7 On Your Side Investigates: Victims protest, demand reforms at HRA

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- After a trio of 7 On Your Side Investigates reports detailing how some of New York City's so-called "peace officers" are accused of aggressive and sometimes violent arrests, alleged victims and their supporters are calling on the city to investigate.

They protested Thursday against what they say is a pattern of abuse and violence by police officers of the Human Resources Administration, perpetrated, they say, against the most vulnerable citizens seeking the city's help.

"He sent him to the hospital," attorney Michael Rubin said. "My client bleeding from the ear."

That's what happened to Victor Rivera, who protested outside HRA offices along with Laura Zilioli and a small group of supporters.

Zilioli was sexually assaulted by an HRA police officer now serving five years for the attack.

"With great power comes great responsibility," Rivera said. "That does not give one the right to abuse that authority."

Rubin, Rivera and Zilioli are demanding that the Department of Investigation release their findings into abuses by HRA officers, and they also want the City Council to get involved.

"For the New York City Council to open a full investigation to find out why there is a pattern of abuse going on here at this office," Rubin said.

Our investigation has been unable to determine whether the abuse is widespread, but we've documented three cases that all are alleged to have taken place at the welfare agency building in Manhattan. We also have uncovered a high rate of arrest dismissals. HRA police arrested 576 people last year, and the courts tossed out 443 of the cases.

"That leads me to the conclusion that there's a practice of arresting and charging them with crimes really as a means of harassment," Rubin said.

While an HRA spokesperson said officers only issue summonses as a last resort when a law is broken or when a client or staff is in danger, those marching feel what's happening inside HRA in the name of law and order is in desperate need of reform.

"Other women will go through this, and I want it to stop," Zilioli said. "Not fair or right, you really need to train these guards and officers more properly."

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