Mom From Welfare Office Trauma Settles With NYC

BROOKLYN (CN) — New York City will pay $625,000 to the mother whose treatment at a Brooklyn benefits office went viral after uniformed officers were filmed last year ripping her baby from her arms. 

Jazmine Headley appears with her attorney, Brian Neary, and her mother, Jacqueline Jenkins, outside a courthouse in Trenton, NJ, on Dec. 12, 2018. (AP / Mike Catalini)

The brutal confrontation erupted on Dec. 7, 2018, as Jazmine Headley tried to see a caseworker about a benefit cancellation that meant her 1-year-old son could no longer attend daycare. 

“Ms. Headley came to the city seeking help, and we failed to treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved,” City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said Friday in a statement announcing the settlement.

“While this injustice should have never happened, it forced a reckoning with how we treat our most vulnerable and prompted us to make reforms at HRA Centers across the city,” Lapeyrolerie continued, using an an abbreviation for Human Resources Administration. “We hope this settlement brings Ms. Headley and her family a degree of closure.” 

Headley claimed in her complaint that she had waited for three hours in the crowded HRA office in Brooklyn when security tried to throw her out because she “had dared to sit on the floor,” beside her son’s stroller.

Rather than leave, Headley, then 23, asked to speak to a supervisor. 

“The HRA peace officers reacted with fury,” according to the complaint, filed by attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. 

As captured on film, the officers, joined by members of the NYPD, wrenched Headley’s baby from her arms, at one point appearing to rip the boy’s body back and forth like a game of tug-of-war.

The video even shows one officer brandishing a Taser at the terrified mother and child, as people scream in the background. Headley was arrested and spent a few nights in jail on Rikers Island. 

A representative for the city’s Department of Social Services said Friday the peace officers involved in the incident were no longer with that agency. 

The department has promised to change its ways in part because of what happened to Headley, according to an October post on medium.com by Commissioner Steven Banks.

“Let me be clear: one instance of excessive force is one too many,” Banks wrote, going on to call Headley’s experience a “nightmare scenario.” 

In January, Banks announced that all HRA peace officers would be required to wear body cameras by the end of this year, a goal the Social Services representative said the agency is on track to meet. 

Banks cited Headley’s case in the call for body cameras, saying the video left no doubt about what had occurred so the city could take “swift, decisive action” against the officers involved.

In the post, Banks announced mandatory de-escalation training for his officers as well as 50 hours of additional training, and says all officers receive over 300 hours of training overall. He appointed a chief diversity and equity officer, Lawanna Kimbro, who he says led the department’s first-ever staffwide “client-centered, trauma-informed, anti-bias training” this past fall. 

“The governmental authority to use force to protect the public is a solemn power,” Banks wrote. “It is our responsibility in government to continually re-evaluate our approach to that authority, which must only be deployed as a last resort when absolutely necessary for public safety.”

The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.

At the time of the incident, there was an unrelated warrant for Headley in New Jersey, which a judge dismissed about a week later. 

Headley’s lawyers in the federal case did not return requests for comment. Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, represented Headley after her December 2018 arrest.

“I am very pleased that Ms. Headley will receive a settlement that reflects both the harm that came to her and her son and an acknowledgement from the City of New York of the extent of their wrongdoing in this matter,” Schreibersdorf said in a statement Friday. “I hope that this recognition also results in changes to the way the city treats people who are trying to access the help and services they need and deserve.”

Greg Floyd, the president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents peace officers, declined to comment Friday. 

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