Water play on a hot day got heated; Arrested man and cops tell different stories

The arresting officer drove his car up aggressively and stopped right in the hydrant’s spray.

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | Some of my favorite hot summer photographs of the Lower East Side by the great photographer Weegee are the ones of kids and adults enjoying a reprieve from the heat by getting soaked by the blast of water that comes out of the fire hydrant. The water takes over the whole street. A pedestrian can see the water, so they walk around the spray, which can reach across the whole street.

Tues., Aug. 28, was one in a series of hot, blistering New York 100-degree days. To take a break from the heat, someone found a way to open the hydrant on the corner of Eldridge and Stanton Sts. And the people, young and old, from the surrounding projects got soaked and played in the water. This street is a limited-traffic residential street.

A police car came into the area and, using the car’s speaker, told the person spraying the water to stop it.

Jesus Sala, 36, had been cooling off in the water. After hearing the police command, he followed the order, got out of the water and moved back and stood on the sidewalk. If you watch a video clip of his subsequent arrest, there is a bald guy crouching by the hydrant who continues to play with the water as the cops roll up. The police car pulls up fast, right into the spray of the hydrant. It seems the cop is angry because his order to stop spraying the hydrant was not followed. The bald guy who was at the hydrant runs off, but Sala — who is also bald — just stands there as the officer marches right toward him and handcuffs him.

The actions that led up to the arrest are not included on the brief video clip that has been circulated.

Instead of driving off, the officer built up tension by driving slowly down the block. A crowd built up, following the car, shouting and banging on it, demanding that Sala be let go.

According to Sala, the cop offered him a deal: Tell him the name of the bald guy who got water on his car. This is not a serious crime like murder, and we are not suffering from a drought. Sala grew up on the block, he knows everyone, so why would he belittle himself by pointing a finger at someone for such a minor offense? Nobody was injured.

The arrest reportedly occurred shortly after 4 p.m. Local resident Randi Hoffman said she heard and then witnessed a commotion around the police car.

“I don’t remember the exact time,” she said. “It must have been late afternoon, early evening. I live on the corner of Eldridge and Houston. Our window was open and I heard people screaming and a police siren. When I looked out the window, people were screaming. Maybe three or four people. A middle-aged woman — in her 40s or 50s, Latina or light-skinned black — with her hair pulled back tightly, was banging on the front, passenger-side window of the police car. A few other men were around her, maybe two or three. One man screamed at the cop, saying ‘You’re going to jail.’ Someone else, a young man, was filming everything on his phone. I believe the men were telling the woman to get away from the car.”

The officer marched right up to Jesus Sala, who apparently knew he was about to be arrested, because he puts his hands behind his back to be cuffed.

Then two more police cars came in front of the hotel on Houston St., and the people screaming dispersed. The police drove off.

I later was told there were cop cars zooming around the neighborhood with sirens blaring.

Sala said that, at the precinct, his handcuffs, still behind his back, were made tighter, and that, still soaking wet, he was shivering in the air conditioning. As is normal, his shoelaces and belt were held in property, so the string was removed from his swimming trunks. Any time he stood up, he had to hold his pants with his hand.

He was eventually allowed to make one phone call. But the phone was put on private. He needed dry clothing and to let his family know where he was. His girlfriend did not answer because she did not recognize the number. By now his shoulders were aching from having his hands behind his back. He is a big guy, and he started having problems breathing. He asked to go to the hospital. He was told that would slow down his release.

At central booking, he got processed and the cop waved goodbye. After 14 hours in central booking in a cold, air-conditioned cell, still having trouble breathing, he was taken to the hospital. Central booking was cold enough that the correction officers were wearing jackets. Back in court he is facing three misdemeanor charges.

In the community people are angry. They feel violated. We have not had this kind of sour, hostile relationship between the community and the police for a long time.

The arresting officer and his partner take the handcuffed Sala to the police car.

For their part, police tell a simpler story. According to a department spokesperson, Sala was arrested for “utilizing an open fire hydrant to spray passing pedestrians and vehicles. He was instructed numerous times to cease but continued. He also had an outstanding warrant.”

The official charges against him are reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and harassment.

Why let a situation like this be the cause of new unrest? Sala should have all of his charges dropped and this whole silly scenario should be allowed to pass and to be forgotten. This is becoming petty. We have more serious crime to worry about. Let the cop and Sala shake hands and everyone move on. In the words of Rodney King, “Can we all just get along?”

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