A mentally ill man dressed as a gladiator and waving a samurai sword inside his home died of a heart attack after New York police, called to the area by a neighbor who falsely claimed he had a gun, zapped him with a Taser twice.
George Zapantis, 29, was in the basement of his home in the Whitestone section of Queens on the night of June 21st when police say they saw him wearing a helmet and gladiator outfit while holding a samurai sword.
Officers from the 109th Precinct were called to the area by a neighbor who reported that Zapantis had a gun.
Just after 9:30pm, police moved to take Zapantis into custody.
The image above shows the moment a New York City police officer fires a Taser at a mentally ill 29-year-old resident of Whitestone, Queens, who was soon afterward pronounced dead at a local hospital due to a heart attack. The arrest took place in Whitestone on the night of June 21
Officers were called to the home of George Zapantis, 29, after a neighbor reported that he had a gun. Instead police found him inside his home wearing a gladiator costume, helmet and waving a samurai sword
Police say Zapantis refused orders to drop the sword and approached them, prompting officers to try to subdue him with a Taser
Zapantis’ death has sparked outrage in the Greek American community
Officers used a Taser when Zapantis allegedly advanced toward them with the sword in his hand while refusing police orders to drop it, according to Gothamist.
The NYPD said in a statement: ‘On Sunday June 21, 2020, at approximately 2129 hours, police responded to a 911 call of a man with a gun inside of a private residence located at 20-39 150 Street, within the confines of the 109 Precinct.
‘Upon arrival, officers observed a 29-year old male within a basement apartment area holding a Samurai sword and refusing to comply with the officers directives and orders.
‘The male began to engage the officers and approach them with sword in hand.
‘The officers deployed their department issued Tasers, and the individual was both subsequently subdued and suffered a medical condition/cardiac arrest.
‘EMS removed the aided male to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Queens where he was pronounced deceased.
‘The Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death.
‘The investigation remains ongoing by the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division.’
Police were reportedly so fearful of Zapantis’ wielding his sword that they grabbed a plexiglass shield from their patrol car and used it while trying to detain him.
A neighbor filmed the officers Tasering Zapantis as he appeared to resist arrest at the entrance to the basement.
Witnesses from that night said there was no indication that Zapantis was threatening anyone with the sword.
‘There were moments where George did say that he couldn’t breath to (police), when they were pulling on his shirt,’ said a neighbor, 16-year-old Shakira Nobles.
‘And the officers said “Don’t play that card, no one’s choking you”.’
Noble’s father said he warned the arresting officers that Zapantis had a history of mental health issues.
‘I told the officers he’s got mental health (issues), he takes medicine,’ said Ricky Noble.
‘I was yelling at the officers that he was (mentally ill), and they were still Tasing him. Just handcuff him and walk him out.’
Recent protests were sparked worldwide after the police-involved death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was filmed unable to breathe as a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck on May 25.
Family and friends described Zapantis as a church-going man who cared for his 33-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome
‘I can’t breathe,’ which Floyd was heard saying in video filmed of his arrest, became a rallying cry for protesters.
There are reports that the neighbor who initially called the police to report Zapantis had a gun was clapping while he watched officers use a Taser on him.
Zapantis then went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The family is awaiting the results of an independent autopsy.
‘I’m crying because I was not here for my son in his last moments, and he died in such a horrible way,’ Zapantis’ mother, Athanasia Zapantis, told the New York Daily News on Tuesday.
‘He was my left hand, my son. He was everything … He died for no reason.’
Athanasia Zapantis alleged that the neighbor had a personal vendetta against her son, who she says was repeatedly victimized and harassed by him on a daily basis.
‘If I see him, I’m going to spit in his face,’ the bereaved mother said.
‘If my son was wrong…I don’t think he was wrong at all. He had so good a heart.
‘He was kind to everybody.’
The Zapantis family lawyer disputes the NYPD’s account of the arrest. He is demanding a fully transparent investigation into what led to Zapantis’ death.
‘We want to view the body cam footage and any potential videos or witness statements they may have in order to confirm their accusation that Mr. Zapantis was armed and that their use of the Taser…was justified,’ said the attorney, George Vomvolakis.
The lawyer told Gothamist that all of the videos he has seen of the incident do not show Zapantis holding a sword.
‘The video we have shows that his back was turned to them, his hands were behind his back and there were four or five officers screaming at him and tasing at him, and yelling at him to not resist,’ said Vomvolakis.
The attorney is also looking into whether NYPD officers were aware that Zapantis had a history of bipolar disorder.
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Zapantis’ family
‘It also remains to be seen whether or not the police were aware of that at the time that they responded, as well as at the time that they used these Tasers,’ he said.
‘And if they did know, then it clearly was a use of excessive force, and that possibly they could have deescalated the situation by talking to him.’
Last December, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a civilian agency that looks into complaints of excessive force used by NYPD officers, released a report saying that the use of Tasers was primarily being applied to people of color and the mentally ill.
In the years 2014 until 2017, there were 114 complaints involving police use of Tasers. Of those, 59 per cent of those who filed complaints were black while 37 per cent were considered ‘emotionally disturbed.’
Between the years 2016 to 2019, 14 mentally ill people died at the hands of the NYPD.
The police force has come under fire in the weeks since protests erupted following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
NYPD officers were seen on camera using excessive force against protesters. The images fueled public outrage as calls grew louder to cut the NYPD’s budget.
New York City lawmakers earlier this week approved an austere budget that will shift $1 billion from policing to education and social services in the coming year, acknowledging protesters’ demands to cut police spending – but falling short of what activists sought.
Zapantis’ death sparked outrage in the Greek-American community, which held a vigil for a man described as a caring person who went to church and looked out for his 33-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the most senior cleric of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, personally presided over Zapantis’ funeral this past Monday at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone
‘We are in the midst of this global pandemic, and we are in the midst of our American society that has been rocked by the very kind of abuse that brings us around George’s coffin today,’ the archbishop said
The family has started a GoFundMe page seeking donations from the public.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America volunteered to cover Zapantis’ funeral expenses, according to the Greek City Times.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the most senior cleric of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, personally presided over Zapantis’ funeral this past Monday.
‘We are in the midst of this global pandemic, and we are in the midst of our American society that has been rocked by the very kind of abuse that brings us around George’s coffin today,’ the archbishop said.
‘And there is no justice in this moment as we pray for God’s mercy upon his soul, as we pray for comfort for Athanasia, a mother bereft of her son.’
There are an estimated 1.5-to-2 million members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the US. The community, which is the largest outside of Greece, is heavily concentrated in New York City, Boston, and Chicago.