New York City police officers in khaki shorts and dark T-shirts stuffed a suspect into an unmarked minivan during an arrest captured on video Tuesday, raising concerns about using tactics similar to those attributed to federal agents during demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, this month.
The New York Police Department quickly responded to questions about the detention, which occurred during a protest in Manhattan, saying that no federal authorities were involved and that using unmarked vehicles for that type of operation was customary.
“The warrant squad is not going to use a marked [vehicle] to arrest individuals,” Lt. John Grimpel said.
He said the squad has used unmarked vehicles in detaining people for “decades.” Video of the incident was shared on social media. It’s unclear what happened prior to the video being recorded.
Uniformed NYPD officers on bicycles could also be seen in the video assisting the arresting officers with crowd control.
The person detained, later identified as 18-year-old Nikki Stone, “was wanted for damaging police cameras during five separate criminal incidents in and around City Hall Park,” Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell said by email. “The arresting officers were assaulted with rocks & bottles.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday both questioned why such aggressive force was necessary.
“It was so outrageous, they (onlookers) thought it was a federal action,” Cuomo told reporters. “Because it looked like something that would happen in Portland, Oregon.”
Cuomo added: “I’m surprised that, especially at this time, the NYPD take such an obnoxious action.”
The mayor echoed Cuomo’s sentiment, saying it was the “wrong place” and “wrong time” to conduct such an arrest. Stone was released from custody early Wednesday morning.
“Anything to me that slightly suggests that is troubling to me and should not be seen in this city. This is not Portland,” de Blasio said. “I think it was the wrong time, the wrong place to effectuate the arrest.”
Critics on social media raised concerns and conflated the situation with the detention of a person of interest in Portland this month by federal agents who used a minivan.
“This is horrifying and indefensible,” the New York Civil Liberties Union said on Twitter. “We’re looking into the incident that happened tonight, but one thing is for certain: violently forcing protesters into an unmarked van are the actions of a police force that think they can act with impunity. We won’t allow this in our city.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement July 17 that its agents were responsible for detaining a man who was wanted for questioning in connection with “assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.”
It said the federal forces moved quickly because demonstrators were getting close.