With a crowd of onlookers gathered around, New York Police officers encircle a woman and her child on the ground.
One officer reaches down and begins to pull. The officer yanks harder, and harder, and the woman’s cries become louder.
“You’re hurting my son! You’re hurting my son!” she yells.
A tug of war ensues, and as noise from the horrified crowd builds, an officer brandishes a yellow stun gun and begins to point it around the room, a government welfare office in Brooklyn.
The stunning and hectic scene, captured on video and posted to Facebook, ends with the woman in handcuffs escorted from the scene – and her 1-year-old son elsewhere. A family member took custody of the child after the arrest, the NYPD said.
The forceful arrest of the unarmed mother at a social services office has caused a significant backlash, particularly from those who saw it as an unnecessarily violent escalation and a symbol of how the poor are treated in America.
“Being poor is not a crime. The actions of the NYPD in this video are appalling and contemptible,” said Letitia James, the Public Advocate for New York City.
Facing criticism, the NYPD and the New York City Human Resources Administration are now reviewing that December 7 arrest.
“Video images of the incident in the 84th precinct are troubling,” the NYPD said in a statement, adding that the review will “include examination of all available video of the incident.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said the incident was particularly upsetting because it occurred at a location meant to connect the government to people in need.
“The police should not be a tool to further exacerbate a situation between a (member of the) public who is seeking some type of assistance,” Adams said.
Mother was trying to renew child-care benefit
The mother, Jazmine Headley, 23, faces four charges in the incident, including resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass, the NYPD said.
Headley is being held at Riker’s Island and is expected to make a court appearance on December 13.
In a statement, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said Headley is still being held in jail in connection with a warrant from New Jersey. The Mercer County Sheriff’s office confirmed to CNN that Headley has an outstanding arrest warrant from NJ Superior Court from July 2017 for failure to appear in relation to credit card fraud.
The incident began on Friday just before 1 p.m. when police responded to a harassment complaint at the Fort Greene Food Stamp Center in Brooklyn.
Police were called after office staff and HRA security unsuccessfully tried to remove Headley from the facility “due to her disorderly conduct towards others, and for obstructing the hallway,” according to police.
Facebook user Monae Sinclair, who posted the video, said that there were no chairs available so Headley sat in the corner on the floor. A security guard came over and exchanged words with her, and the police later arrived.
Headley was told by police numerous times to leave the location and refused, the NYPD said. HRA security then brought the woman to the floor and NYPD officers attempted to place her under arrest, the NYPD said.
“She refused to comply with officers’ orders, and was then taken into custody,” police said in a statement.
The video illustrates in graphic clarity the show of force implicit in that police statement. Headley refused medical treatment for both herself and her son, police said. There were no officer injuries in the incident.
Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said Headley was there because her child-care benefit, which allowed her to maintain her job, had ended. She took a day off work to come to the social services office and try to resolve the issue and get her child back in daycare, Schreibersdorf said.
Headley arrived at 9 a.m. and waited at the office for four hours. She was asked to move from her spot on the floor multiple times, Schreibersdorf said, but there were no seats available.
Security then decided to call police, a step that Schreibersdorf and Adams said was an unnecessary escalation. Responding police escalated the scene even further by using the child as a “pawn” and pulling him out of his mother’s arms, Schreibersdorf said.
She said it was “absurd” that Headley was charged with endangering her child in the incident. And she said that the district attorney asked for and the judge issued a full order of protection, which means that Headley cannot see her child right now.
“The escalation of this not only points out something very disturbing about the police and police solutions to these incidences, but it also highlights how one decision on the police to arrest somebody can actually really fan out and create so many consequences for this family,” she said.
Comparison to Trump’s separation policy
Adams compared the incident to the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border.
“This is a blemish on our entire city. Anytime our well-trained police officers cannot de-escalate a situation between mother and child without looking like Border Patrol police snatching away babies and children, that says that we’re not doing what we need to do correctly,” Adams said.
Adams added that the incident was particularly unfair because many of the people at that office are already struggling.
“This is supposed to be a place where families come to regain their dignity and respect, and not have it ripped from us,” he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said this was a disturbing incident.
“Like anyone who’s watched this video, I have a lot of questions about how this was handled,” he said. “NYPD & HRA will get to the bottom of what happened.”
Corey Johnson, the speaker of the New York City Council, said the incident was “unacceptable, appalling and heartbreaking.”
“I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justifies this. It’s hard to watch this video,” he said on Twitter.
On Facebook, James called for a full investigation into the officers’ conduct and said the results should be made public. She also called for the officers involved, including their assigned supervisor, to be assigned to desk duty until an investigation is complete.
“No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video,” she said.
CNN’s Mark Morales and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.