By Lisa Kava
On Wednesday August 4th, shortly after noon, Dora Marchand, 29, a technology recruiter who had recently moved to NYC from San Francisco, left her Upper West Side rental apartment to walk her two dogs in Riverside Park. Later that afternoon, she found herself in a holding cell at the 20th Precinct, after being arrested by Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers for walking her dogs off-leash and not having identification on her. She was held in handcuffs for close to two hours in Riverside Park, she told West Side Rag.
A witness said he was alarmed by the incident. Richard Baron Penman, who was out for his daily exercise running laps around the 74th Street track, said “it was disturbing how they treated her like a dangerous criminal pulling her around by the handcuffs. It was so unnecessary.”
Marchand moved to the Upper West Side from San Francisco on July 28th. She and her partner had been working remotely and wanted to try living in a large East Coast city. They were drawn to NYC, she told West Side Rag in a phone interview.
In San Francisco, Marchand regularly walked her dogs without a leash. “They are used to sidewalks, they know when to stop, they wait at a stop sign.” Marchand was aware of the off-leash rules in Riverside Park but had seen dogs off-leash in the area anyway. “I knew my dogs weren’t supposed to be off-leash but I didn’t think I would be arrested for it,” she said.
On this particular day, Marchand left her apartment on Riverside Drive at 71st Street, without her phone, wallet, or the dogs’ leashes, she recalled. After letting the dogs play in the area by the 74th Street track, she was on her way home when she was approached by a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer, she said. “He called me over and said this isn’t allowed, you need to have dogs on the leash. I said I was sorry and that I was about to go home. I said I didn’t mean to cause any harm,” Marchand explained. The officer was about to let her go with a warning, according to Marchand, but suddenly another officer appeared from across the field asking for her name, address and birth date. “He wanted to write a ticket. I gave him my name and birthday but could not remember my address since we just moved. I offered to walk him over to the apartment I am renting to show him where I lived. I offered to go home and get my wallet but he said that isn’t how it works. He said I was under arrest for not giving out my address and put me in handcuffs.”
A video taken at the scene by Penman shows the officers with Marchand.
“It felt like he was a man having a power trip. There was no calming him down,” Marchand said. “I was in the handcuffs for two hours while the officers were figuring out what to do with my dogs since they could not be taken to the precinct.” Additional officers arrived on the scene with cages and shock sticks to try to coerce the dogs into the cages, Marchand said. Ultimately, a passerby used her cell phone to help Marchand contact her boyfriend, who came to pick up the dogs. “He brought my wallet which had my ID, but the 2nd officer said it was too late and they were just going to book me,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Parks Department wrote in an email to West Side Rag, “On August 4, Parks Enforcement Officers attempted to issue a summons to a female patron in Riverside Park for two unleashed dogs on the soccer field. When she could not produce identification, she was taken to the local precinct where her identification was verified.”
“This patron has not been compliant with officers after warnings in the past,” the spokesperson added. But Marchand says she never had any previous encounters with parks officers at all, having only moved to the city a week prior to the incident.
West Side Rag asked the spokesperson why handcuffs were used, and if there were any other offenses committed by Marchand.
“Unfortunately, in this incident, the patron refused to comply with the rules as stated by both PEP and signage on sight. The patron also became confrontational and did not cooperate when asked for identification information. For the safety and protection of our officers, handcuffs are standard when we are transporting anyone to the precinct in a shared vehicle.” But Marchand says she remained composed and complied completely with the officers throughout the ordeal.
Richard Baron Penman also said Marchand was calm and cooperated with the officers. “From what I saw she was very cooperative, didn’t say much and just stood there.” He witnessed Marchand in handcuffs for at least an hour while he was running laps, and thought the officers seemed aggressive. “I was there before the park police arrived when Dora’s dogs were playing in the fields. Then an officer called out to Dora while she was walking away. I think this made them angry and they went overboard trying to show their authority.”
“I talked to the officers. They weren’t apologetic,” he said. “They first said it’s none of my business and they don’t have to answer questions. But then a crowd started to form and they tried to explain themselves. They said since Dora didn’t have ID on her they needed to arrest her until they could prove her identity.”
Ultimately, after an hour in the holding cell, Dora Marchand was released with a fine of $200 for not complying with officers and $100 for having the dogs off-leash, she said. “I don’t want this on my record, and I don’t think I should have to pay for something that they put me through the wringer for.”
The spokesperson for the Parks Department did not respond to the Rag’s follow-up questions: why was Marchand placed in handcuffs for an extended period of time in the park prior to entering the vehicle; why was she still charged with not having ID after her boyfriend brought the ID; and do officers use devices to shock animals to get them into cages. West Side Rag also asked for a link to the rule stating that failure to carry identification in the park is grounds for arrest. The spokesperson did not respond.
How does Marchand feel about it all? “A bit powerless. I couldn’t sleep that night.”
She’s puzzled at the scale of the response. “Just thinking how at least 15 different people had to deal with me and not walking my dogs on a leash when there are literally murders and theft happening all the time in New York.”
Asked if she will take her dogs again to Riverside Park off-leash, Marchand replied “While I live here, I’ll take the dogs off-leash late at night. Or at least stay at the upper deck of the park where it seems socially alright. There are more serious crimes happening in NY than walking a dog off-leash. There was no reason for the situation to escalate this far.”