Brewster police officer caught on camera during violent confrontation
Alexander King didn’t like the way he was treated when Brewster police officer Fernando Quinones gave him a ticket one afternoon last fall.
So King went to police headquarters to file a civil complaint against Quinones, prompting a confrontation in the parking lot that ended in King’s arrest.
A short video recording of the encounter, taken by King, appears to show Quinones with his hand on King’s neck and raises questions about the officer’s account in the criminal charges.
King now intends to sue Brewster, the police department and Quinones, alleging false arrest and excessive force and accusing the cop of filing a false complaint to cover up what he claims was the wrongful arrest.
“He carries a gun and a badge, but that doesn’t give him the power to invent lie after lie about people,” King said in an interview. “This guy has no right to ruin my life because of multiple, multiple lies.”
The video led New York State Police to investigate Quinones. The investigation was closed in February without any criminal charges being brought against the officer.
District Attorney Robert Tendy would not comment on the state police investigation, but said an investigation is still ongoing by his office.
Quinones has not been disciplined and likely won’t be based on the investigation, Police Chief John Del Gardo told Journal News/lohud. Mayor James Schoenig, who showed the video March 2, defended the officer’s actions and said he believed the video showed Quinones grabbing King by the shoulder, not the neck.
“It’s a tactic you use to stop someone,” Schoenig said. “Is Freddy’s hand slipping? You can’t tell.”
Shortly before 3 p.m. on October 28, 2021, Quinones stopped King on Route 22 and gave him a ticket for using a cell phone while driving. Schoenig said body camera footage of the traffic stop included King getting out of his car and going into his trunk despite the officer’s directive to stay inside.
There was no suspected crime at the scene. But according to the criminal complaint later filed by Quinones, King shouted profanity and made obscene gestures at her, then followed the officer back to headquarters. In the parking lot, the officer claimed, King insulted him again and told him he was waiting for his lawyer.
As King drove towards the police station, Quinones pulled up in his patrol car and got out.
“I’ll watch what you do, I’ll see your supervisor,” King Quinones warned, according to the video.
“Yeah. Yeah I am.”
“Go ahead. Go ahead. Because if you…”
“I’m going because you said you were going to punch me in the face.”
Video shows Quinones then grabbed the cell phone and moved to stop King, with his hand near King’s neck before putting King to the ground.
King was handcuffed and taken inside. He was charged with attempted third degree assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
It’s unclear if Quinones knew King was recording, and if he did, whether or not he believed the confrontation was captured.
But in the court document, he claimed to have told King that the chief was inside to take the complaint and that “the defendant then advanced towards the officer with his clenched fist shouting (expletive of two words)”. Quinones, “fearing for his safety”, then told King to get down, that he was under arrest. The officer claimed to have grabbed King by the shirt and pulled him down to control him.
Whatever King may have said initially in the parking lot, the video showed him no swearing just before the officer became aggressive. And while the recording doesn’t show King’s hands the entire time, it does show him holding car keys and a driver’s license in his right hand and the phone in his left.
King said he managed to turn off the phone while he was on the ground, otherwise he thinks Quinones could have erased the video.
The recording, though limited, appears to confirm King’s version of events and suggests “the officer was the assailant” in this case, according to Gideon Orion Oliver, a New York-based civil rights attorney who frequently handles cases involving the police. misconduct. (He is not related to this case.)
“The account the officer gave in the last sentences of the [criminal] complaint was about the alleged physical assault,” he noted. “We just don’t see that in the video. It’s just not there.”
Oliver said police officers are typically trained on a use-of-force continuum, where they are expected to deploy less aggressive tactics before moving on to more serious displays of force.
“You start with the minimum force you need to deal with the threat, then increase as needed, to achieve compliance,” he explained. However, Quinones “goes from zero to 60 in a very short time”.
Quinones did not respond to messages left for him on his phone and at police headquarters.
