NEW YORK (AP) — The confrontation begins with police officers ordering a group of migrants to leave a bustling Times Square block. It escalates when one of those men, slowly walking away, lobs an insult in Spanish: “They look like Ugly Betty.” Seconds later, he is pushed up against a wall by an officer.
Police body-camera footage made public on Thursday showed the chaotic moments leading up to the brawl between police and the migrants, who were seen kicking at officers and trying stop them from arresting the man, identified by prosecutors as Yohenry Brito.
The video was released hours after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the indictment of six additional people for their alleged role in the Jan. 27 altercation, which has touched off weeks of backlash and a multiagency search for those involved.
In the new footage released by prosecutors, officers can be seen approaching a group standing on the edge of a sidewalk outside a migrant shelter, ordering them to “Vamos" and “move along.”
As the men disperse, Brito makes the unflattering comparison — using the name of a popular Latin American television show, “Betty, la fea,” which was remade into the U.S. series “Ugly Betty.” Moments later, an officer grabs him by the lapel of his yellow jacket and shoves him into a doorway.
Brito asks why he is being stopped, attempts to get away, and is tackled to the ground by officers. As passing tourists look on, several bystanders descend on the scrum, kicking at the officers and trying to pry them off Brito.
At a news conference Thursday, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said officers approached the group because they were blocking the sidewalk.
“Everybody disperses except Brito,” Kenny said. “He turned around and got confrontational with police officers.”
The footage shows Brito lagging behind the group, pushing a stroller, but appearing to ultimately comply with the officers' demand to leave before he gets into the confrontation with the officers.
In addition to the seven people already indicted, police said there were at least five additional suspects they were looking to speak with based on an investigation that included the review of body-camera footage.
Bragg also acknowledged that some of the men initially charged with assaulting police appear to have played only a minor role in the melee.
“We have to ensure we identify and charge those individuals who actually committed criminal acts in this matter,” Bragg said. “The only thing worse than failing to bring perpetrators to justice would be to ensnare innocent people in the criminal justice system.”
One person previously charged with assaulting police officers, 21-year-old Wilson Juarez, is now believed to have watched the brawl from a distance without participating. He has since been charged with tampering with physical evidence, prosecutors said, because he allegedly traded his jacket with a man who fled police following the confrontation.
“His name and picture were spread all over media outlets in conjunction with the charges that he assaulted a police officer,” an attorney for Juarez, Adrienne D. Edward, told The Associated Press. “The video doesn’t show my client assaulting a police officer.”
Another person widely reported to have participated in the beating, Kelvin Servita Arocha, 19, did not physically touch either of the officers, but he allegedly kicked a police radio — making him an “accessory” to the assault, according to Bragg.
A third person who earned headlines for flipping off cameras following his arraignment has yet to be indicted by a grand jury, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office said, because prosecutors were still working to confirm whether he actually participated in the assault.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has linked the incident to what he described Thursday as an “apparent crime wave” driven by the city’s migrant population. He has said that only a “small minority” of new arrivals were participating in illegal behavior, but he has faced allegations of weaponizing the Times Square incident for political gain.
“The mayor has used this awful incident to score cheap political points at a moment when his approval ratings are really low,” said Ana María Archila, co-director of the New York Working Families Party. “He has vilified immigrants and created a political environment that enables vigilante violence.”
Police and city officials have not provided data to back up the claim of a “crime wave.” Most categories of crime are down since a surge of migrant arrivals began 18 months ago.
Earlier this week, members of the Guardian Angels were seen roughing up a man in Times Square during a live television interview on Fox News. The group’s founder, Curtis Sliwa, falsely identified the man as a “migrant.”
On Thursday, Bragg said his office was investigating what he described as the “disturbing” incident.
Associated Press writer Cedar Attanasio contributed to this report.