May 15, 2005
Civilian Complaint Review Board,
Sub : Harassment and Intimidation by NYPD
I am a film-maker from India, on a screening tour through USA since March 22 with my latest film across several universities including NYU, Ann Arbor (Michigan), University of Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Wyoming, Georgetown, Vermont to name a few. The film – Final Solution – has won over a dozen international awards at various prestigious international film festivals in Berlin, Hongkong, Zanzibar and at the Three Continents film festival ( France) and Big MiniDV film festival (New York; Long Island University). The UK-based Index on Censorship ( which monitors instances of censorship worldwide) felicitated the film in March 2005 by giving it the Freedom of Expression award (Best film). I enclose some information about the film in the annexure titled "A note about the film".
to you to lodge a formal protest and a complaint about my harassment by NYPD on
May 13 while I was taking some candid shots with my tourist-grade Sony
palmcorder (PDX 10P). For nearly 3 hours, I was 'detained' for no apparent
reason, physically and verbally assaulted by a plainclothes detective and
harassed and questioned by several others. Since I am not a
As is apparent from the detailed account, I was subjected to needless mental and physical anguish in spite of my co-operation with your officers. I not only promptly identified myself, showed them my papers and answered all their questions but also repeatedly suggested several ways to establish my antecedents as an internationally reputed film-maker. Though I am sure you would take appropriate action, I am deeply perturbed about a few issues, which I'd like you to respond to as well:
the application for a visa to visit
3. I was physically and verbally assaulted by an NYPD detective even after I had clearly identified myself, produced my passport and offered to put him in touch with my hosts - Professors at Columbia University as well as the New School. I felt his entire tone and tenor to be racist in nature and found him to be intimidatory. It was my impression that the officer's hostility towards me was driven at least in part by the fact that I am brown-skinned and have a beard. To quote him - “We know how to deal with you guys, asshole”. Though later he did offer me a conditional apology "if I was all clear", the question that begs to be asked is - even if I weren't "all clear", does the officer have a right to abuse me physically and verbally, intimidate me and violate my rights?
have been under the impression that
request you to order an enquiry into my harassment by NYPD and take punitive
action against officer(s) responsible for it. I expect a written apology as
well as your assurance that formal steps would be taken to ensure that visitors
to your city are not harassed and intimidated by NYPD. Since I am leaving
I have copied this mail to several people and agencies. Over the next few weeks, I am also approaching friends and colleagues in the film-making community worldwide for their help and support; they are far too numerous to be individually copied. I look forward to an early and comprehensive response.
: 1. Sanjay Ruparelia,
2. Prof Arjun Appadurai, New School, NY
3. Minister for Information and
Broadcasting, Government of
4. Ambassador Ronen Sen, Indian
5. The Mayor,
6. Chief of Department, NYPD
7. American Civil Liberties
8. The Centre for Constitutional Rights, NY
9. Index on Censorship,
note about the film : Final
Wolfgang Staudte award (Best film at the International Forum for New Cinema) and
Jury Award (Netpac),
Montgolfiere d'Or for Best Documentary and Le Prix Fip/Pil' du Public – (Audience award), 26th Festival des 3 Continents at
Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Documentary, HongKong International filmfest(2004)
Best Film, Freedom of Expression awards (2005) by Index on Censorship
Best Feature -length Documentary, Big MiniDV (USA; 2004)
Silver Dhow, Zanzibar International film festival (2004)
Special Jury Mention, Munich Dokfest (2004)
Nominated for the prestigious Grierson Awards (UK; 2004)
Special Jury Award, Karafilmfest (Pakistan; 2004)
Special Mention, Bangkok International film festival (2005)
Special Award by NRIs for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), NY-NJ, USA.
award by AFMI (
Solution is a study of the politics
of hate. Set in Gujarat during the period Feb/March 2002 - July 2003, the film
graphically documents the changing face of right-wing politics in
Sequence of Events : May 12 ; approx 3 pm - 6:20 pm
: Corner of
12, a screening of the film was scheduled at
13, I left my hotel around 2.30 pm to walk around the city and shoot some
cityscapes, which I normally do in various prominent cities worldwide in the
course of my travel to film festivals. I walked around the block and found an
interesting visual – yellow cabs emerging from the underpass and receding
against the backdrop of tall buildings. I took several shots and started
walking to the next block, en route to
then told me that I needed to be investigated further. He insisted that
shooting a "sensitive" building. He said " it was okay if you
were walking and shooting for a minute or two", at which point I asked him
whether there was a law I had broken or if I needed police permission to take
candid shots on the streets of Manhattan or whether there was indeed a ceiling
on the number of minutes I could shoot at a spot. He said less than 5 minutes
was fine but when I asked what about 15 or 20 or more, he said - "buddy,
that’s going to be a big problem". I told him I was going to be in NY for
another couple of days and may take more shots, especially at the WTC memorial
as well as visit several spots immortalized by Woody Allen in his film
He then told me he wanted to look into my shoulder bag ( which has no flaps; it is open anyway). When I asked him whether that was legal, he said - “I am asking you for your permission. Are you denying me your permission? What are you hiding anyway? Do you have something to hide? And what is in your pockets?". Even though I felt that it was illegal, but, since the detective had already been intimidatory, had seized my passport and I wanted the situation to be quickly resolved, I allowed him a peak into my bag which contained an umbrella, a banana, a copy of the New York Times cityguide and a copy of Time Out, NY. He walked a few paces away to speak to one of the patrolmen when I turned the player mode ‘on’ and was in the middle of offering to playback the shot to him to set his apprehensions totally at rest when he charged at me, shoved me, snatched my camera and said to me – “We know how to deal with you guys, asshole”. He said he was "authorised to punch me if necessary". I was stunned and as I tried to speak to him, he told me “stay right there” ; I told him to at least switch the camera/ player off so the battery did not get drained. He further told me – “Don't move, you are lucky it is me or else you would be down there (pointing to the ground) with hands cuffed behind your back.” He accused me of trying to erase my footage, an allegation I found shocking. I denied it firmly.
