A veteran New York City police sergeant was criminally charged Thursday, accused of roughing up two suspects in custody, including one who allegedly hurled racial slurs at the officer, prosecutors said.
Sgt. Phillip Wong, 37, "grossly violated his training — and the law — during the arrests of these two individuals, whose conduct did not justify these violent responses," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement.
The handcuffed Wong was marched into a courtroom on Thursday, where he pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault in the third degree and misdemeanor attempted assault in the third degree.
Wong is accused of punching a 48-year-old man in a Harlem holding cell in October 2019 and kneeling on a 35-year-old man in police custody at an Upper West Side subway station in April 2020.
In the 2020 incident, Wong allegedly was observing the arrest of the man who had punched another passenger on the subway. As two subordinate officers were taking him out of the 96th Street Station, the man yelled anti-Asian slurs at Wong and kicked him in the leg, prosecutors said.
That's when Wong allegedly brought the man to the ground with another officer and the sergeant knelt on the man’s back, authorities said.
As “the man continued to taunt Wong, and then shouted, 'I can’t breathe,' Wong responded, 'I don’t give a f--- if you can breathe or not,' and punched the man in the side of the face," according to Vance.
The man was taken to the hospital and, according to the DA, medical staff determined he did not sustain any medical injuries.
In the first incident from October 2019, Wong and several other officers were in the process of escorting a person to a holding cell when the man allegedly kicked a cell door and began spitting at the officers.
Wong allegedly responded by punching the prisoner in the face. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a laceration above his eye and required stitches, prosecutors said.
Outside of court on Thursday, defense lawyer Andrew Quinn said any wrongdoing by Wong didn't rise to the level of criminal charges.
"When they see the video (of the incidents), they'll be as surprised as we are that this case went to criminal court," Quinn said, "I thought that this case should have been handled administratively within the NYPD."
The defense lawyer claimed officers are facing particularly difficult conditions on the job right now.
"This is much more indicative of ... the lack of respect for police officers citywide," Quinn said.
"People say vile terrible things to police officers all the time and this is on a daily basis. I mean a cop can't step out of a car anymore in this city without somebody shouting either an ethnic or racial slur ... at the officer."
Wong was released on his own recognizance.