UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. ambassador from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was briefly arrested and handcuffed by a New York police officer Wednesday for alleged disorderly conduct after he walked through a barricade to get into his office building.
Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves told The Associated Press that he was returning to his office after lunch and stepped out of his official car, through a barricade in front of the building – as he has done for the past five years – when he was confronted by an officer who shouted: "What do you think the barricades are there for?"
He said he walked to the elevator and the officer ran into the building, "grabbed me by my neck and shoulders, spun me around and said, `Didn't you see me talking to you.'"
Gonsalves, the son of St. Vincent's Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, said he replied: "You couldn't have been talking to me."
He said the officer then demanded identification. "I said, `Why? Am I under arrest?' He said, `Well you are now.'"
"At that point he handcuffed me, with assistance from other officers he called as a backup," Gonsalves said.
He said other ambassadors with offices in the building – including the envoys of Gambia, Dominica and St. Lucia as well as his own staff – came into the lobby and began to tell the officer he was in the wrong. As a U.N. diplomat, Gonsalves has diplomatic immunity.
"The officer, for the first time, inquired who I was," Gonsalves said. "I told him. He called for his superiors. The U.S. State Department, as host country, was also called and they sent representatives."
He said, "The initial position of the NYPD was that I was disorderly, and something should be done because of my disorderly conduct."
But Gonsalves said after discussions with him, the State Department representatives, and the other diplomats, "the NYPD were persuaded to release the handcuffs, and I'm back in my office now."
He said he was in handcuffs for about 20 minutes.
"Separate and apart from any diplomatic immunities, I personally think the officer was wrong and committed an assault against me," he said.
"We will be following up," Gonsalves said. "We will seek other forms of redress, but what form it will take, I can't say."
The NYPD disputed the account, saying that the officer didn't mistreat Gonsalves, and that the diplomat wasn't arrested.
A police spokeswoman, Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, said Gonsalves was detained in handcuffs after ignoring the officer's repeated requests to stop and identify himself. He was released as soon as he produced identification, she said.
Gonsalves said that aside from the officer who handcuffed him, the other police officers who came to the scene were "very professional and very courteous," and he also praised the State Department officials from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations who arrived promptly and "were exemplary."
Gonsalves explained that the building where his country's U.N. mission has its office has extra security because Israel's U.N. Mission is located there.
"There's nothing novel about what I did today in terms of entering the building," Gonsalves said. "There's never been an incident before."