He has been a Brewster police officer since 2016. He retired in 2012 after 23 years with the Yonkers Police Department. His annual pension from this job is $114,000 and he earns $25 an hour for part-time work in Brewster.
King’s notice of claim that he intended to sue came a month after an unrelated scandal broke involving a 15-year veteran of the department. Wayne Peiffer was suspended after his arrest on federal charges accusing him of protecting a network of prostitution and sex trafficking in exchange for sexual favours. This case is pending.
Quinones had previously arrested King during a traffic stop on October 4. After King left, Quinones drove to his home in Brewster to give him extra tickets for how he got away. King was not there, but his father then took him to headquarters, where he was charged with reckless driving, after Quinones said he strayed from the traffic stop, burned a red light and sped up.
The Notice of Claim alleges that Quinones assaulted him at that time. King said Quinones hit his head against a wall while handcuffed to a bench.
King suggests that Del Gardo, who was present at the time, knew his officer was off the hook because he told Quinones to just release King on a court appearance ticket.
Del Gardo said last week that was not the case, that he just wanted King to leave the station because he was unruly.
“It was mind-boggling,” Del Gardo said. “He was on our bench screaming at the top of his voice.”
Del Gardo said last week that he had not been notified that state police had completed their investigation. Quinones did not face any disciplinary action as a result of King’s complaint and Del Gardo said he certainly wouldn’t if he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
But the chef acknowledged that the first time he saw King’s full tape was last week when reporters showed it to him. He said he had previously only seen a clip shown to him by state police.
He was evasive about the recording. And he wouldn’t answer specific questions about it while the investigation was ongoing.
“Officers sometimes have to do things during an arrest, if the person doesn’t want to be arrested,” he commented.
The department doesn’t yet have body cameras for every employee, but Quinones and another officer are using theirs “for their protection,” Del Gardo said. Body camera footage is recorded on police department computers.
The chief and mayor said they understood Quinones’ body camera was not turned on during the confrontation in the parking lot. Del Gardo said Quinones turns on the body camera when performing traffic stops and did so to issue King the ticket for cell phone use.
But when The Journal News/lohud filed a Freedom of Information Act request requesting one of Quinones’ dash cam and body camera footage from October 4 and October 28, the The village’s terse response was that it was “in possession of no document or file responding to this request.”
Del Gardo suggested the request should have been denied due to the ongoing investigation. But he also doesn’t think village officials ever told him about FOIL’s request or asked if there was any footage from those two days.
The Journal News/lohud appealed the village’s denial of access to one of Quinones’ dashboard and body camera video footage on the two requested dates, which is currently under review.
A state police spokesperson only said the investigation covered both King’s allegation of excessive force and whether Quinones filed a bogus complaint and was closed in February without any criminal charge is filed. The Journal News/lohud also submitted a FOIL request to state police for any video footage in this case, which is under review.
King had taken the video he captured on his cellphone to state police, but said he was not surprised they chose not to charge Quinones.
“It’s the Blue supporting the Blue,” King said.
A day after a cordial chat about the case in his office with The Journal News/lohud, Del Gardo was on reception when he told a reporter he refused to talk about it any further, suggesting the press “misrepresents his words”.
Two other officers at the office reiterated that the chief was not supposed to say anything. One even called the chief into his office after Del Gardo said he was not told the investigation was closed.
Mayor Schoenig said the department properly handled the matter by letting an outside agency investigate King’s claim to show it was not “hidden”. He said he supported Quinones and that his actions were justified if state police found no crime had been committed.
In accusing King of disorderly conduct, Quinones referenced a highway department worker who witnessed the confrontation and thought Quinones was going to be assaulted. This was the basis of the disorderly conduct charge against King.
The mayor would not identify the employee, but said King went to the highway department three times to confront the one he thought was the witness. King denies doing this.
The mayor said that after hearing the witness’s account and seeing King’s behavior on body camera footage, “I’m leaning very favorably towards my cop.”