A cell phone video shared with Documented appears to show uniformed New York State Court Officers helping plainclothes Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents subdue a man and escort him out to a waiting car outside of the Queens County Criminal Court.
The video was shared anonymously with the Immigrant Defense Project and provided to Documented. The Office of Court Administration (OCA), which oversees the New York court system and its officers, confirmed the incident happened on Thursday at around 11:15 a.m..
According to OCA Spokesman Lucian Chalfen, the court officers saw plainclothes officers wearing badges attempting to arrest “an individual who was clearly resisting arrest” and only later learned that the plainclothes officers were ICE agents. Chalfen also alleged that an attorney from the Legal Aid Society “interfered and tried to engage the officers as they were trying to handcuff the individual.”
In the video, at least three court officers can be seen engaging in the fray and one can be seen holding on to the arrestee and leading him by the arm to the ICE agents’ waiting car. Near the end of the video, three officers can be seen standing around the car, well past the barricades that signal the end of the secure area around the court.
Josh Epstein of Queens Law Associates, who said he represents the detained person, said his client was at the court for an appearance in a criminal case where he’s a defendant, but never got the chance to see the judge. After reviewing the video, Epstein said that he had never seen court officers so aggressively participate in an ICE arrest.
“What we have is evidence of court staff playing a big physical role in the arrest,” said Lee Wang, senior staff attorney at Immigrant Defense Project.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After reviewing the video, Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association (COA), the court officers’ union, said court officers interceded after the ICE personnel failed to successfully handcuff their target. “The area where it happens, where he’s struggling with them, that’s a restricted area,” he said, noting that the officers joined in when the ICE agents started struggling with the arrest. “That’s the only time we get involved, is if there’s any type of an altercation.”
Quirk conceded that it was abnormal for the court officers to continue the escort after leaving the area where the barricades can be seen. “One of the court offices walks them out to the car, which is about 30 feet away, which is unusual. I don’t know why they did that, but that’s unusual.”
Nonetheless, he said that such a move was not explicitly disallowed by the Office of Court Administration, and the officers had behaved appropriately. “Once you get involved in something, you’re involved in it, right?”
ICE’s New York field office has long maintained that, given the state and city’s sanctuary protections — which prohibit police and prison officials from coordinating with immigration authorities — courthouses are among the safest places to apprehend targeted immigrants. The tactic has been uniformly decried by public defender organizations and immigrant rights groups, who have said that the arrests, of defendants as well as witnesses and others with business in the courthouses, undermine due process and prevent access to justice.
Court Officers participating in these arrests is nothing new, and the state OCA, as well as the union, the COA, have maintained that it is their responsibility to maintain public safety in court facilities. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who can set policy for the court, has previously said that blocking federal law enforcement officers of any kind from entering courthouses and potentially performing enforcement actions in them would be outside of her legal ability. The IDP is now attempting to push the issue legislatively, through the proposed New York Protect Our Courts Act.
Wang, of the IDP, voiced concern that similar arrests could confuse and frighten passersby and erode trust in the state’s judicial system. “When you first start the video, there are some voices in the background asking ‘who’s that, what’s going on?’ Because it’s not clear at all. You have three guys in plainclothes, in jeans and sweatshirts, and three uniformed officers.”
She said her attorneys had received word that some bystanders during other arrests had even dialed the police to report a kidnapping.
Correction: The story was updated on Nov. 2nd to clarify that IDP did not receive word of bystanders calling the police to report a kidnapping during this arrest.