Child was returning home from corner store
Fourth-grader Dionte Johnson was walking back to his grandfather’s apartment in the Mott Haven Houses on Alexander Avenue with his brother and cousin after buying a bag of his favorite treat, powdered sugar donuts, as he does every weekend when he visits.
But on a recent Saturday, he didn’t get to enjoy them.
Johnson began to run home when a man started chasing him as he neared the building at around 11 p.m. on April 6.
“He just came out and started chasing after me. I was feeling scared,” Dionte said.
The man identified himself as a police officer, although he was not in uniform.
Johnson, his brother John Johnson, 17, and cousin Justin Johnson, 16, said the officer approached them, addressing Dionte.
“Hey little man! Come here,” Dionte remembers the man ordering him.
Dionte ran toward his mother, who was waiting in front of the building for the boys to return from the store.
“He said, ‘Mommy, mommy, a man is chasing me,’” Adrienne Johnson said, adding she raised her forearm to brace herself against the undercover cop as he grabbed at Dionte, who stood behind her.
A uniformed officer, identifying himself as Officer Reyes, approached them and advised his colleague that they should leave.
“It just seems like a blink of an eye, just people came out from everywhere to watch what was happening,” Adrienne Johnson said.
Several other family members tried to shield the boy from the officer. The 10-year-old, whose family and friends say usually sports a wide grin, was in tears.
Daniel Moreno, 27, says he rushed to see what was happening. When he saw the plain clothes officer trying to grab the child behind his mother and family, he began filming on his iPhone.
“That was wrong,” Moreno said. “The little kid was petrified.”
Some dozen tenants came out to watch the commotion, as more police arrived at the scene, Moreno said, adding, “It started getting really crazy and really worse.”
In Moreno’s video, shouts of, “He’s 10 years old!” and “He’s a little kid!” can be heard.
The officer grabbed Dionte by his chest, causing him to fall back against the wall of the brick building, his mother said. Her son suffers from asthma and began experiencing chest pain, she said, adding she later took him to Lincoln Hospital for treatment.
When Adrienne Johnson asked for the officer’s name and badge number, he identified himself as Officer Pierre. After she threatened to call a higher-ranking officer at the 40th Precinct, the officers left the scene, she said. When she asked why they were chasing her son, Officer Reyes told her young teens are known to rob seniors in Mott Haven, and they suspected Dionte may have had an elderly woman’s wallet in the paper bag that contained the donuts.
“I told them what they were saying was absolutely right,” she said. “The crime rate over here is high, but you can’t mistake him for a 15-year-old. He’s not big enough, I’m sorry.”
Residents in Mott Haven and Melrose are used to police stops. The neighborhood had the highest number of stop-and-frisks in the Bronx in 2011. But residents said they’ve never seen officers stopping someone so young.
“These officers out here are disrespecting,” Moreno said.
NYPD did not respond to two emails and a phone call requesting comment. It is unclear where the officer works. Both community affairs officer Claudia Mera of the 40th Precinct on Alexander Avenue and Detective Angel Irizarry of PSA 7, the housing police outpost on Melrose Ave., said there is no officer named Pierre at their station houses.
Since the incident, Dionte has been scared to go outside. He said he’d rather stay inside and watch television, adding he has been having nightmares for the past week.
The family has asked the city’s housing department for video footage from the building’s surveillance cameras, and has filed a civilian complaint against the officer. Linda Sachs, communications director for the Civilian Complaint Review Board that looks into allegations against NYPD officers, says the incident is under investigation.
But Adrienne Johnson said that more than anything, she wants her son not to fear the police anymore.
“I want that officer to apologize to him,” she said. “Where was the courtesy, respect and professionalism?”