This Video of an Unarmed Black Man Beaten by NYPD Officers Raises Questions

July 23rd 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Two New York Police Department officers were caught on camera beating Thomas Jennings, an unarmed, 24-year-old Black man who had his hands raised. The incident occurred in a Brooklyn convenience store on July 7. Police caught up with Jennings and another unidentified man at the convenience store after the two were allegedly involved in an earlier dispute at a restaurant that ended when the unidentified person pulled a switchblade on an employee.

In the exclusive video, obtained by the New York Daily News, Jennings appears to have submitted to the officer, with his hands raised, when another cop enters the frame and abruptly delivers three, forceful punches to the man's head. Based on the footage, Jennings—an aspiring hip hop artist who performs in the New York-based fusion R&B-rap group, BeenFamily—did not appear to resist arrest.

Once they placed him in handcuffs, both officers continue to punch Jennings; one strikes him with his baton, though it is uncertain what, if anything, the man did to warrant the force.

Jennings' lawyer, Amy Rameau, told reporters that there was no justification for the officers' behavior, which left her client with several lacerations on his face that required five stitches. The use-of-force case is currently being investigated by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau said it would also review the tape, according to the New York Daily News.

"It's horrendous what they did to him," Rameau told the newspaper. "He had his hands up. He didn't pose a threat to anyone in the store. It was an absolute use of excessive force."

Prior to the incident, Jennings and an unidentified man were seen at New York Fried Chicken on Saratoga Ave., where they argued with an employee over the price of two slices of pizza. The total cost was $3, as Jennings remembered it, and the men were one dollar short. Jennings told the New York Daily News that he "stepped outside and borrowed money from someone to cover the tab." According to the criminal complaint:

"[t]he unidentified man pulled out a switchblade knife, told the employee that he was paying, and both men fled with the pizza and salt-and-pepper shakers. The employee called 911 and reported the food joint had been robbed."

The men made it several blocks before NYPD officers caught up with them at the Roslin grocery store. Jennings was arrested and accused of robbery, larceny, possession of stolen property, and resisting arrest. He was held without bail until July 13. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office did not present the case to a grand jury, so Jennings was released at that time. His lawyer said that she expects prosecutors will dismiss the case because "there was no robbery."

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Jennings said of the incident, "I didn't ever know it was coming."