Andre Velasquez traveled to Rockaway Beach on a Friday (August 5) afternoon with the intention of taking a refreshing dip in the ocean water to cool off from the oppressive heat.
Instead, he was escorted away from the beach while being restrained in handcuffs and accused of disobeying city rules that ban swimming when lifeguards are not on duty.
Apparently after the lifeguards leave, swimming is prohibited for safety reasons. In New York City, the majority of beach drownings happen while there are no lifeguards on duty.
The unusual arrest, which was made by officers with the New York City Parks Department, has led to allegations of excessive force, in addition to raising questions about how the city should monitor its waterfront during a summer that has seen beach closures, shortages of lifeguards, and a string of drowning deaths.
Velasquez, a native of Briarwood, Queens, who is 33 years old, stated that as he was walking through the water off of Beach 97th Street just before 7 p.m. on Friday, he saw at least half a dozen Parks Department officers calling to him from the sand.
As soon as he stepped out of the water, the officers instructed him to hand over his driver’s license so that they could issue him a summons.
At first, he declined, insisting that there was nothing improper about what he had done. Velasquez claimed that in retaliation, the cops tossed him to the ground and handcuffed him.
“They all bombarded me at one time. I was like, ‘Wait, am I not allowed to swim in the ocean?’” said Velasquez, who runs a business walking dogs.
“These people tackled me to the ground. I was literally screaming. They had my mouth under the water. It was baffling and traumatizing.”
Video footage from the scene as he was escorted away in handcuffs shows Velasquez asking, “I’m not allowed to be in nature?”
“It was baffling and traumatizing,” he told Gothamist.
Velasquez said that he was transported in a police van and driven to the neighboring 100th Precinct, where he was handcuffed to a bench for approximately an hour. Velasquez indicated that he was held there for the duration of the time and issued a criminal summons for disorderly conduct, as well as failing to comply with a peace officer’s directive.
Velasquez claimed he offered to leave the water when he was informed about the no-swimming rule and that he also agreed to present his driver’s license when he was being hauled away in handcuffs.
“They wanted this to be a spectacle. It felt like a show of force,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like any of that should’ve happened because I was swimming at the beach.”
Velasquez, who is scheduled to appear in court at the end of this month, stated that it was highly unlikely he would go back to the beach in his home borough any time soon.
“I don’t want to go there ever again, honestly.”
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