out Saturday after scores of police officers stormed this six-story building at 355 E. 163rd Street in the Bronx, where glass bottles had been hurled from a roof at cops below.
A small riot broke out Saturday after scores of police officers stormed this six-story building at 355 E. 163rd Street in the Bronx, where glass bottles had been hurled from a roof at cops below.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

"I’ve lived in this area for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this," Brown added.

Other witnesses said they saw other young people punched and pepper sprayed, including a girl with asthma, Shanic Williams, 14, who said she had trouble breathing after being sprayed.

Officer Julian Martinez "suffered substantial pain and a sprained hand" when a 19-year-old man kicked Martinez while he was trying to make an arrest, according to the complaint.

Maria Lazo, the superintendent of a building that faces the one where the incident occurred, witnessed part of the skirmish. She said cops in the area are sometimes too aggressive, but mainly, "They’re here trying to protect the rest of us."

Most of the blame for Saturday’s uproar, she said, belonged to whoever threw the bottles.

"It bothers me when people do stuff like that," said Lazo, "because the whole community gets messed up."