An attack on 2 NYPD officers was caught on video. We fact checked the commentary.

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By Dan Sears

A viral surveillance video that shows a group grabbing and kicking two police officers outside a migrant shelter in Times Square last month has become the latest Rorschach test in New York City’s age-old debates about crime and immigration.

Some conservatives and members of law enforcement have blamed the attack on progressive immigration laws and bail reform, while advocates have dismissed those claims as unfounded political rhetoric.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has charged six people and announced an indictment on Tuesday against the man at the center of the video, 24-year-old Yohenry Brito. Prosecutors say they’ll unveil the charges against him at a court hearing in March. Bragg also said his office is working with law enforcement to identify everyone involved and hold them accountable. His office is presenting charges to a grand jury this week.

“We will not rest until every person who assaulted a police officer in this awful attack is held accountable,” Bragg said in a statement.

As the video of the incident continues to circulate, law enforcement officials, political pundits and everyday New Yorkers across the political spectrum are spinning the details to fit their preferred narratives. All that commentary has muddied some of the facts and the broader context. As the case continues to propel the political divide, Gothamist has this fact check:

What happened?

On Jan. 27, police tried to disburse a “disorderly” group on 42nd Street in Times Square, according to NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell. What the group was doing before police arrived is still unclear at this point. As officers tried to arrest Brito, he swung his arms and tensed up, leading him and the arresting officers to fall to the ground, according to a criminal complaint.

Grainy footage of the incident released by the NYPD shows two officers tussling with Brito on the sidewalk. It then shows a handful of people surrounding the officers. Some are seen trying to pull the officers away, while several others swing at the police and kick them.

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The NYPD has not shared body camera video of the incident, and footage the department released does not show the moments immediately before the scuffle. Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, urged the NYPD to release the full body camera video of the incident.

Police have since arrested Brito and six other people between the ages of 19 and 24 in connection with the incident. Bragg’s office charged six of them with second-degree assault — a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison — and second-degree obstructing governmental administration — a class A misdemeanor. The office declined to prosecute one person while it continues to investigate the incident, because it has not found sufficient evidence that the person was involved.

Brito is being held in jail on $15,000 cash bail and has been indicted by a grand jury. A judge placed one of the accused on supervised release, meaning he’ll have to follow certain conditions set by the court while his case is pending. The other four were released with no conditions set to ensure that they return to court. Police told the New York Post they may have fled the city by bus.

A spokesperson for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing one of the defendants, said their client has not left town. Attorneys for the other defendants who were released did not respond to requests for comment.

Were the people involved migrants?

NYPD officials have said the group who assaulted the police officers were newly arrived migrants, and at least three are staying in shelters, according to addresses listed in an NYPD press release. The Manhattan DA’s office has not confirmed whether that’s true. The incident occurred outside a shelter on 42nd Street that has been used to house migrants since March.

Is there any evidence that migrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes?

Some officials and members of law enforcement say migrants who have recently come to New York City brought crime with them. But several studies have found that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. A report published last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found immigrants across the country are 30% less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born white people and 60% less likely than U.S.-born Black people. In Texas, which tracks data on immigration status for convictions and arrests, researchers found immigrants are arrested and convicted of crimes at far lower rates than their native-born counterparts.

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The data is murkier in New York City, where police say they don’t track people’s immigration status when they make arrests, because they don’t ask people’s legal status. But a few high-profile cases have made headlines.

The NYPD recently arrested seven people accused of robbing nearly 150 people across the city. Police officials say a Venezuelan man orchestrated the robbery scheme on WhatsApp and the participants mostly live in migrant shelters. Last month, three men were indicted in a deadly stabbing at a migrant shelter on Randall’s Island. Another person was stabbed at the same shelter a couple weeks later and survived. Someone was also recently arrested on charges that he assaulted cops at the Randall’s Island shelter, according to the New York Post.

Mayor Eric Adams has said he believes most of the approximately 175,000 migrants who have recently arrived in New York City came here to pursue the American dream and want to contribute to society. But he said the “numerical minority” who commit crimes should be arrested, prosecuted and deported.

“Those small number of migrants and asylum seekers who are victimizing New Yorkers should be treated the same way as long‑term New Yorkers who are victimizing New Yorkers,” Adams said.

Can immigrants be deported for committing crimes?

Yes. If someone is not a U.S. citizen, an arrest or criminal conviction can prevent them from receiving authorization to stay in the country, according to the New York State Unified Court System. Even for those in the country lawfully, some criminal convictions can lead to the revocation of immigration status. Having a criminal record can also make it more difficult to renew a green card.

According to federal law, immigrants can be deported if they are convicted of an aggravated felony, a crime of “moral turpitude” (a term that is undefined in the law but generally interpreted as a crime that “shocks the public conscience”) or various other types of offenses, including firearm and drug crimes. Immigrants can also face deportation if they have two or more criminal convictions on their record.

On the other hand, immigrants who are victims of crimes can receive special protections. U visas, for instance, allow immigrants who have been subjected to mental or physical abuse to remain in the country if they help law enforcement investigate their abusers.

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Some officials have criticized a judge’s decision to let most of the defendants leave jail after their first court appearance. Was that because of bail reform?

After a judge agreed to release some of the men accused of assaulting police while their cases are pending, police officials questioned the decision.

Bail reform laws, passed by state lawmakers five years ago, prohibited judges from setting bail for many types of crimes.

In this case, however, the men accused of attacking police face charges that are bail eligible — meaning the judge could have required them to post bail in order to be released from custody while they waited for their cases to be processed. But prosecutors only requested bail for one person — Brito, who is being held on Rikers Island. And even without a prosecutor’s request, the judge could have set bail for the others, but chose not to.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would talk to the DA about his options while the investigation is ongoing.

“I’m not going to second guess that side of it,” she said. “All I know is that an assault on a police officer means that you should be sitting in jail.”

Jillian Snider, a former NYPD officer who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said the incident can’t be blamed on bail reform. Still, she wants to know why both the DA’s office and the judge thought bail wasn’t appropriate for most of the accused.

“Because of the severity of the crime, one would think that bail would have been set,” she said.

Bahar Ostadan, Brittany Kriegstein and Jon Campbell contributed reporting.

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