CROWN HEIGHTS — Members of Crown Heights Jewish community say they're taking to the streets Friday to demand justice for Ehud Halevy, the young man whose videotaped beating at the hands of police sparked a firestorm of controversy across Brooklyn after it went viral earlier this week.
Marchers say they will rally at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue at 2 p.m. Friday to protest the incident, which took place inside the ALIYA community center and synagogue on East New York Avenue on Oct. 8.
"I know a lot of people are upset over what happened at ALIYA a couple of weeks ago," Deputy Inspector John Lewis of the 71st Precinct told a packed house at Middle School 61 on Empire Boulevard Thursday night. "I spoke to (ALIYA director) Rabbi Feiglin and we’re trying to work through this and come to some resolution."
The altercation began just after 4 a.m. on Oct, 8, after a volunteer security guard allegedly found Halevy, 21, sleeping naked in the women's section of the synagogue and called police. Officer Luis Vega, identified by a source close to the precinct as a 20-year veteran of the NYPD and a longtime presence in Crown Heights, can be seen on the surveillance tape repeatedly pummeling the youth after he refused to leave the building.
Halevy was arrested and charged with assault, trespass, resisting arrest, and harassment in connection with the incident. Vega has been put on modified duty pending further investigation.
"There are real sanctions against the officers in this," Lewis said. "If these allegations are substantiated, it’s not going to be retraining."
Outraged residents came clamoring to the precinct's top brass at Thursday's precinct community council meeting, where police spent nearly two hours fielding questions and concerns.
"There's some serious allegations and some serious issues brought up by this video," Lewis said. "We understand there are really serious allegations, but if you’re trying to tell me there’s a culture of police just bashing people, then I'll have to disagree with you."
In fact, Professor Eugene O’Donnell of John Jay College said most civilians simply aren't trained to see the difference between appropriate use of force and brutality.
"I’m surprised it’s creating this much furor," O'Donnell said of the clip. "We need to gain maturity on what police do — they use force on people when they don’t acquiesce and there’s not an alternative."
Whether the incident is ultimately ruled a justifiable use of force, Halevy could still face serious penalties for the handful of felony charges he racked up during the seven-minute tussle.
"When we’re conducting our business and you’re trying to prevent us from conducting our business and there’s an injury involved, that makes it assault in the second degree," Lewis said. "Sometimes we can throw the first punch — absolutely."