On the evening of November 2, Carlos Lavezzari, 22, was taking the L train one stop over to Brooklyn with his girlfriend. Instead of paying $2.75 each for a two-minute trip across the East River, they doubled up on a single swipe through the turnstile. Immediately, they were approached by two NYPD officers who wanted to issue them a summons for failing to pay the full fare. What happened next is a textbook example of how the NYPD uses broken windows policing to turn minor offenses into arrests and major charges.
Captured on a phone and posted to Facebook, the almost nine-minute video shows Lavezzari, and his girlfriend, Rolanna Campbell, dealing with two police officers, who take turns escalating the situation, ultimately leading to the arrest of both Lavezzari and Campbell, as well as a bystander who was trying to calm Campbell down after officer Rosario engaged her physically. Lavezzari says the female police officer’s name was Rosario, and she bears a resemblance to Officer Jennifer Rosario, who received an MVP award at a Transit District Manhattan ceremony last spring.
“The male officer asked me to take my hands out of my pockets,” Lavezzari told the Voice. He had already handed over his ID so the officers could write a summons and check if he had any warrants. “He told me he didn’t know what I was doing in my pockets. He told me it was for my safety and his. I was like, you have a gun and a bulletproof vest. I took my hands out of my pockets and I showed him there was nothing there, but I was so nervous, just having my hands in my pockets was calming me down. I turned my pockets inside out for him. There was nothing there. But, like an idiot, I put my hands back in my pockets, and right then, Rosario decides to arrest me.”
Lavezzari, who tried to record his arrest on his phone, was then handcuffed, while officer Rosario, as the video shows, throws Campbell against a wall. More officers flood the station as Campbell pleads with the officers to let Lavezzari go. Once her boyfriend is taken upstairs, Campbell grows agitated, and a bystander, identified by the NYPD as Angelica Melo, tries to calm her down. Moments later, officer Rosario informs Campbell that she has assaulted an officer and calls for more backup. Once Melo successfully de-escalates the situation, officer Rosario talks with her sergeant, who then instructs the NYPD to place Campbell under arrest. At least eight officers are then used to arrest Campbell.
Perhaps most shockingly, officer Rosario then tells her sergeant to place Melo under arrest as well.
“That officer is lying,” a bystander tells the sergeant.
“Why are you arresting her? She was just trying to help the situation,” yells another.
Melo declined to comment to the Voice about the arrest, on the advice of her lawyer.
“Officer Rosario was so eager to just ruffle feathers. She was very agitated the whole time. I don’t see how I was resisting anything,” Lavezzari recounted. “Officer Rosario instigated all of this.”
According to the NYPD, Lavezzari was charged with theft of services, disorderly conduct, and obstructing justice. Campbell was charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespass, and theft of services. Melo was charged with obstructing governmental administration.
An NYPD spokeswoman said that Lavezzari had “caused public alarm” when he refused to remove his hands from his pockets, and had used obscene language at officers. The spokeswoman also said that Melo told officers that she had “seen a documentary about how police harass black and hispanics” and that was why she was spurred to intervene.
The next day, Lavezzari had his charges reduced to only a violation, but not until after he’d spent twenty hours in jail. He’s lived in New York City his entire life.
“I don’t know where I resisted arrest. I feel like that’s a charge that can lead to officers becoming violent and I just wasn’t. The police report says I was flailing my arms around. I didn’t do any of that,” Lavezzari said. “Cracking down on petty crimes is a way for officers to feel important, but it’s not what I think police officers should be spending their time on. The city has to be losing money on locking us up.”
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYPD has ramped up “broken windows” policing, which criminalizes low-level offenses like fare-beating and drinking in public. According to statistics released by the NYPD and compiled by the Police Reform Organizing Project, 86.5% of misdemeanor arrests so far in 2016 were of people of color.