He then walked away and made some more calls from his cellphone. As I had found his aggression to be near-brutal and completely unwarranted, I asked the patrolmen why the detective misbehaved; they said "they didn’t know". Since I was apprehensive about my physical safety at the hands of an abusive police officer, I asked the patrolmen whether I could use my cellphone to make some calls ( basically to call up my hosts and some journalist friends in the city). The patrolman said he didn’t have any problem but I shouldn’t as the detective seemed to have a problem with me.
For nearly two hours, I was made to stand on the sidewalk outside Starbucks, with my camera and passport in the detective’s possession, not allowed even to move, not allowed to use my phone. During this time Sgt McCann arrived and questioned me, asked me for any other professional ID, which I furnished. I repeated most of the information to him as well. I asked him whether I could at least buy water from the Starbucks outlet; he refused and asked a patrolman to take the money from me and get me a water bottle. At this point, I asked Det. Elimeyer whether we were waiting for anything further, he informed me that more experienced detectives were on the way. He said to me in the presence of the two patrolmen - "no hard feelings". I interjected with - " But you did call me an asshole". First he denied it and when I pointed out that the patrolman had heard him too, he said - "when this is over and you are in the clear, I'd be the first to apologise a hundred times, even buy you a beer". He then shook my hand even as I continued to be under 'detention'.
point, two detectives in black suits in an unmarked car arrived and though they
both identified themselves, I only remember one name - Det. Daniel D'Alessandro
( who later, while finally 'releasing me' gave me his contact details : Cold
case squad, phone : 718 834 4580). Det. Elimeyer and Sgat McCann briefed the
two detectives and handed over my camera and passport to Det D'Alessandro's and
his partner. They asked me all the standard questions - date of entry, my
travel schedule within the
At the precinct, Det D'Alessandro brought in a laptop within the first 5 minutes at about 5:27 pm into the room where I was placed. In presence of both the detectives, I did a google search, which showed them hundreds of webpages about me. The BBC 4 website showed details about my film (screened by them in March 2005), an interview and my photograph. Det. D'Alessanrdro expressed his apologies and told me - " It shouldn't have come to this. We are sorry for this. I appreciate your coming to the precinct as it helped sort out things faster, things would have taken much longer if were still at the street corner, it spares you the embarrassment and humiliation". I told him it was a humiliating enough experience thus far and that such a thing had never happenned to me before in any city anywhere the world. I said - " I'd undertand if someone has a question, however, once you respond and your credentials are clear, it is okay. But Det Elimeyer misbehaved with me and was abusive." He said - "The problem is many senior detectives have been moved and the younger ones aren't trained and don't benefit from training under a senior detective". He once again offerred to apologise on behalf of the detective.
camera had been in his partner's possession and when I asked for it, he said
- " you don't mind if I take a look". I asked him - "do we need to
do this" and when he insisted politely yet firmly, I offered to playback
the last few shots but Det D'Alessandro told me his partner was an "expert
with cameras", who started to rewind the tape. I told him that the first
30-odd minutes of the tape were shot in Disneyland in
Both detectives then left the room with my camera. Det D'alessandro peeped in twice to say his partner was "showing the footage to his supervisor" and "it'll take only a little while more". Very specifically, I did not authorise the detective to either look through all my footage or show it to anyone else or indeed even watch it himself. At the street corner and at the precinct, under duress, I had only offered to personally playback the last few shots, if necessary, to allay any suspicions that I was a potential terrorist recci-ing potential 'targets'. It took a further 29 minutes before the detectives returned. I was able to note this timeline because of the laptop; I wear no watch and use the cellphone to check time (at the street location where I was 'detained', I wasn't allowed to put my hands in my pocket to even take out my cellphone to check time, let alone make a call!). I was finally 'released' and escorted back to the street outside the precinct by the two detectives. Det. D'Alessandro apologised again on behalf of NYPD and told me his colleague complimented me on my photographic skills.
proceeded on the subway to a book release event at 7 pm on
Note : I am not quite sure whether Det. Elimeyer spells his name this way. I am phonetically reproducing the name he told me; when he flipped his badge for 5 seconds, I could not read his name or rank. I only saw the shield.
Witnesses : Det. Elimeyer, Cold case squad detectives ( Det. D'Alessandro and his partner), Sgt McCann, two patrolmen ( who'd been on duty across the street at the corner of Park Ave and 40th St. and then stood guard), hundreds of passers-by, Cutomers and employees at Starbucks at the corner of 39th St and Park Ave.