BOERUM HILL – Jazmine Headley, the 23-year-old mother from Bed-Stuy whose young son was forcibly torn from her arms during an altercation at a Boerum Hill Human Resources Administration (HRA)/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) office received a public apology from NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday.
Headley testified at a City Council hearing yesterday, describing her experience at the public benefits office last December. “Unless you are a parent who has a child taken from you, you will never know or be able to relate to the pain that I felt that day,” she said.
Headley went to the HRA office on December 7 to inquire why her son had stopped receiving public assistance for day care. Headley and her one-year-old son sat on the floor of the waiting room of the benefits office because there were no available seats. One of the HRA security guards, who are called “peace officers” according to the New York Times, asked Headley to move. The incident escalated after Headley refused and police were called.
Video footage shot by a witness showed guards and police officers surrounding Headley who is lying on the floor holding her son. She can be heard shouting, “They’re hurting my son!” One officer is seen violently trying to pull the small child away from his mother. Witnesses posted video of the altercation on social media, sparking outrage.
Headley was arrested and held at Rikers Island for four nights. She was later released and the charges against her were dropped.
One of the HRA guards involved in the incident has resigned, and city officials are looking into terminating a second, according to the Times. HRA guards will now be given body cameras, the New York Daily News reports. No action against any of the police officers involved in the December incident has been announced, the Daily News adds.
In response to the incident, the City Council introduced 13 bills focused on improving the client experience at public assistance facilities. Among the bills are:
- the creation of an Office of the Special Handler at the Department of Social Services (DSS) which would establish a system for DSS to receive questions and complaints regarding the termination of a client’s public benefits
- quarterly reports filed by DSS and HRA on use-of-force incidents that occur at their offices
- full-time social workers on staff at all DSS and HRA Job Centers and SNAP Centers
- DSS conducted trainings on de-escalating conflict for all employees of Job Centers or SNAP Centers
- space for children at DSS and HRA Job Centers and SNAP Centers
- the creation of a system in which clients can schedule appointments with DSS or HRA online or by phone
- client satisfaction surveys for individuals who go to a Job Center or SNAP Center
Council Speaker Johnson hugged Headley at Monday’s hearing and told her, “I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry on behalf of the City of New York. I’m sorry you ever had to go to that HRA Center. I’m sorry that you and your baby had to experience that trauma. I’m sorry that you were wrongfully kept on Rikers Island for multiple days away from your family….”
“It’s not just the fact that I was arrested. It was the harsh way that I was treated by people who are supposed to help me,” Headley said at the hearing before suggesting, “Social workers, not security officers,” as a solution to avoid any future altercations.