A saxophone player who’s been a fixture in the Herald Square subway station on Thursday was surrounded and handcuffed by four cops who snatched his horn and dragged him off while he was performing, officials said.
Busker John Ajilo, who goes by the moniker “Jazzajilo,” was grabbed by police for allegedly violating MTA rules including “interfering with passenger movement,” using a speaker and ignoring a sign, officials said. He was also summonsed for “panhandling in transit” and disorderly conduct.
“I’m not committing any crime. I’m not committing any crime,” he said.
And then as cops moved in and grabbed his arms, he began screaming, “Help me! Help me!” The officers yanked his arms behind his back as he tried to hold on to the saxophone. One cop grabbed the saxophone from his right hand.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong, leave me alone!” he shouted. “Why are you arresting me? What did I do wrong?”
Five officers forced him to his knees as Ajilo continued to shout, “Help me!” The cops finally dragged him off.
Ajilo also often performs at the Port Authority subway station on the A/C/E lines.
The drama began when a ticket agent at the 34th St.-Herald Square station complained Ajilo was taking up too much space at his spot in the station, MTA officials said.
The NYPD said “multiple complaints” were made about the musician. Cops found a “large display” of crates, mechanical animals and a speaker system. In a statement, the NYPD justified the arrest by saying Ajilo “was given multiple warnings” to leave the location, but refused to cooperate.
Ajilo was given the four summonses and released with his possessions. He says his saxophone and some of his mechanical toys were damaged.
“I was shut down, handcuffed and taken to the police station for performing in the same spot 34th Herald Square, I had been performing on and off for about five years,” Ajilo said in a subsequent post. “The police always see me there every time and they also cheers me on. My wrist is injured from the tight handcuffs, am emotionally depressed, and my body hurts.”
Lt. Paul Ng, a police spokesman, repeatedly denied Ajilo was arrested, despite the physical force used to remove him from the station, saying he was “summonsed.”
Fans of Ajilo quickly offered to help, raising $78,905 for his GoFundMe page by Monday night.
“I’m so sorry you went through this. I’m happy to contribute to your gofundme so you can sue the city for this abuse of power. I’m not from NYC but your show in the subway was one of the highlights of my most recent vacation,” posted Sara Oro.
Mayor Adams defended the police officers and blamed Ajilo for ignoring their commands, seeming to tie violent crime in the subways to busking.
“These are the same people who are saying, Eric, the subway system is out of control. What are you going to do about it?” he said on Fox 5. “We can’t have it both ways.”
“Let’s not tell police officers to do a job. And then when they do a job, we turn on them and state they are being heavy-handed,” Adams continued. “They were not heavy-handed. They were patient. He was heavy-handed in ignoring them, and then he became loud and disruptive to draw attention that something was wrong. Those officers took the right action and I’m proud of the action they took.”
The MTA insisted the arrest was necessary.
“The MTA has rules of conduct that are for the safety of all riders and employees and are not optional,” said Pat Warren, MTA chief safety and security officer. “We appreciate the mayor’s and police commissioner’s commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe by ensuring those rules are observed across the transit system.”
Ajilo wrote that he is due in court 9:30 a.m. July 13.
“Four pink tickets to top it all after overnight in the cell all for a struggling subway street musician trying to take care of family,” Ajilo wrote. “Thank you Police officers for really improving my life.”