UNITED NATIONS (AP) – A U.N. ambassador who was handcuffed after walking through a barricade to get into his office building said Friday the New York police officer who arrested him thought he could be a terrorist.
Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves, from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also said in a statement released by his government that he was “struck or somehow bruised” behind his right ear and was treated at a hospital for minor injuries to his head, wrists, hand and shoulder.
Gonsalves said he was returning to his office after lunch Wednesday and stepped out of his official car and walked through a barricade in front of the building _ as he has done for the past five years _ when he was confronted by an officer. The building houses a number of U.N. missions including Israel’s and has a 24-hour police presence, with a guard post outside.
According to Gonsalves, the officer demanded to know why he went through the barricade. He said he didn’t respond and proceeded to the elevator. He said the officer ran into the building, approached him from behind, “grabbed me by my neck and shoulders, spun me around and said, `Didn’t you see me talking to you?'”
Gonsalves, the son of St. Vincent’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, said he replied calmly: “You couldn’t have been talking to me.”
He said the officer then demanded identification. “I said, `Why? Am I under arrest?’ He said, `Well you are now.'”
Gonsalves said the officer tried unsuccessfully to get his hands behind his back to handcuff him, and he remained “uncooperative, but peaceful.” The backup officers who were called forced his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, he said.
He said other ambassadors with offices in the building _ including the envoys of Gambia, Dominica and St. Lucia as well as his own staff _ came into the lobby and began to tell the officer he was in the wrong, and that Israeli diplomats had crossed the barricades that day, just as he did. As a U.N. diplomat, Gonsalves has diplomatic immunity.
As the crowd gathered, Gonsalves said, the officer who arrested him “began to act in an uneasy manner.”
“Apparently by way of post-hoc justification, (the) officer … said quietly to his fellow officers, but within my earshot: `I couldn’t let him just walk into the building. Look at him: he could be a terrorist,'” Gonsalves said.
He said senior police officers and State Department officials from the U.S. Mission eventually confirmed that he was a diplomat and his handcuffs were taken off after about 20 minutes.
“The lobby of the building is under 24-hour video surveillance,” Gonsalves said, and his mission is trying to obtain the footage of the incident “which I am confident will corroborate this account of my ordeal.”
Deputy Police Commission Paul J. Browne said Friday that the ambassador ignored the officer’s request for information and resisted being handcuffed. He said he had no information about whether the terrorist comment was made.
“This was a high-security post,” Browne said. “The officer had an obligation to stop that individual and establish who he was.”
Gonsalves said that after he returned to his office, State Department personnel expressed “their personal regret that the incident had taken place.” He said they told him police were considering issuing him a summons for disorderly conduct, but later decided against it.
“I informed them that I considered myself the victim of a police assault, and may pursue my own redress to that assault,” Gonsalves wrote. “I was informed that if I contemplated legal action, I may become subject to a counter suit by the New York district attorney.”
“Responding to this, I told the State Department official that all of my legal and diplomatic options remain open at this point, and that I was unwilling to foreclose on any action under threat of counteraction,” he wrote.
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