One of the exonerated ‘Central Park Five’
Several participants on a group phone call with New York City Councilman Yusef Salaam backed up his assertion that he asked a police officer who stopped him in Harlem why he was being pulled over.
The lawmaker was on a Zoom conference call when he was stopped on Jan. 26 in Harlem, and three of the call’s participants — Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, Mandela Jones of the council speaker’s office and the NYCLU’s Michael Sisitzky — say they heard the question.
“We clearly heard it on the Zoom, because as soon as he left, we started talking about it. Like, ‘Why didn’t he answer your question?'” Nurse recounted Sunday.
The incident came as the Council is set to override Mayor Adams’ veto of the “How Many Stops Act,” which would require cops to document their low-level street stops, on Jan. 23. The conference call with Salaam, an exonerated member of the “Central Park Five” who supports the legislation, in part focused on that bill.
“It was a missed opportunity by the officer to alert the Council member of whatever it was that he was stopping him for,” Nurse said. “He was willing to engage, and the officer just failed to let him know, so we were left thinking, ‘What could this be about?”
Police body camera video of the stop doesn’t show Salaam asking the question during the brief traffic stop.
“I introduced myself as Councilman Yusef Salaam, and subsequently asked the officer why I was pulled over,” Salaam said in a statement. “Instead of answering my question, the officer stated, ‘We’re done here,’ and proceeded to walk away.”
A 41-second video of the encounter released by the NYPD differed from his account of what happened, though it’s not clear if the footage captured the entire police stop.
The audio in the released footage begins immediately, but footage from Axon body-cameras have a “buffering” period in which audio isn’t recorded until 60 seconds after an officer activates the camera’s record switch.
The officer identifies himself and Salaam responds, “I’m Councilmember Salaam.”
“Oh, Councilmember?” the cop replies, with Salaam then saying, “This district, (council) district 9.”
“Oh, OK. Have a good one,” the officer says, then starts walking from the car.
“Everything OK?” Salaam asks, and the officer responds, “Yep. You’re working, right?”
Salaam’s brief reply is not audible before the officer says, “Take care, sir.”
The video doesn’t capture if Salaam had any interaction with the officer’s partner, who approached from the passenger side. The NYPD didn’t immediately answer follow-up questions, including a question about the 60-second buffering period, on Sunday.
In a statement released Saturday, the NYPD said Salaam’s car had Georgia license plates and “dark tints beyond legal limits.”
“As the video shows, throughout this interaction, the officer conducted himself professionally and responsibly. He followed all proper procedures, including procedures that were put in place after Detective Russel Timoshenko was shot and killed through tinted windows in 2007,” the NYPD statement reads. “This officer should be commended for his polite, professional and respectful conduct and for using his discretion appropriately so the Council member could complete his official duties.”
Salaam, who was exonerated after spending years in prison as one of the “Central Park Five” teens wrongly convicted in the 1989 Central Park jogger rape case, lived in Georgia for several years until recently returning to New York City. He was elected to the City Council in November.
“I heard him ask why he’d been stopped and didn’t hear any answer from NYPD,” Sisitzky, an assistant policy director for the NYCLU, said on X. “I don’t care who you are or what type of stop it is, you should have the right to know basic info about why cops are stopping you.
“Even though NYC law doesn’t require cops give a reason for traffic stops, NYPD claimed (after the fact) to have one,” he added. “How hard is it to articulate that in the moment?”
Jones, deputy chief of staff for Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, said he was also on the call.
“I heard him ask and the officer said something afterwards to end the engagement. We were discussing the stops bill and the ride-along,” he said, referring to a Saturday night NYPD ride-along Salaam and other City Council members were planning to attend. Salaam canceled his plan.
A number of Council members joined Adams in the ride-along on Saturday evening. Insiders say Adams was using the ride-along to convince legislators not to overturn his veto.