Attorney Says DA May Probe Cop Who Punched His Client

Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona could face charges in violent incident with gay Wall Street protestor Felix Rivera-Pitre

The attorney for a gay, HIV-positive man who was punched by a New York City Police Department deputy inspector during an Occupy Wall Street march said that the Manhattan district attorney is weighing a criminal investigation into that deputy inspector.

“Deputy Inspector Cardona committed an assault,” said Ron Kuby, the attorney for Felix Rivera-Pitre, following a nearly two-hour October 31 meeting at the Manhattan district attorney’s office. “Whatever else is done to him, he should be arrested immediately.”

On October 14, Rivera-Pitre, 37, was in a march in the Wall Street area. He brought flowers that he was handing out to other marchers. At one point, Johnny Cardona, the deputy inspector, told him to get on the sidewalk.

Rivera-Pitre stated that he responded, “There’s no sidewalk to get on to” and Cardona punched him.

Kuby said that four assistant district attorneys, a police department Internal Affairs Bureau investigator, and a member of the district attorney’s Official Corruption Unit attended the meeting. Rivera-Pitre was treated like a witness, Kuby said, and not like a defendant who was there to tell his side of the story.

“He was not there under some sort of queen for a day agreement,” Kuby said. Such agreements allow potential defendants to talk to prosecutors under a deal that whatever is discussed may not be used at trial if the prosecutor charges the defendant.

Videos of the incident taken from several angles show Cardona and Rivera-Pitre passing each other on the street. Cardona either touches Rivera-Pitre, who turns around in response, or Cardona pulls him around and then punches him. In the videos, Rivera-Pitre falls down and the two are surrounded by marchers and photographers.

In published reports, police have said that Rivera-Pitre tried to elbow Cardona and the deputy inspector, who joined the police department in 1990, responded to that. No video shows Rivera-Pitre striking Cardona.

Some have concluded that Cardona was reacting to Rivera-Pitre’s affect.

“Because I look like a pansy,” Rivera-Pitre said at a press conference following the meeting when asked why he thought Cardona punched him.

Lending some support to the theory that Cardona may harbor anti-gay views is a roughly six-month long public sex sting that targeted gay and bisexual men that Cardona oversaw when he headed a Bronx transit command in 2006.

The operation, which targeted men at the Fordham Road subway stop on the D line, lasted from May 18 until December 8. Police arrested at least 35 men at that location. Arrests were made in every month except November. Just five officers made those 35 arrests, suggesting it was an organized sting with specific officers assigned to that duty. Of the five, two made 30 of the 35 arrests.

Kuby is pressing the district attorney to charge Cardona with misdemeanor assault. That avoids having the prosecutor present the case to a grand jury, which is a secret process that DAs sometimes use to effectively excuse police wrongdoing.

“At this point, there has been no willingness to prosecute police officers,” Kuby said. “We continue to ask the district attorney’s office to step up.”

Cardona had sworn out a complaint against Rivera-Pitre, and police issued an order, called a 61, that directed officers to arrest Rivera-Pitre if they encountered him. That order has supposedly been voided, and police have said that Rivera-Pitre will only be arrested if the district attorney charges him.

“If they do arrest Felix, it will be an arrest that is doubly unlawful,” Kuby said.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to respond, writing in an email, “We don’t comment on or confirm investigations, or comment on meetings w/lawyers,” and the police department press office did not respond.