NEW ROCHELLE (CBSNewYork) -- A decision to charge an off-duty New Rochelle cop with misdemeanor attempted assault has opened a rift between the District Attorney's office and police unions.
Police union leader Keith Olsen, lead signer of a statement representing cops in almost 50 departments, is slamming Westchester District Attorney Mimi Rocah for prosecuting New Rochelle Det. Michael Vaccaro, saying, "I think it's ridiculous."
"It takes away the trust factor. Now, it's gonna take a lot to repair this," Olsen added.
The incident happened in February.
Surveillance video shows a man named Malik Fogg chasing and then pounding on a car driven by his mother. Fogg goes after Vaccaro when he notices the off-duty cop recording the scene.
After Fogg chased Vaccaro's car, cops arrived and, as they take Fogg into custody, Vaccaro throws three punches and one kick. A cop pushes Vaccaro away, then he re-engages and pushes Fogg's head onto the sidewalk.
Olsen says this one moment justifies Vaccaro's actions -- Fogg raising his fist as Vaccaro grabs his hand.
"The suspect prepares to punch him," Olsen said. "Vaccaro punched him first, and we're allowed to do that. Cops are not punching bags for the public."
After an inquiry, New Rochelle Police suspended Vaccaro for 30 days and referred the case to the DA.
"I'm delighted with the actions of our new county DA," said Mark McLean, the local NAACP chapter president.
McLean says the moment the off-duty cop put Fogg's face to the ground is particularly disturbing.
"It shows an unprofessional person. It shows a person not in charge of his anger and his emotions, and we don't need police like that," he told CBS2's Tony Aiello.
Rocah issued the following statement in response to PBA criticism:
"While the New Rochelle PBA is entitled to its view of the facts, there is no place for the type of inflammatory and irresponsible language used which crosses a dangerous line. I have a long history of working with and strongly supporting law enforcement and work with them every day to keep Westchester safe. But no one is above the law, and in those rare and unfortunate cases where the facts and law warrant bringing charges against an officer, my office will do its job - just as the NRPD did its duty in suspending the officer and referring the case to us for investigation. In this case, as in every case, we will follow the facts and evidence and present our case to the court. The defendant will then have his chance to make his arguments in court to a judge and the judge will make a determination based on that evidence and testimony."
The district attorney's office also noted in a statement that "other NRPD officers who were present at the scene acted appropriately and attempted to stop Vaccaro's actions."
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