THIS STORY WAS REPORTED BY: CHRISTINA BOYLE, ERIK BADIA, MATTHEW LYSIAK, PETE DONOHUE, JONATHAN LEMIRE, KERRY WILLS, MELISSA GRACE, ROCCO PARASCANDOLA, and RICH SCHAPIRO
It was written by: CORKY SIEMASZKO
Cops and protesters squared off in a series of skirmishes yesterday after officials avoided a potentially bigger battle by backing off their threat to clear demonstrators from Zuccotti Park.
Forty minutes before cops were supposed to start evicting the Occupy Wall Street protesters from what has been their base for nearly a month, Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway suddenly announced that park owner Brookfield Properties had postponed plans to powerwash the area and displace the protesters.
That sparked a wild celebration and emboldened smaller groups of demonstrators to begin marching on Wall Street — directly into the path of police officers protecting lower Manhattan.
“We are the 99%!” the motley band of demonstrators chanted. Police arrested 15 suspected troublemakers, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
“You had a large number of individuals break the law by remaining in the street, disrupting traffic,” said Browne, adding that the NYPD has racked up $3.4 million in overtime dealing with the protests.
“Some of those individuals resisted officers, fought with them while they were being arrested.”
Two confrontations between cops and demonstrators were caught on camera — and quickly went viral.
In the first case, a high-ranking officer identified as Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona appeared to slug Felix Rivera-Pitre. “The suspect tried to elbow the officer in the face,” Browne said.
“Others in the crowd jumped on the officer when he tried to apprehend the suspect. When the officer got to his feet he was sprayed in the face with an unknown liquid coming from the suspect’s direction.”
Rivera-Pitre is now wanted for attempted assault on a police officer and other charges, Browne said.
A former dancer from Queens, Rivera-Pitre insisted that all he did was shoot Cardona “a look” and denied throwing anything at Cardona. “Somebody has a lot of imagination,” said Rivera-Pitre, 37. “The officer lunged at me for no reason and hit me in the jaw. It tore my earring out.”
Rivera-Pitre said he spoke out because there was lots of blood — and he is HIV-positive. “That officer should get tested,” he said.
The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is now looking into the incident, Rivera-Pitre’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, said.
In the other recorded incident, 41-year-old Ari Douglas, a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, appeared to be knocked down by a police scooter near Maiden Lane. He can be heard screaming in the footage.
Douglas was taken to Bellevue Hospital for treatment and later charged with resisting arrest, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and other charges, Browne said.
“He was observing the protest and he was run over by a police motorcycle,” said Zainab Akbar, 31, another legal observer with the lawyers group.
“His leg was stuck under the bike, and he kicked his leg to get the bike off his leg, and then the police attacked him and shoved him into the ground and put a night stick against the back of his neck.”
“Douglas had repeatedly disregarded lawful orders to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk, and then feigned being run over before kicking over the police scooter,” he said.
Daily News photographer Joe Marino, who witnessed the confrontation, said “the bike definitely hit him” but insisted the officer didn’t run him over. “I saw him sticking his legs under the bike to make it appear he was run over,” Marino said of the legal observer.
The NYPD is also investigating another incident spawned by the protests that was caught on camera.
In that case, a demonstrator was pepper-sprayed by another deputy inspector, Anthony Bologna, on Sept. 24. He remains on duty.
Mayor Bloomberg said he hopes the protesters go home soon. “The longer this goes on, the worse it is for our economy,” he said.
“You just go down and talk to the stores in the neighborhood — there’s one or two selling more pizzas, but most of them say this is hurting.”