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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Hellish Ordeal Over Harlem Traffic Ticket

MANHATTAN (CN) - A traffic ticket turned into a ritualistic beating by a "swarm" of police officers upset by attempts to film them, a New Yorker claims in a federal action.

Walter Avila says he had double-parked his Nissan Maxima one January evening in 2013 to use an ATM on East 125th Street.

He says two officers, Christopher Mitchell and Robert Regent, "nodded" to him that he would be OK while quickly getting some cash.

When Avila emerged, however, Regent was laughing and writing a ticket, according to the complaint filed on Nov. 20.

The officers allegedly kept laughing when Avila asked them why they seemed to indicate that they would give him a break.

Avila says their smiles faded when he pulled out a cellphone to start documenting that his car was not obstructing traffic.

When Regent asked if Avila planned to put the video on YouTube, Avila asked for the officer's badge number, according to the complaint. Avila says the officer ignored him, and that he was shoved into his car when he tried to film the officer's badge.

"Terrified, Mr. Avila immediately put his hands up - then, out of nowhere, Defendant Mitchell blindsided Mr. Avila, punching him in his right eye," the complaint states.

Avila says he lost consciousness during a prolonged and vicious beating.

"The last thing Mr. Avila recalls before blacking out was the sound of his bones cracking as Regent wrenched his cell phone from his hands," the complaint says.

There were six officers around Avila when he came to, and Avila says he screamed in pain because his hand was broken as they shoved him into a squad car.

At the 25th Precinct, "he was greeted by a swarm of officers who quickly, almost ritualistically, formed a half-circle around the side of the vehicle where Mr. Avila was to exit," the complaint says.

Avila says the officers began taking turns punching him. Once dragged through the entrance of the precinct, Avila says he was nearly knocked out again by another blow from Regent.

The officers eventually realized they had to take Avila to the hospital, but they made snide remarks about his ride while they waited for an ambulance, asking how he was able to afford the 2012 Nissan.

At the hospital, one unnamed officer washed blood from Avila's face in an effort to make the man look "more presentable," according to the complaint.

When Avila's wife arrived and promised legal action, he says an officer questioned whether she could afford an attorney.

The police tried to take Avila to central booking after a quick radiologic workup, but a nurse at intake allegedly said Avila needed to go back to the hospital.

"We can't take him looking like that," the nurse said, according to the complaint.

Avila says officers took him back to the precinct instead so they could "regroup" and try to make him change out of his bloody shirt.

The charges ultimately filed against Avila accused him assault and resisting arrest, but prosecutors threw out the case that November, according to the complaint.

Avila says he spent a month in a cast because of his broken hand.

"Perhaps ironically, Mr. Avila never leaves home now without his cell phone in the event that he is once again terrorized by the police in his Harlem neighborhood," the complaint says. "However, unlike the day he was assaulted, Mr. Avila now subscribes to a streaming service where others can witness what he films live, and a recording is preserved in the event his cell phone is taken or destroyed."

Avila seeks punitive damages for excessive force, false arrest, malicious prosecution and other civil rights violations. He is represented by Andrew Hoffman of the Law Office of Jeffrey Chabrowe.

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