The NYPD denied collaborating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a rally for an immigrant activist detained by ICE last month, even as New York City Council members insisted the police department was working with federal immigration authorities that day.
On Jan. 11, Ravi Ragbir, executive director of New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC—an interfaith organization that helps undocumented immigrants fight detention and deportation–was detained by ICE. At the end of January, a Manhattan federal judge ordered his immediate release.
During a rally for Ragbir, the NYPD arrested 18 individuals, including Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams and Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. Cops pushed Williams onto the front of a car and placed Rodriguez in a headlock.
At a Council hearing on the NYPD’s crowd control and protest procedures on Wednesday afternoon, Queens Councilman Donovan Richards, chairman of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said public safety challenges are “complicated” at events involving large crowds.
He pointed to the New Year’s Eve ball drop celebration in Times Square and the protests at John F. Kennedy Airport against President Donald Trump’s executive orders barring entry to people from Muslim-majority countries as examples. But he said the NYPD has a responsibility to keep people safe “whether we’re at a parade or participating in social activism.”
“Due to a variety of factors, we’ve seen crowd control escalate at times and have been left wondering how or why a situation ended the way it did,” Richards said in his opening remarks. “In early January, we had a crowd control incident that escalated beyond where we’d like to go involving members of this very Council.”
“I understand that the NYPD may not be able to answer all of our questions about that incident today as the investigation is ongoing, but we will continue to ask questions beyond this hearing and make sure that when we see practices that don’t meet our expectations, they are addressed and improved,” Richards continued.
During the hearing, Richards asked the NYPD to explain how the Strategic Response Group (SRG)—a rapid reaction force that responds to terrorist attacks, large protests and other emergencies—operates, the extent of the NYPD’s cooperation with ICE and the status of the NYPD’s investigation into the incident at the rally for Ragbir.
At the end of January, Mayor Bill de Blasio said a senior NYPD official will handle city encounters with ICE moving forward and maintained the city only cooperates with ICE for incidents involving immigrants who’ve committed one of 170 serious or violent offenses.
ICE, he argued, engaged in a “very purposeful and provocative action.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill also said an officer was transferred out of SRG.
Oleg Chernyavsky, the NYPD’s legislative affairs director, said the NYPD received 80 detainer requests from ICE in 2016 and cooperated with two, which he noted were federal arrest warrants. In 2017, he explained, the police department received 1,526 detainer requests from ICE but did not cooperate with any of them.
He said the probe into the rally was under investigation and would not provide a timeline for completion or comment on officers’ behaviors. Richards subsequently asked him to weigh in on collaborations with ICE.
“Based on the reports from Speaker Corey Johnson, Council member [Carlos] Menchaca, Council member Williams and Council member Rodriguez, it seems to have appeared that there was some coordination with ICE,” he said.
However, Chernyavsky insisted there was “absolutely no coordination.”
“ICE did not request us to be present at the scene,” he said. “They did not alert us to the happening of the protest. After the protest was over, we had to learn ourselves the location where the individual was being transported. That was not done through any type of communication.”
When Richards asked how they knew where Ragbir was being transported, he said that officers reported to the nearest hospital after Ragbir was taken in an ambulance and discovered he was not there.
The councilman said that as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants, he hopes the city is doing all in its power to not create a “particular perception” that the NYPD is coordinating with ICE because it has “ripple effects” on undocumented individuals.
“There, quite frankly, were some things that were apparent to our eye that seemed unacceptable,” he added. “I’m hoping it’s a learning lesson for all of us moving forward.”
Williams and Chernyavsky, however, engaged in a more heated exchange, with Williams insisting there was coordination between the NYPD and ICE.
“What happened on that day was some sort of coordination,” Williams argued. “You can’t pretend that it didn’t happen.”
Chernyavsky maintained the NYPD was responding to a violation of state and local laws.
“NYPD does not participate in immigration enforcement,” he shot back. “I think insinuating that is quite dangerous.”
The councilman did not appear to be satisfied with Chernyavsky’s answers.
“I hope as we go forward, this doesn’t happen again,” Williams said. “There seems to be some CYA [cover your ass] happening here, which is frustrating.”
Rodriguez took issue with the fact that SRG handles both terrorist attacks and large-scale protests.
“There should be a group of men and women that respond to terrorist attacks, and there should be another group that responds to civil disobedience,” he said.
Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander also expressed frustration over the NYPD providing the federal agents with an escort as they transported Ragbir to a hospital, as well as to the Holland Tunnel when they sent him to a detention center.
Chernyavsky said the NYPD did it over concerns that “the protest would continue at that location.”
“There was no connection from what happened at Federal Plaza,” Lander said. “You shouldn’t have done it. I think our policy is we shouldn’t do it, and we won’t do it moving forward. But by refusing to say that, by telling me it was justified, you’re making me concerned it is now our policy.”