By David Brand @D4V1DBR4ND
The death of 38-year-old sex worker Yang Song during a police sting in Flushing last November incited protests and initiated an investigation by the Queens District Attorney’s office, but Song’s did not result from any misconduct by the police officers, DA Richard Brown said Thursday.
A report released Thursday by Brown concluded that undercover New York Police Department officers did not violate protocol, engage in misconduct or otherwise cause Song’s death, which occurred when she fell from a fourth-floor balcony shortly after a cop posing as a john left her apartment.
“[A]ll the credible evidence in this case points to the inescapable conclusion that Ms. Song — in an attempt to flee the police — either accidentally fell from the fourth-floor balcony or jumped,” Brown said in a statement, adding that the investigation found no evidence to suggest that New York Police Department officers “intentionally, recklessly or negligently engaged in conduct that caused the death of Ms. Song.”
The report nevertheless describes many details of the NYPD’s Vice Enforcement Squad sting, including the use of redacted code words and the conversation between Song and the undercover cop who entered the Flushing apartment where she worked and agreed to pay her $80 in exchange for sex.
When Song asked why he did not remove his clothing, the officer repeated that she provided “bad service” and told her he was leaving.
Song then asked if the man was a police officer. “No,” he responded before leaving.
Moments after the undercover officer, other officers arrived at the apartment to arrest Song. They reached the closed apartment door and announced themselves as police.
Shortly after they reached the front door, Song either jumped or fell from the balcony in the back of the apartment, the report states. Brown said the officers’ action do not constitute misconduct.
“Knocking on the subject apartment door while startling does not rise to the level of recklessness or neligence [sic],” the report states.
On December 17, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Song’s mother joined advocates for the rights of sex workers during a rally in front of the 109th Precinct in Flushing.
The Sex Worker Project said Song’s death was “yet another horrific example of the daily violence and injustice faced by sex workers around the world,” the Times Ledger reported. Her death, “highlights the undeniable harm caused by criminalization and dangerous ‘rescue tactics’ employed by law enforcement that conflate sex work and human trafficking,” the organization continued.
The report states that Song suffered “multiple facial fractures, a fractured right femur, and a severed carotid artery” due to her fall. She was transported by ambulance to New York Presbyterian Hospital where she died the next day.
The report also states that Song was participating in a five-session counseling program mandated by the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court following a September 2017 prostitution arrest. She was set to complete the course three days after she died.
In October 2016, Yang Song reported to the 109th Precinct that a man to whom she agreed to give a massage showed her a law enforcement officer’s badge and raped her at gunpoint, the report states.
A US Marshal turned himself into police after the NYPD’s Police Impersonation Unit created a wanted poster based on surveillance footage, the report states. But the marshal was released when Song selected a different man from a police lineup. The NYPD ultimately closed the case after a DNA test found that the marshal “was not the source of the DNA in all samples” taken from Song’s clothing from the time of the incident.
In a statement, Brown said Song’s death was “sad and tragic,” but he has received some push-back for his characterization of sex work amid a report delving into a tragedy.
“I have always maintained that prostitution is a degrading and humiliating industry and my office has long been at the forefront in helping those trapped in the sex industry find an escape through programs and assistance as an alternative to incarceration,” Brown said.
The Appeal, a website that reports on the criminal justice system, asked Brown’s spokesperson Kim Livingston about the the purpose of the “degrading and humiliating” comment. Livingston told the Appeal that “there was no victim-blaming.”
“We cannot predict how anyone reacts to the prospect of being arrested on any charge,” Livingston said. “It is our job to enforce the law but we do so in these instances fairly and compassionately.”
Photo credit: Paul Sableman//Flickr