Four police officers wrestled a Black man to the ground on a New York City subway platform last week and one of them threw nearly a dozen punches at the man as he was pinned down.
A bystander filmed much of the encounter and video cellphone video footage showing the officer whaling on the man with a flurry of punches spread quickly online. Many of the jabs landed in rapid-fire succession to the face of 50-year-old Alex Lowery as three other officers worked to subdue him.
The video circulated on social media, sparking debate. Many said it was a clear display of excessive force. But a New York Police Department spokesman claimed the officers were defending themselves after Lowery attacked two cops, according to a statement provided to Atlanta Black Star on Feb. 23.
Lowery was arrested following the incident and charged with assault on two police officers. He was also booked on two counts apiece of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and violation of local law stemming from the Feb. 16 confrontation, which occurred on a platform at the South Ferry subway station in Manhattan.
According to NYPD’s account, Lowery got kicked out of the train station after two transit officers spotted him smoking on the platform. As the cops were escorting Lowery out of the subway, he turned and spit in one their faces. Police released surveillance footage from the subway, which showed him turn toward the officers as they were walking up the stairs toward the exit.
That touched off the violent struggle. Lowery and the both officers disappeared out of camera’s view for a few seconds as police moved in to arrest him. NYPD Sgt. Edward Riley said Lowery punched one officer in the face and head-butted the other on the stairwell. That portion of the confrontation was not seen on camera.
All three came back into frame when they tumbled down the stairs. Police said Lowery landed on top of one officers and continued his attack. Just then, two backup officers joined the fray and tried to peel Lowery off.
A passerby began recording as police scrapped with Lowery on the floor, trying to wrestle him into custody.
That video opened with one of the officers on top of Lowery punching him repeatedly as he laid on his back with the three other officers holding him down.
The officer threw 10 punches within seconds, connecting at least eight times as Lowery laid on his back. Police repeatedly yell for Lowery to “show your hands.” One of them shouted “Give me your hands motherf—er. Don’t reach for me.”
The four police officers were eventually able to place handcuffs on a weary, beaten and disheveled Lowery. “I’m handcuffed, man,” he told them after the tussle. “Get me the f–k off this floor.”
Police officials did not release any of the officers’ names. Nor did they say whether Lowery sustained any injuries.
NYPD did note injuries to two of the officers involved. One suffered a deep laceration to his ear and injured his knee. A second officer hurt his elbow.
Riley said NYPD is now reviewing the incident.
The incident occurred just three days after NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced that 500 police officers would be stationed in the subway in response to a series of violent crimes.
“Five-hundred additional officers is a significant amount of resources added into the already thousands of officers already deployed by the NYPD,” Shea said, according to Gothamist.
Many mocked the deployment of new officers in the wake of the viral video showing Lowery’s beatdown.
“If you want to know what 500 new cops on the NYC subway looks like, this is it, this morning,” one Twitter user identified as Rebecca Kavanagh wrote on Feb. 18. “NYPD Transit District 2 officers beat an elderly apparently homeless man on the ground, while cops with police dogs surround him.”
The police department called Lowery a “parole absconder with a record of violent crimes.” In their statement, NYPD pointed out a July 2017 arrest when Lowery held a knife to a 30-year-old woman’s throat at a Harlem subway station. He was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the unprovoked attack. New York State Department of Corrections show Lowery served a prison stint for that charge and was released on parole in April 2019.
Yet people on social media argued that Lowery’s past crimes did not factor into his latest brush with the law, according to some on social media.
“The question is whether the punches captured by the third party video were necessary to subdue him. Frankly, his criminal history is irrelevant to this point, as @nypdnews well knows. The man was being subdued by three other officers at that moment while on his back,” Stephen Levin tweeted.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch defended the officers in a statement to news outlets.
“After a week of outcry over the chaos in the subway, these cops were doing exactly what was asked of them: enforcing the transit system rules,” he said. “For their efforts, they were spat on, attacked, thrown down a flight of stairs, and one police officer nearly had his ear ripped off. None of that assault was shown in the partial video circulating online, because the pro-criminal crowd doesn’t want you to know how truly dangerous the subways have become — even for police officers.”