NYPD officer accused of assaulting man for alleged racial slur

NYPD officer's defense attorney says police across the city face down fierce anti-police sentiment

A veteran New York Police Department sergeant is facing criminal charges after he allegedly assaulted one suspect who hurled anti-Asian slurs at him and allegedly punched another suspect who spat at him in a holding cell.

"When they see the video [of the incidents], they'll be as surprised as we are that this case went to criminal court," Sgt. Phillip Wong's defense attorney said Thursday of the charges. "I thought that this case should have been handled administratively within the NYPD."

Wong was criminally charged with misdemeanor assault in the third degree and misdemeanor attempted assault in the third degree. The handcuffed officer pleaded not guilty while appearing in a courtroom Thursday, and is suspended from the force without pay for 30 days.

Wong, 37, "grossly violated his training — and the law — during the arrests of these two individuals, whose conduct did not justify these violent responses," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. 

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The charges stem from a 2019 incident in Harlem where he is accused of punching a 48-year-old man in a holding cell after the suspect spat at officers, as well as a 2020 incident where he allegedly knelt on a 35-year-old man who was in police custody at an Upper West Side subway station.

It was during the 2020 incident that the suspect allegedly hurled anti-Asian slurs at Wong and also kicked him in the leg, according to prosecutors. 

Wong allegedly responded by bringing the suspect to the ground with another officer and knelt on the suspect’s back. 

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As "the man continued to taunt Wong, and then shouted, 'I can’t breathe,' Wong responded, 'I don’t give a f--- if you can breathe or not,' and punched the man in the side of the face," according to Vance.

The man did not sustain injuries from the incident, according to medical staff who evaluated him in a hospital.

Wong’s defense attorney said outside the courtroom Thursday that officers across the city are facing down fierce anti-police sentiment.  

"This is much more indicative of ... the lack of respect for police officers citywide," lawyer Andrew Quinn said. 

"People say vile terrible things to police officers all the time and this is on a daily basis. I mean a cop can't step out of a car anymore in this city without somebody shouting either an ethnic or racial slur ... at the officer."

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Anti-police sentiment has ticked up across the country since last summer when protests and riots were organized following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. 

NYPD officers have been assaulted repeatedly in the city, while other Asian-American officers say that suspects have sometimes also lobbed slurs at them amid attacks. 

"I feel like he was just angry at the uniform, at police officers, and he decided to add some racial slurs to it," NYPD Officer Philip Huynh said last month after a suspect went on a racist tirade against him. "It's degrading. It's upsetting. No one wants to be called something like that."

Anti-Asian attacks generally have also been on the rise, including in California where repeated videos showing people physically or verbally attacking Asian-Americans have spread on social media. 

In one such incident, video this week showed a man berating a gay Asian man and his boyfriend in San Francisco. 

"I served this goddamned country. So I'm m not racist. I don't like you f— Asian motherf— in my country!" the man, who is black, yelled at the interracial couple in the video. 

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"I'm gonna whup your f— ass and his f— worthless ass," he continued in the video. 

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San Francisco police reported 28 hate crime cases in the month of June alone and say the number of incidents is likely higher as many are never reported to officials. 

"It's a shock. It's disturbing. It hurts my heart to see it happen in San Francisco," said San Francisco Police Commissioner Larry Yee of the crimes, according to KTVU Fox 2.