Outrage after NYPD hustles protester into unmarked van

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Protesters, many from the former encampment at City Hall Park, march for social justice in New York, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – The New York Police Department’s use of plainclothes officers and an unmarked minivan to haul away a vandalism suspect during a protest Tuesday created confusion and drew outrage from people who compared it to covert tactics used recently by federal agents in Portland, Oregon.

Bystander videos of 18-year-old Nikki Stone's arrest spread quickly on social media, along with comments such as “nypd is out here KIDNAPPING protesters off of the street." Another tweet compared the police to an African terrorist group, saying: “When Boko Haram does this there is international outrage. NYPD, it’s just business as usual.”

Acknowledging the video, the NYPD issued a statement Tuesday night explaining that Stone was picked up by a police warrant squad for allegedly damaging several surveillance cameras near City Hall, where activists camped out for a month before riot police forced them out last week. On Wednesday, the department posted video it said showed Stone vandalizing cameras with paint and a broom stick.

The warrant squad typically “uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects,” the department said. Police also claimed the officers were peppered with rocks and bottles as they took Stone into custody, but witnesses said that wasn’t the case.

Videos of Tuesday’s arrest at a 24-hour demonstration in Manhattan showed officers in T-shirts and shorts grabbing Stone off a skateboard, taking her to the ground and pushing her into the minivan as other protesters scream about her treatment and officers shout at people to get back.

Uniformed bike cops are seen on the videos forming a perimeter and standing guard as the plainclothes officers — their department-issued guns and stun guns visible on their holsters — work around the vehicle. The clips were shared thousands of times, including by politicians and cable news commentators.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he was concerned with the optics of police hustling a person into a minivan during the middle of a protest march, given the recent furor over federal agents using unmarked vehicles to scoop up protesters in Portland. He said he would discuss the matter with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, himself a target of protesters making noise and shining lights early Wednesday outside a home address listed for him.

“That was not the time and place to effectuate that arrest," de Blasio said.