NEW YORK (AP) — Five homeless men seen on video battling a police officer on a subway platform could still face criminal charges, New York prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office said the prosecutors who declined to move forward on the sleeping-related violations were not aware the men were also allegedly involved in the altercation with the officer. Charges could still be brought if they men are arrested in connection with that matter, the DA's office said.
Police cited the men for sleeping on the station floor, not for the altercation. Prosecutors dropped that case, citing a policy curbing prosecution of those kinds of low-level violations.
A video viewed more than 4.75 million times on social media shows Officer Syed Ali using a baton and kicking at the men, who appeared to be drunk, as they come at him one at a time Sunday night. The men refused Ali's orders to "stand back." Ali, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, never pulled his gun.
The lack of criminal charges stemming from the fight angered Ali's union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which said the men "should be held accountable for their actions" and that "it's wrong that they were not charged for attacking him."
"There is no telling how much damage these mopes would have done to that courageous police officer had he not been equipped to handle them," union president Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
"Had it gone the other way, we might have had a seriously injured or dead police officer instead. It's wrong that they were not charged for attacking him."
One of the homeless men tumbled off the platform in the chaos and had to be pulled from the tracks. He and the others were taken to a hospital for treatment, and no charges were immediately filed.
The men weren't arrested until the next morning when police spotted them back at the East Broadway station and cited them for sleeping on the floor — a low-level violation that the Manhattan DA's office stopped prosecuting two years ago.
"When people are arrested for attacking officers, we prosecute them," said Danny Frost, a spokesman for the DA's office. "These men were not arrested for attacking an officer, they were arrested for sleeping on the floor of a subway station — a rules violation, not a crime. We have not prosecuted this violation since March 2016 under a policy jointly established with the Police Commissioner and Mayor."
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised Ali's "extraordinary professionalism and bravery." He tweeted Tuesday that "attacking our men and women in uniform won't ever be tolerated."
City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who presented Ali with a plaque Tuesday for his "quick action," questioned whether prosecutors and police were sending the wrong message by letting the men go.
"Why were the attackers released?" the Brooklyn Democrat asked on Twitter. "Were they offered mental health treatment and shelter, or are they back out on the streets, free to assault somebody else, or worse? Many unanswered questions."