On Friday the New York Daily News published bits of Jennifer Arredondo’s story, after she and 20 others decided to sue the NYPD for the many abuses perpetrated during and following the breaking-up of a birthday party back in June at 557 Union Street (near Nevins in Gowanus). Police officers broke into the building brandishing guns, pointing them at members of the party (they just can’t stop pointing guns at the innocent), and borrowed a neighbor’s bus to haul 34 people to the 78th precinct. Some people, like Jennifer, were in custody for over 30 hours (retroactive summer trend: overnight holding cell stays for the unjustly arrested), taunted and verbally abused by officers throughout. The cops also ordered pizzas, made the detainees pay, and kept most of the pies for themselves. We asked Jennifer—who lives in Mexico and was visiting friends at the time—to shed more light on the horrendous ordeal, and found out that it was worse still than we thought.
The L: The tone of Daily News reporters Matthew Lysiak and John Marzulli’s article gives your story a very specific slant, like your experience wasn’t as bad as you’re claiming, or doesn’t warrant a lawsuit. Did you know that was their project?
Jennifer: The experience with the Daily News was terrible because the reporter described the situation making it sound less serious than what it actually was, and that’s the worst mistake he could have ever made. What happened to us it was something really terrible and you have to remember that it doesn’t matter what “social class” we belong to or what are our preferences about the way we dress or other very trivial things, we are simply human beings and our human rights were violated. After reading the article in the Daily News I just laughed, but at the same time I got very disappointed. First because the reporter wrote this article with the simple intention of getting these reactions and second of all because yes indeed some people actually believed the information was right and made the most shocking racist comments. It was pathetic to once again witness the manipulation of media; this article was simply a joke.
What was the party like prior to the police’s arrival?
The party was a friend’s birthday party. Before the police arrived there was actually no music on at all. We were all sitting in the backyard garden. It was Father’s Day morning and 43 people got arrested. I got there in the morning with my boyfriend and some other friends.
What happened when the police arrived?
The police arrived breaking in the house, breaking the door and the windows and with their guns up in the air. I was on the stairs going up from the garden to the house and I saw them coming in, they pointed at me and other people around with the guns, we showed them our hands and we asked them what was going on and the officers (around 5 at that moment) refused to tell us what this was about and they were telling us to “Fucking shut up.” I don’t like guns, I hate them, so after seeing this I almost had a panic attack and I asked them kindly to stop pointing at me and others and I started crying. After this the police officers told me ” You better stop fucking crying.”
They asked all the people outside in the garden to come upstairs and get in the house so everyone did and they asked us also to show them our ID and they started searching us and they told us “If you show us your IDs you will be free to go,” which never happened even though everyone had their ID. Finally a lot of people asked them what was going on and one of the officers said that we were trespassing to which we all replied we didn’t know what they were talking about. They were all screaming at us and they actually hit a guy who was there too because he asked one of the officers why they were doing this. They were looking for the owner of the house but they didn’t find him. We later found out from other people that the officers actually saw him in the house and they didn’t detain him and he later disappeared, leaving us all in the house without a clue of what was going on and actually many of us didn’t even know the owner, we just got invited there by some friends. Sometimes you get invited to parties that you don’t even know the people who organized them and you don’t go to parties and start asking who lives in the house and if the owner really owns the house etc., you go to parties to have fun, not to hurt anybody. I have been traveling around the world for almost 7 years now and I have never gotten in trouble or been even close to getting arrested. I really never thought this was going to happen to me.
Eventually more officers came in screaming and pushing us. Finally a woman sergeant came in the room and announced that we were all getting arrested. It was 10am by then so they started handcuffing people, first the men then the women, and they started taking them out of the house but by the time I got arrested (I was one of the last ones) they didn’t have metal handcuffs anymore so they had to use the plastic ones. They handcuffed everyone with the hands in the front and I was the only person they handcuffed with the hands at the back and the officer put the handcuffs very tight on purpose even though I told her it was hurting me. I got a picture of the marks the handcuffs left after I got released 33 hours later.
It was a really traumatic experience because the officers looked really confused, angry and they were even having fights with each other and making really out of place comments including one officer saying, “This is going to be my status on Facebook,” laughing and pushing people around them.
Did anyone warn you or ask the host to quiet down the event before the police were called?
At the time I was in the house I didn’t hear of any complaints, nobody told us anything or warned us. I really have to say that I don’t know about that because we weren’t there. One officer told us, the neighbors called because they said the saw some people breaking in and that there was a burglary going on and another said they came after a call from the neighbors complaining about noise. All the officers had different versions so we never found out the truth.
Why did the neighbor lend the police a bus to transport people from the house to the precinct?
The sergeant decided to arrest us and gave the order after they told us they couldn’t find the owner of the house, so they said we were all trespassing. They said they didn’t have enough police cars to take all of us to the police station, so that’s why they went next door to rent a bus. I was the only girl that was transported on the bus to the police station, together with around 15 or 20 guys. Later after we finally got to the police station we were waiting for around 1 hour parked right in front.
What happened once you arrived at the police station?
