Jazmine Headley, center, joins attorney Brian Neary and her mother, Jacqueline Jenkins, outside a courthouse in Trenton, N.J., on Dec. 12, 2018.
Her screams were bloodcurdling.
Last December, exhausted after a three-hour wait at the Human Resources Administration (HRA) building in Brooklyn, where she’d gone to address an issue with her childcare benefits, Jazmine Headley decided to sit on the floor next to her then-1-year-old son’s stroller. Not long after, HRA staff and NYPD officers demanded she stand—and when she refused, four cops attempted to rip Headley’s baby from her arms.
“They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!” Headley screamed, as horrified onlookers captured the scene on video.
The incident went viral, prompting outrage from across the country. Earlier this year, the New York City Council formally apologized to Headley for the trauma she suffered.
This week, Headley announced a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the NYPD for excessive force and for her subsequent unlawful arrest and imprisonment.
“My son and I were unreasonably assaulted by untrained and undertrained HRA security officers and police officers,” Headley said in a press release shared with The Root. “I am taking action so this experience does not fester and infect our lives, work, relationships, and health.”
Headley, who was 23 at the time, ended up spending three days locked up on Rikers Island after her arrest. A judge ordered her released, and the charges against her were ultimately dropped.
But the police officers who manhandled her weren’t disciplined. Two HRA officers were suspended without pay following the viral video; one has since resigned and another has pending disciplinary charges, according to Politico.
The 40-page complaint, filed Wednesday, accuses HRA and the NYPD of not properly training their employees, and claims mistreatment and abuse are longstanding issues at the HRA, a division of the city’s Department of Social Services. As Politico writes, HRA says it’s pushed through a series of reforms since Headley’s arrest, “including barring officers from calling police without consulting a supervisor.”
But the complaint points to a long pattern of “violence, overreach, and abusive tactics.”
“The City has long known that HRA security staff frequently mistreat HRA clients at HRA offices. HRA staff instigate physical violence. They foster an environment of fear. And they are quick to summon the NYPD to make arrests, even absent probable cause or where HRA staff themselves initiated the conflict,” the complaint read.
New York City Council Member Stephen Levin applauded Headley for speaking out about the injustices she faced.
“The abuse Jazmine experienced was abhorrent. She should never have had her child taken from her and she should never have been at Rikers Island,” he said. “This disturbing incident did not take place in a vacuum, however, and brought to light serious gaps in our city’s social services system and the need for full scale improvement.”