NEW YORK (AP) — A police officer on patrol alone says he was just “trying to survive” as he fought off homeless men who came at him in a caught-on-video confrontation in a New York City subway station Sunday night.
Officer Syed Ali, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, told reporters Thursday that he was flooded with calls and kudos from old Army buddies stationed around the globe as the footage went viral.
The video , viewed more than 5 million times on social media, showed Ali using a baton and kicking at the men, who appeared to be drunk, as they came at him one at a time at the East Broadway station in Manhattan.
“I’m trying to survive. That’s the No. 1 thing,” said the 36-year-old Ali.
“I can’t tell you what would be the next thing, other than that I want to go home,” he said. “I bet every police officer in this city thinks exactly the same thing: we’re going home.”
Ali, who’s married and lives in Brooklyn, spoke publicly about the altercation for the first time as his three alleged assailants were awaiting arraignment on charges including riot.
“Justice has been served,” Ali said.
Juan Nunez, Eliseo Alvarez and Leobardo Alvarado were arrested Wednesday and Thursday after a furor erupted over whether they would even face criminal charges. Attorneys for the men did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
At first, police only cited the men for sleeping on the station floor the day after the altercation, not the fight itself. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office dropped the matter, citing a policy curbing prosecution of those kinds of low-level violations.
The initial lack of charges angered Ali’s union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which issued a fiery statement on Christmas Day urging that the men “be held accountable for their actions.”
The DA’s office said the prosecutors handling the sleeping violations were not aware the men were also suspected of fighting with Ali. Had they been, the charges wouldn’t have been dropped, spokesman Danny Frost said.
Alvarez, 36, is also charged with attempted assault, attempted possession of a weapon and menacing. He and Nunez, 27, were arrested on Wednesday. Alvarado, 31, turned himself in on Thursday.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the men had lawyers who could comment on their behalf.
Two other men in the video appeared to be trying to break up the scuffle. They haven’t been charged.
Ali, who’s originally from Bangladesh, joined the NYPD six years ago. He doesn’t use social media and said he didn’t know about his online fame until days later.
Ali said he calmly approached the men and told them to leave after a subway rider complained to him that they were harassing and scaring her.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t move the way I would expect them to,” Ali said.
Ali said he felt a trickle of sweat down the back of his neck and took a moment to size up the situation before springing into “straight up police action.”
During the commotion, one of the homeless men tumbled off the platform in the chaos and had to be pulled from the tracks. He and the others were taken to a hospital for treatment.
“When I saw that guy trip over, I was like ‘holy cow, let me try to grab him,'” Ali said. “I felt like the next biggest thing I could do was cut the power.”
Though outnumbered, Ali never pulled his gun.
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised his “professionalism and bravery.” A city councilman presented him with a plaque for his “quick action.”
“Officer Ali did a great job that night,” said Vincent Coogan, the assistant chief executive officer of the NYPD’s Transit Bureau.
“He kept the situation from maybe escalating and getting worse,” Coogan said. “It was a perfect outcome. Nobody got hurt.”
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