New York Mayor Bill de Blasio scolded the city's police force Wednesday after a protester was arrested by plainclothes officers driving an unmarked minivan, an incident that was seen widely on social media and drew comparisons to the tactics used by federal authorities who clashed with demonstrators in Portland, Ore.
Nikki Stone, 18, was taken into custody in Manhattan on Tuesday evening by the New York Police Department's warrant squad. Authorities said Stone was wanted for damaging police cameras near City Hall.
De Blasio said that, while it was proper to arrest a person suspected of damaging city property, this was "the wrong time and the wrong place to effectuate that arrest."
"A lot of us have watched in pain what's been going on in Portland, Ore., and the fact that you see federal agents, federal officers, federal troops, clearly doing inappropriate things meant to undermine our democratic process," said the Democratic mayor.
"That's just thoroughly unacceptable. So, anything that even slightly suggests that is, to me, troubling and it's the kind of thing that we don't want to see in this city. This is not Portland."
When the unmarked Kia minivan screeched to a stop near protesters Tuesday evening, the demonstrators' surprise swiftly gave way to alarm. Several New York City officers wearing T-shirts and shorts spilled out of the van and grabbed Stone, dragging her toward the vehicle, according to bystanders' videos.
'This is not a drill'
Protesters who witnessed the incident described it as a "kidnapping," while a number of New York's elected officials, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., decried the officers' actions and demanded further explanations from the Police Department.
"Our civil liberties are on brink. This is not a drill," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans."
Police said Stone is facing charges of criminal mischief related to five incidents.
"When officers from the Warrant Squad took the woman into custody in a gray NYPD minivan this evening, they were assaulted with rocks and bottles," department officials said in a statement.
"The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects."
Protesters present during the arrest disputed the Police Department's account, insisting they did not engage with the officers.
"None of that happened whatsoever," Clara Kraebber, a 20-year-old Oxford student, told news website Gothamist. "We literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning."
Another witness told Gothamist that the protesters had been "skateboarding and eating pizza" before the van's unexpected arrival.
In one video, a group of protesters, some of whom are riding bikes and skateboards, are making their way down the street before the camera pans to one of the officers grabbing Stone several feet away from the van.
As a handful of protesters approach, an officer repeatedly shouts, "Get back!" and charges on foot at those getting too close.
Within seconds, more police flood the area, using their bicycles to create a barrier between the van, where the officers are still struggling with Stone, and the crowd.
Additional videos of the aftermath showed protesters in a tense standoff against the remaining police officers. One officer was filmed yelling at the demonstrators to step back.
In Twitter posts by the Police Department on Tuesday and Wednesday, officials presented the arrest as having been carried out by the book. Video posted by Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison shows a female protester spray-painting over and dumping paint on security cameras. Another clip shows a woman apparently using a broom to vandalize another space.
It was not clear whether the clips all depict the same individual, and a police official could not confirm whether the clips depicted Stone, who was charged with criminal mischief and making graffiti stemming from five incidents in June and July.