Last week, footage of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers ripping a baby from his mother's arms as they attempt to arrest her went viral, sparking both shock and outrage. Now, Jazmine Headley is speaking out about her arrest for the first time. In an interview with The New York Times, Headley claims the story of how police officers yanked her baby from her arms as they arrested her at a New York public benefits office isn't unique, but rather one of many examples of the mistreatment those on public assistance face.
"It's the story of many other people, it's not just my story," Headley told The New York Times. "My story is the only one that made it to the surface."
Footage of Headley's arrest at the Brooklyn Boerum Hill Human Resources Administration office, which was shared online last week by bystanders, shows multiple NYPD officers forcibly yanking and prying Headley's one-year-old son from her arms as she repeatedly yells that they're hurting him. According to Nyashia Ferguson, a bystander who took one of the videos, the incident began after Headley sat on the floor in the corner of the office's waiting room. Both Ferguson and representatives for Headley have said that there were no available seats left in the office and that although Headley wasn't blocking any doors or passageways by sitting in the corner, a security officer told her she had to stand, according to ABC News.
"I just remember being talked to very viciously," Headley told The Times of the security guard who approached her. "It was more or less: 'You're going to do what I say, and that's it.'" She claims that when she asked to speak to their supervisor, the security guards left, only to come back with police.
The president of the union the security guards belong to, however, told The Times there were seats available for Headley to sit in and that the guards had spent 40 minutes attempting to "reason" with Headley before they called for local law enforcement to intervene.
While Headley said the responding police officers initially told her they didn't want to arrest her, she alleged they didn't appear to treat her as a human. "They never asked me my name," she told The Times. "They never said, 'Hello, who are you?' They never asked me."
Headley said it was at this point that she tried to leave the office, but that one of the security guards grabbed her arm, causing everyone to "tumble" down and essentially initiating the fray caught on camera. Indeed, a preliminary review by the NYPD concluded that Human Resources Administration security escalated the situation and that the incident could have been avoided if it weren't for that escalation.
In a statement released Friday — and emailed to Bustle — New York Social Services Commissioner Steven Bank apologized to Headley and her son, saying the incident at Boerum Hill "was completely unacceptable and should never happen again." Banks went on to acknowledge that footage captured via police body cameras showed "there were multiple points at which this incident could have and should have been defused." According to Banks, two of the security guards have since been suspended without pay and will face disciplinary charges that could ultimately result in their termination.
Going forward, the department plans to retrain all of its security personnel with a specific emphasis on de-escalation. It has also directed security guards not to call law enforcement until they have first called the appropriate center or deputy director in to defuse the situation. New York City's Human Resources Administration's Department of Social Services would not comment on Headley's recent remarks.
In a statement to Bustle, NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill says the department had conducted "a strenuous review," which found that police officers attempted to de-escalate the situation with Headley prior to what was captured in cellphone videos. "This incident was chaotic and difficult to watch, and clearly something went wrong," O'Neill tells Bustle in an emailed statement. "The review also shows that there are policy improvements we can make, both in NYPD procedure and in our coordination with fellow agencies."
According to The Times, charges Headley faced for resisting arrest and acting in a manner injurious to a child due to the incident have since been dropped. It was unclear if the charges of obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass had also been dropped.