A still of the surveillance footage showing three police officers on top of Christopher Parham (Brooklyn Defender Services)
In September of last year, 19-year-old delivery worker Christopher Parham was inside a Williamsburg grocery store picking up ingredients for his boss when he was approached by a plainclothes police officer. The officer, Lieutenant Henry Daverin, claimed he’d seen the teenager driving recklessly and without a helmet on an illegal scooter. During the confrontation, Daverin and Officer Tyler Howe would later state, Parham pushed an officer’s hand, “violently resisted” arrest, and sparked a public disturbance that “caused a crowd to gather.” He was taken to the police precinct, where he allegedly lied about his identity.
On Monday, the Brooklyn Defender Services released surveillance footage of the incident that appears to contradict several aspects of the NYPD’s narrative. While the arrest report states that cops did not use force against Parham, the video shows three officers tackling the delivery worker to the ground. And contrary to their statement that a “a crowd of about 30 persons gathered” around the suspect — thereby triggering a disorderly conduct charge again Parham — the footage shows just a handful of people on the corner at the time of the arrest.
Still, the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez plans to prosecute the case next month, bringing eight separate charges against the now 20-year-old Parham. The slate of allegations includes four misdemeanors, and carries the possibility of one year in prison. He also faces three charges related to his employer’s delivery scooter: unauthorized use of a vehicle, motorcycle helmet violation, and reckless driving.
According to Maryanne Kaishian, a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services, the video proves that the NYPD’s description of events cannot be trusted.
“The police lied about everything that happened,” she told Gothamist. “From the very beginning, when they said he was driving recklessly, to the very end, when they alleged that they never used force.”
She says her client, who has no arrest record, was essentially jumped by the officers, tased without warning and beaten so badly that he was dazed for hours afterwards. According to the criminal complaint against Parham, when he was asked his name and date of birth at the precinct, he identified himself as “Christopher Perez,” and said he couldn’t remember his birthday — a consequence of the severe concussion he was later diagnosed with, according to his attorneys. As a result of the identification, he was charged with a misdemeanor “false personation.”
The surveillance footage also contradicts the NYPD’s justification for the police stop. In the arrest report, officers claimed they were at the intersection of Flushing Avenue and Humboldt Street when they “observed persons in a crosswalk move out of way to avoid being struck” by Parham. But video shows the delivery worker entering the crosswalk and parking his scooter without any pedestrian reaction.
Discovery materials obtained by Parham’s attorneys, meanwhile, suggest that the cops initially believed the scooter had been stolen, and were only persuaded otherwise after speaking with the owner of La Nortena 2, the nearby Mexican restaurant where Parham was employed (he’s currently a student).
“They see a young person without a helmet driving a scooter and it’s grounds for them to initiate a conversation and rack up an arrest,” Kaishian told Gothamist. “It’s low-hanging fruit to them.”
As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s crackdown on e-bikes has continued to target delivery workers rather than the businesses that rely on the workers and their vehicles, the mayor has faced growing criticism for an enforcement framework seen by many as hypocritical. While the e-bikes traditionally used by delivery workers remain prohibited under the motorized scooter law, Citi Bike has expanded its fleet of pedal-assist e-bikes, and local officials have recently taken meetings with representatives of venture-capital-backed e-scooter companies like Bird and Lime.
Meanwhile, the moped-like vehicle used by Parham and many other delivery workers presents its own grey area: some certified models of “limited use motorcycles” can be registered with the DMV, but many others cannot, and it’s often unknown to workers whether their employers have received the proper registration. The technical differences in certification, along with the apparent confusion over the administrative code and de Blasio’s directives, has allowed cops to take a kitchen sink approach to applying the scooter law against delivery workers, according to some observers.
“They get ticketed for things such as riding an unregistered vehicle, not having vehicle insurance, or not having a driver’s license,” said Do Lee, a member of the #DeliverJusticeCoalition who wrote his PhD thesis in environmental psychology on delivery cyclists at the CUNY Graduate Center. “Many immigrant delivery workers have told us stories where the police charged or ticketed them for things that never happened.”
It is also relevant, says Kaishian, that Lieutenant Daverin, who appears to be wearing a “Don’t Tread On Me” t-shirt in the video, has a history of alleged brutality. According to a new police misconduct tracker released by the Legal Aid Society, he has been named in at least ten previous lawsuits, resulting in taxpayer-funded settlements of at least $77,500. In one federal case — which the city settled for $30,000 — Daverin allegedly oversaw the discriminatory arrest of a motorist, who was later falsely charged with resisting arrest.
“This kind of abuse happens all the time, we just happen to have footage in this case,” said Kaishian. “The word of a police officer is given more credence in our justice system, and so they don’t bother [telling the truth]. These officers were fully confident that they would never be held accountable.”
Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the NYPD, told Gothamist that “the matter was immediately investigated, and it was determined no misconduct was committed” on the part of the officers. She did not respond to follow up questions about inconsistencies in the police report.
A spokesperson for the Brooklyn DA’s office said they were “looking into this incident.”