Once we got to the police station they took us one by one inside the cells, taking all our purses, cellphones, etc.. They searched us once again and they told us we were allowed to keep our money. I was locked in with 5 other girls at that time and in the cell next to us were around 13 guys and they told us there were around 11 on the second floor. The officers looked even more confused and angry. They were running all over the place looking very nervous, one of them came to ask each of us (the girls) for our information like around 20 times because she wasn’t writing down our information correctly. All the officers started to argue with each other. Two police women almost got into a physical fight and some other police officers had to hold one of them because they were about to punch each other.
We were not given food or water for more than 6 hours until finally they announced that if we wanted to eat something we had to pay for it, so we all gave them money—more than $50 dollars—to buy pizzas and water because we were totally starving. When the pizzas finally came every girl (five of us by then) got one slice each, the guys had half a slice each, and the police officers ate the rest of the pizzas right in front of us.
The cells were really small and dirty, the walls covered by blood and pee and there was a really putrid smell. The sign on the wall saying “The officers are responsible for keeping the cells clean” made the whole thing even more ironic.
They started releasing some people after a period of 8 hours, taking a mug shot and finger prints first, a process that took more than 1 hour for each person because the officers were fighting again and many of them didn’t even know how to operate the fingerprint machine. Every time one of the girls was being photographed the officers were making really nasty comments and they started “rating us.” I was told very nasty comments and I felt in danger and harassed by them the whole time I was there. One of them told the other about me: “This is my future Mexican wife.”
By this time we were all getting really scared by the officers especially after another sergeant came and told us, “You better shut up and stop asking questions or we are gonna make you spend more time in here and we can change the information on your files.” People before were just requesting to make a phone call, something than most of the people there didn’t get a chance to do. I lost hope of getting released that day because the officers were still taking fingerprints. When it was my turn finally it took more than 50 tries to take my index fingerprint. The officer was blaming me for having small hands.
Were you questioned or interrogated at all, or informed of what would happen next?
I ended up staying in the 78th precinct around 18 hours then finally some officers came around 6am and they told us we were going to see a judge at 9am, so they were moving us to Central Booking. They asked other girls for their money because they were not allowed to have more than $100 on them. They took around $300 dollars and told the girls that the money was going to be mailed by the police later and that we were not going to stay long in Central Booking, that soon we were going to see a judge. They handcuffed us once again and they took us outside to a police van. On our way to central booking different officers this time were apologizing and they told us we shouldn’t be there and they were glad they were not the officers that arrested us.
Once I got to central booking, they took another picture of me and they finally interrogated me, all this in front of cells full of men screaming horrible things at us. Finally they took all the money we had on us and they walked us all the way to the cells. After passing through many doors and halls we finally made it to this place with two cells, and right at that moment we heard screams and saw on the screen outside by the entrance that a black woman was punching this small Chinese woman for no reason at all. The police officer didn’t care at all, but eventually got in the cell and took the woman away.
The hours I spent in Central Booking were horrible. It was freezing inside, it was even more dirty than the other prison and nobody came to talk to us for a long period of time. I started feeling really claustrophobic and scared. More than 24 hrs went by and still nobody was coming to tell us what was going on until I finally started screaming for help and someone came to tell me to shut up, to which I replied, “On that wall there is a sign that says that if more than 24hrs have passed since my arrest I have the right to ask and talk to someone about my situation and ask why it’s so long to get me released.” To what the officer replied, “Shut up, you can ask to see someone after 24hrs of being here in Central Booking.” A total lie. Finally an hour later another sergeant came and apologized because he didn’t know what was going on and told us that the charges were dropped a long time ago and that we didn’t need to see a judge and that our paperwork was a mess but that we were going to be released soon. We were released 6 hours after that, around 6:30pm.
What were you told when you were finally released?
When they came to get us from the cell they told us we didn’t have to see a judge at all and that we were free to go. They asked us for our names and other information 3 times. They walked us outside the cells, through a court where a lot of people were staring at us in silence ,and finally we got to an exit door. The police officer released us from the handcuffs and he told us, “You are free to go.” I have to say that it was one of the best moments of my life. I just pushed the door open and didn’t look back.
Why did you decide to sue the NYPD?
I decided to sue the NYPD because they violated my human rights and I was witness to how they were violating other people’s rights too. They treated me like garbage and even though I was scared at the beginning after the police threats, I truly believe that change can happen if people get together and fight for what is right. It would have been easier for me to just leave the U.S. and forget about this without doing anything about it. I know people would think we were lucky because nothing “worse” happened to us and that I haven’t been the first person that has suffered this kind of abuse of power and I’m not gonna be the last.
But I wonder why? Why we have to live afraid of police everywhere we go? Why people think it’s so normal to be treated horribly while being in jail? What is the point of having police if people can’t trust them? I thought things like this just happened in places like my own country Mexico or in other “third world countries,” but I had to find out the hard way that police is corrupt and a total mess in my country and apparently everywhere around the world. It actually turned out to be worse in the U.S. because the police is convinced they are doing the right thing and they think they are the “best police in the world.” I was not treated with courtesy, professionalism or respect.