Two New York City Police officers will not face charges after the Manhattan District Attorney decided that widely circulated videos of them punching and pepper-spraying protesters amounted to insufficient evidence that they had done so.
Anthony Bologna, the now-infamous NYPD inspector, was filmed in September 2011 spraying a group of female Occupy Wall Street protestors who had already been isolated and immobilized by a screen held by other officers. The video, which received well over a million views online and was skewered on late night television, became emblematic of the brutality endured by OWS demonstrators who found themselves on the receiving end of aggressive police tactics.
In the same statement, quietly issued on the Friday that came at the end of the heavy news week that included the Boston Marathon bombings, the District Attorney’s Office announced no charges would be filed against Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardonna. Cardonna was filmed in October 2011 punching protestor Felix Rivera-Pitra seemingly without provocation.
“The District Attorney’s Office has concluded, after a thorough investigation, that we cannot prove these allegations criminally beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Erin M. Duggan, the chief spokeswoman for District Attorney Cy Vance. “We have informed the Police Department, the complainants, and the City of our decision.”
Cardonna was not disciplined by the NYPD for his actions, while Bologna was stripped of 10 vacation days and reassigned to a post on Staten Island. Bologna is also being sued in a civil court by the nonviolent women he pepper-sprayed, where he’ll be represented by city lawyers, according to DNA Info.
“It was clear from the evidence that their actions were not justified,” a “source with knowledge of the prosecutor’s decision” told Gothamist. “These two were on-duty members of law enforcement, reacting during a chaotic scene that included much more than the short video clips that most people have seen.
Shortly after the second incident the NYPD claimed that Rivera-Pitra had tried to elbow Cardonna before the police officer lunged at him. Rivera-Pitra, whose earring was torn off in the assault, later came forward to advise Cardonna to get tested for HIV.
While some media outlets have implied that the DA’s refusal to pursue both officers indicates professional favoritism, law experts said the decision could be based on the difficulty of prosecuting cops in American courts. Former Manhattan prosecutor Thomas J. Curran, speaking to The New York Times, admitted that it’s difficult for prosecutors to convict police personnel because using force is “part of their job.”
“The use of force would have to be a complete departure from any legitimate police activity,” said Curran, who now practices as a defense lawyer. “You’d have to show an intent to assault, and you have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, as opposed to using force as allowed pursuant to police activity. It’s very difficult to do.”
But that refusal to hold police accountable is what still surprised Kaylee Dedrick nearly two years after she was pepper-sprayed by Inspector Bologna. Dedrick’s lawyer told the Times that the DA’s decision was “cowardly and despicable.”
“Part of me expected that he wouldn’t be prosecuted, but I’m still pretty shocked, with all the evidence against him,” Dedrick said.