NYC Sued Over Fraught Episode at Welfare Office

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A single mom whose shocking treatment by police at a New York City welfare office stirred outrage last year brought a federal complaint Tuesday for damages. 

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

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

Headley, 24, claims in her complaint that she had waited for three hours in the crowded Human Resources Administration 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 allegedly asked to speak to a supervisor.

“The HRA peace officers reacted with fury,” according to the complaint.

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.

As people scream in the background, one officer is seen brandishing a Taser at the terrified mother and child.

“The NYPD officers then arrested Ms. Headley on a slew of frivolous criminal charges, all of which were later dismissed,” the complaint states. “During and after these events, Ms. Headley experienced intense fear, shock, humiliation, and terror. She is too afraid to return to any HRA office for further assistance with her benefits.” (Emphasis in original.)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson both denounced the actions of the officers after footage of Headley’s arrest went viral. The suit quotes both. 

 “It’s unbelievable to me that people who have the title of peace officer would do this to a woman and her baby,” said de Blasio at the time. “She posed no threat whatsoever. I watched the video. … There was no call for that type of response.”

The New York City Law Department said Wednesday it was reviewing the complaint.

Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services, noted that his office has already taken Headley’s experience to heart.

“That’s why we’ve implemented and continue to implement systematic changes, including retraining all security staff with an emphasis on de-escalation techniques, requiring implicit bias training for all DSS staff, and putting new response protocols in place with the NYPD, to prevent incidents like this one from happening again,” McGinn said in a statement.

The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment.

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