New York City police officers, several in plainclothes, swooped into a demonstration against aggressive police tactics Tuesday and arrested a protester they appeared to have singled out, pulling her into an unmarked minivan before driving off.
Videos of the encounter drew intense criticism on social media, including accusations that the New York police were adopting tactics similar to those used by federal agents during recent protests in Portland, Ore., where some people were pulled into unmarked vans.
The Police Department said in a statement that the protester, Nikki Stone, 18, had been arrested by officers from the warrant squad in connection with “damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents in and around City Hall Park,” an apparent reference to incidents that occurred during the Occupy City Hall protests.
Stone, a transgender woman who the police said was from the Lower East Side, was one of 12 protesters arrested Tuesday, the police said.
She was charged with criminal mischief and making graffiti, which are misdemeanor offenses, and was released early Wednesday with a desk appearance ticket, which will require her to return to court at a later date.
The warrant squad typically uses unmarked vehicles to locate people wanted in connection with crimes, the police said.
While the police indicated that they were following standard procedure, the incident comes at a time when law enforcement practices are under intense scrutiny. Several city officials said Tuesday that they were troubled by the videos of the woman’s arrest and demanded a fuller explanation from the Police Department.
On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested the arrest leadership should have coordinated better given ongoing tension over policing and that he would speak with the city’s police commissioner, Dermot Shea, about the issue.
“Given this atmosphere that we’re dealing with in our country and the real concerns people have, it just didn’t make sense,” de Blasio said.
After the mayor’s comments, Rodney Harrison, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, shared video on Twitter that appeared to show Stone vandalizing cameras.
“The NYPD welcomes peaceful protests,” Harrison wrote. “However, damage to NYPD technology that helps keep this city safe will never be tolerated.”
Later on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized the arrest and said the video was “disturbing.”
“I’m surprised that, especially at this time, the NYPD would take such an obnoxious action,” Cuomo said during a news briefing. “It was wholly insensitive to everything that has gone on.”
On Tuesday, Carlina Rivera, the city councilwoman who represents the district where the arrest occurred, called the arrest a “massive overstep” and said she was exploring legislation over the use of unmarked vans and plainclothes officers.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight agency, said it had received a complaint about Stone’s arrest and was investigating it.
Police officers in warrant squads are officially tasked with seeking people wanted for violent felony offenses and domestic violence, whom they expect to be armed and dangerous.
Stone’s arrest Tuesday was the latest flash point in a nationwide conversation about aggressive police tactics. For weeks since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, people have staged protests across the city against police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system.
The protest Tuesday at which Stone was arrested was held in response to the clearing of the Occupy City Hall encampment last week, organizers said.