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One of the off-duty rookies was indeed holding a two-by-four, and was pushing his way through a crowd that appeared to be attacking the cab driver. Acosta identified himself and tried to grab the piece of lumber. "I'm a cop, let go," Acosta said. At that point, the cop dropped the two-by-four and took a swing at Acosta's face.
Acosta pushed his way through to Ming, the cab driver. He persuaded Ming to get out of the situation by getting back in his cab. Acosta put himself between the cab door and Ming, as the irate rookies tried to grab the driver, and tried to push the crowd back. With help from another off-duty sergeant, he ordered the crowd to disperse.
The woman with Captain Pla started screaming at the off-duty cops involved in the fight. "You're animals," she shouted. "You're savages. What are you doing?"
In the aftermath, as police sirens wailed toward the scene, several of the officers involved in the fight tried to flee. But they were stopped by plainclothes anti-crime officers.
Ming says some of the rookies told him to leave the scene. "I was like, wait a minute, there's something else going on here," he says.
It was only when the rookies were stopped by the anti-crime officers that Ming learned they were cops. "When I saw the shields, I was like, all this time, they are cops?" Ming says.
In the aftermath, a detective drove Ming to the precinct for questioning. In the car, the detective pledged to help him out. "He says, 'If you have any problems, let me know,' " Ming says. "He tells me I didn't deserve any of this."
A sympathetic captain wandered by as Ming was waiting to be interviewed by Internal Affairs. "We don't need cops like that," he told Ming. "They're not acting with good conduct."
Pla, Acosta says, remained on the sidewalk as the melee occurred, watching but not taking action. He says that, as the senior officer present, Pla should have intervened.
"He knows these guys, they work for him, he should have done something," Acosta says. "If those cops had been civilians, they would have been arrested."
As uniformed officers from the 19th Precinct began to arrive on the scene, Acosta says that Pla made a phone call.
As the anti-crime officers removed the off-duty cops from their car, Acosta walked up behind a uniformed officer named Mazzilli, who was looking on, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Officer, I'm a cop and I saw what happened."
Mazzilli spun around and grabbed Acosta by the wrist and demanded he remove his hand from his pocket. But because of the way his wrist was being held, Acosta couldn't take his hand out of his pocket.
Mazzilli, Acosta says, got angry, and repeated his demand. Acosta replied, "Listen, I'm a sergeant. Take it easy. I will do what you want, but you have to let go of my wrist."
"I don't give a fuck who you are," Mazzilli replied.
Mazzilli struck Acosta once in the face and threw him face-down to the ground. The irate officer then handcuffed Acosta. Acosta sustained bruises and a small cut to his face. He also hurt his back in the fall. He was dizzy and upset.
A sergeant subsequently uncuffed Acosta and had him sit in the unmarked SUV. While he was sitting there, he noticed that Captain Pla was still on the scene. He tried unsuccessfully to call and text Pla. There was no response.
He was approached by a lieutenant, who asked for his identification card. He asked the lieutenant if he could leave the SUV to speak with Pla.
"I pointed across the street to Captain Pla and I said, 'That gentleman right there, he's a captain,' " Acosta testified. " 'He saw everything that happened.' "
The lieutenant refused.
"Captain Pla can't do shit for you," the lieutenant said, according to Acosta. "You're better off just sitting in the car and shutting up."
Acosta was taken to the 19th Precinct stationhouse, where he spent most of the night in the roll call room, while investigators tried to sort out the incident.
He was sitting in the muster room with a delegate from the Sergeants Benevolent Association when he was approached by an Inspector Harrington. The inspector wanted Acosta to sign a statement that read that he had broken up the fight, but failed to identify himself when he approached Officer Mazzilli.
"Listen, this is an unfortunate incident. This is what you're going to say," the inspector said, according to Acosta.
Acosta refused to make that statement because it wasn't true. He had repeatedly identified himself. "I told my delegate that I don't know what's going on here, but I'm going to say the truth of what happened," he says.
He told the SBA delegate, "This is fucked up. How am I in this situation? How are cops beating someone else? There's an off-duty captain that sees the whole thing, and he's not being brought back here. This is wrong."
In the often topsy-turvy world of the NYPD, Acosta now became a target for disciplinary charges. He was told that he was being placed on modified assignment for the "good order of the department," and his gun and shield were taken from him.