Overheated in Sunset Park

Latino Family Claims Cops Brutalized Them Over a Radio

"The only thing I could see before I hit the stairs was my mom, stripped, with four or five cops on her. My sister [Elena] was already down with four or five cops on her," says Jose. He is the one family member with a criminal record, which includes a number of petty crimes from the 1980s and a prison stay of 12 years for selling drugs.

Told of the family's allegations of police misconduct, the NYPD's Coan seemed to question Jose's sincerity when he said, "We're dealing with someone who's been through the system and has a lot to lose in a conviction." He would not elaborate. But the Acostas filed a CCRB complaint once before, when it might have been in Jose's interest to keep quiet. In policing a February fistfight following a fender-bender, Jose claims, cops wrongly descended on and manhandled him while letting the other driver off. Jose received a conditional dismissal, effectively ending the matter without jail time, but he pursued his grievance on principle.

Margarita does not hide that she protested Jose's treatment July 4. "They had me in handcuffs. I had two police at my back. I try to get out," she admits in heavily accented English. "I'm screaming, 'Don't hit my son!' They're screaming, 'Shut up, fucking bitch.' " Jose, who is of modest height but burly, says, "I was in a choke hold, and they were beating me senseless."

He points out, as the family repeatedly stressed last week, "They never asked us to lower the radio in the first place." The NYPD's Coan says officers were in the area investigating illegal fireworks and probably approached the Acostas on their own, not in response to a noise complaint.

The charges against Elena state that Captain Gentile "requested defendant to lower defendant's music and that defendant did jump on [Gentile]." But in a transcript of Elena's arraignment, the assistant district attorney says that police "[g]ot to the location and there was a radio playing loud music. The officer turned the radio down."

The Acostas deny that they attacked cops, despite the claims of six officers—Melville Maurice, Joseph Belise, Peter Smith, Dennis Canale, Yen Chu, and Gentile—in court papers.

Marisol, 39, who is the sister of Elena and Jose, says, "I had my hair in a bun, which a cop grabbed," pulling her down from the stoop. Edgar—a 16-year-old relative, who is 5'6" and slender at 120 pounds—says he was pulled from where he sat on the top step, punched in the head, and pushed to the sidewalk. He spoke with a half-inch scab under his right eye.

The reenactment seemed too vivid for Darrell, 12, Elena's younger son. As family members called on him to tell his part, his eyes filled, though he jutted his jaw. His mother put an arm around him and said he didn't have to speak, but he plowed ahead through tears.

"I saw the cop. My grandma asked him what he was doing. He grabbed my mother." Five feet tall and a rail-thin 90 pounds, he says he jumped from the stoop to his mother's aid. "I tried ripping the officer's hand off my mother, because she kept saying, 'My arm, my arm.' I said, 'Let go of my mom.' An officer grabbed me and swung me against the gate." Darrell gestured to the metal gate in front of the brownstone next door.

"They threw me against the floor," says Darrell. "My brother [Orlando, 14] went up and said, 'Why are you pushing my brother around?' They grabbed him and pushed him into the gate. They grabbed me and grabbed my brother, and we got bounced off the back of a car." A family friend rushed over and whisked the two boys away. From the sidelines, Darrell says, "I saw them punch my cousin [Edgar, 16] twice in the face. They had him on the floor. I saw a female officer beating on his back with her knuckles. My uncle [Jose] was already on the floor. They had handcuffed him and started beating on him."

Darrell became more upset as he spoke, until mother Elena intervened and sent him away.

Elena, Marisol, and Jose, their nephew Edgar (whose father, the eldest of the adult siblings, was not home that night), and Margarita were all cuffed and driven to the 72nd Precinct. The family say they pleaded to put a shirt on Margarita before she was taken away, but police refused. A snapshot shows three male officers placing a handcuffed Margarita, in her bra, into a police van.

Marisol claims that cops later quizzed her unclothed mother on whether she was "a table dancer," perhaps in jest. She says one officer used an anti-Hispanic slur and said, "They have to pay us a lot of money to get us to come in and work with you lowlifes."

Coan of the NYPD says the officers acted professionally. "There was probable cause to make the arrests," he stressed.

A 28-year-old man who lives one block over from the Acostas, on 46th Street, called internal affairs. He said, "I heard a lot of police sirens. I walked over there and saw a group of cops circling one individual. Other cops were pushing people away from the scene. One of them had a can of mace in his hand, and he said, 'I don't care, I'll spray anyone.' " He said he knew the Acostas not by name, but on sight: "I seen them and said hi to them, like once in a blue. We all there our whole lives."

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