Yonkers man accuses officers of violating his rights; police say he disrupted council meeting

A Yonkers man is accusing several city police officers of violating his civil rights when he was arrested during last week's Yonkers City Council meeting.

Jonathan Gordon

Nov 29, 2022, 1:19 AM

Updated 540 days ago


A Yonkers man is accusing several city police officers of violating his civil rights when he was arrested during last week's Yonkers City Council meeting.
"You know, my civil liberties. I was there exercising my right. I wasn't causing a commotion," said Hector Santiago, a Yonkers resident and community activist.
Santiago was arrested on Nov. 22 during a City Council meeting that got out of control over the debate on term limit extensions. Members of the audience had spent hours giving passionate testimony for and against the issue, but the situation boiled over after several members of the council used their time to direct their frustration at members of the audience.
Video shows Santiago leaving the meeting and getting into a heated discussion with a plainclothes Yonkers police officer before the officer pushes Santiago toward the seats in the chamber. Santiago appears to push back at the officer before at least two others step in and pull Santiago, who has one arm in a sling from shoulder surgery earlier that month, out of the room before shutting the chamber doors.
Seconds later, Yonkers City Councilwoman Corazon Pineda-Isaac rushes from her desk to the hallway where Santiago is on the ground surrounded by officers.
That's where Santiago claims officers assaulted him.
"I was struck in the face, thrown against the wall, and thrown on the floor, and then arrested."
But police say the situation in the hallway unfolded differently and accuse Santiago of elbowing a police officer in the chest before a police officer struck Santiago in the face.
"He was arrested based on his actions and no one else's. There was a whole room full of people, many people voicing their opinions, but he was the one that got arrested. He was the one that took it to the level to get arrested," said Yonkers Police Commissioner Christopher Sapienza.
Santiago disagrees with this account.
"Everything was happening so fast, but I wouldn't say that I struck him," said Santiago.
Sapienza says Santiago was originally charged with obstruction, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. It appears either the police or prosecutors dropped the assault charge because the criminal complaint Santiago pled not guilty to only lists the first three.
"If things happened as the police described, he would've been charged with an assault of a police officer," said Leo Glickman, a civil rights attorney representing Santiago in his criminal case.
Glickman says his client was assaulted and falsely arrested.
"Being mad, irritated, or annoyed doesn't give them the right to violate people's rights," said Glickman.
Court documents show police saying Santiago was intentionally disrupting the City Council meeting by standing and yelling at council members. The criminal complaint goes on to say Santiago cursed at officers several times when they asked him to lower his voice and then leave the meeting.
"They used a lot of restraint, and you can see if you watch that video from the beginning, you can see time and time again them trying to calm down not only Santiago but other people at the meeting and trying to maintain order. Trying everything possible when it comes to Santiago not to arrest him," said Sapienza.
Santiago is well-known in Yonkers for his "Stop & Shake" initiative which encourages positive interactions between officers and the public. He is also a member of the city's Human Rights Commission.
"I spent the past eight years building relationships between law enforcement and the community. Encouraging de-escalation tactics, effective communication, and just none of that were practiced," said Santiago.
He says he was held in jail for roughly 24 hours from Tuesday night until Wednesday evening.
He's due back in city court on Dec. 12, according to his attorney.
Yonkers police have launched an internal probe, which is routine any time the use of force is involved in an arrest. Sapienza says at least four or five officers are part of the probe but there has been no discipline or conclusion from the investigation.
"Any kind of use of force triggers an investigation on our end -- an internal investigation," he said.
Glickman said he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the Yonkers Police Department and the member involved in Santiago's arrest in federal court.

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