(Reuters) – A former law enforcement officer in New York City was arrested on Thursday on a federal charge of violating the rights of a man at a homeless shelter by stomping on his head after he was wrestled to the ground, officials said.
The arrest of Cordell Fitts, 34, came one year after his altercation with a man at the Bellevue Men’s Homeless Shelter in Manhattan. He also was charged with falsifying a police report.
Fitts was a police sergeant for the New York City Department of Homeless Services but, according to media, has resigned from the agency.
“Fitts’ alleged conduct not only betrayed his duty as an officer to protect those under his charge, but also violated the law,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
Fitts’ attorney could not be reached for comment late on Thursday.
The case follows a national debate over incidents of excessive force by police in the United States.
In the moments before the March 6, 2017, altercation, Fitts was in the lobby of the homeless shelter, with other law enforcement officers.
Fitts and a man in the lobby, who was seeking help at the shelter, exchanged words. Fitts put his hands on the torso of the man, the criminal complaint said, and the man responded by throwing punches at the sergeant.
Fitts and the other officers wrestled him to the ground and Fitts, while standing up, repeatedly punched the man in the head and he kicked and stomped on his head nearly a dozen times, according to the complaint.
Fitts, in a police report, called the use of force “necessary” and said the man claimed to have stopped taking his psychiatric medications, the criminal complaint said. Those were fabrications to cover up and justify the assault, it said.
If convicted of both criminal charges against him, Fitts faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
He was released from jail on bond after a court appearance on Thursday, according to the New York Times.
The name of the man Fitts was accused of beating has not been released.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel