A mentally ill man, dressed as a gladiator and brandishing a samurai sword in his home, died of a heart attack after New York police were called to the area by a neighbor who falsely claimed he had a gun, had him twice with a Taser beaten.
29-year-old George Zapantis was in the basement of his home in the Whitestone section of Queens on the night of June 21 when police said they saw him wearing a helmet and gladiator outfit while holding a samurai sword.
Officers of the 109th Precinct were called to the area by a neighbor who reported that Zapantis had a weapon.
Just after 9:30 pm, the police moved to take Zapantis into custody.
The image above shows the moment when a New York City police officer fires a Taser at a mentally ill 29-year-old Whitestone, Queens resident who was pronounced dead in a local hospital due to a heart attack shortly after. The arrest took place in Whitestone on the night of June 21
Officers were called to the home of 29-year-old George Zapantis after a neighbor reported having a weapon. Instead, the police found him in his house in a gladiator costume, helmet and brandishing a samurai sword
Police say Zapantis refused the order to drop the sword and approached them, causing officers to attempt to subdue him with a Taser
Zapantis’s death caused outrage in the Greek American community
Officers used a Taser when Zapantis reportedly came to them with the sword in his hand and refused to drop the police warrant, according to Gothamist.
DailyMail.com has contacted the NYPD to request comment.
Police reportedly feared Zapantis brandished his sword as they grabbed a plexiglass shield from their patrol car and used it while trying to hold him.
A neighbor filmed officers Tasering Zapantis as he seemed to be resisting arrest at the basement entrance.
Witnesses that evening said there was no evidence that Zapantis threatened anyone with the sword.
“There were times when George said he couldn’t breathe to (police) pulling his shirt,” said a neighbor, 16-year-old Shakira Nobles.
“And the officers said,” Don’t play that card, nobody will choke you. “
Noble’s father said he had warned the arresting officers that Zapantis had mental health problems in the past.
“I told the officers that he has mental health problems, he’s taking medication,” said Ricky Noble.
“I yelled at the officers that he was (mentally ill), and they still gave him an order. Just handcuff him and walk him out. ‘
Recent protests have been sparked worldwide after the police-implicated death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was filmed for not being able to breathe when a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee to the neck on May 25.
Family and friends described Zapantis as a church-goer who took care of his 33-year-old sister who has Down syndrome
“I can’t breathe,” what Floyd heard in a video filmed of his arrest became a rallying cry for protesters.
There are reports that the neighbor who initially called the police to report that Zapantis had a gun clapped as he watched officers use a Taser on him.
Zapantis then suffered cardiac arrest and was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The family is waiting for the results of an independent autopsy.
“I cry because I was not here for my son in his last moments, and he died in such a terrible 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 claimed that the neighbor had a personal vendetta against her son, who he says was repeatedly bullied and harassed by him daily.
“When I see him, I spit in his face,” said the deceased mother.
“If my son was wrong … I don’t think he was completely wrong. He had such a good heart.
“He was nice to everyone.”
Zapantis family judge disputes the NYPD’s report on the arrest. He demands a fully transparent investigation into what led to Zapantis’s death.
“We want to look at the body camera images and any possible videos or witness statements they have to confirm their accusation that Mr. Zapantis was armed and that their use of the Taser … was justified,” said the lawyer, George Vomvolakis.
The lawyer told Gothamist that all the videos he saw 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 four or five officers were yelling at him and commanding him and yelling at him not to resist him,” said Vomvolakis.
The lawyer is also investigating whether NYPD agents knew that Zapantis had a history of bipolar disorder.
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Zapantis’s family
“It remains to be seen whether or not the police were aware of it at the time they responded, as well as when they used these Tasers,” he said.
“And if they knew, there was clearly excessive violence, and they might have been able to decalculate the situation by talking to him.”
Last December, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a civilian agency investigating complaints of excessive violence used by NYPD officers, released a report stating that the use of Tasers was primarily applied to people of color and the mentally ill.
In the years 2014 through 2017, there were 114 complaints about the use of Tasers by the police. Of those, 59 percent of those who filed complaints were black, while 37 percent were considered “emotionally disturbed.”
Between 2016 and 2019, 14 mentally ill died from the NYPD.
Police have come under fire in the weeks since protests erupted following the murder of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
NYPD agents were seen on camera with excessive violence against protesters. The footage sparked public outcry as calls grew louder to cut the NYPD’s budget.
New York City lawmakers approved a strict budget earlier this week that will shift $ 1 billion from police to education and social services in the coming year, recognizing protesters’ demand to cut police spending but not meet what activists were looking for.
Zapantis’s death caused outrage in the Greek American community, which was vigilant for a man described as a caring person who attended church and was looking for his 33-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the oldest clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, personally presided over Zapantis’ funeral at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone last Monday
“We are in the midst of this global pandemic and we are in the middle of our American society, which has been startled by the kind of abuse that brings us to George’s coffin today,” said the Archbishop
The family started with one GoFundMe page looking for 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 oldest clergyman of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, personally led Zapantis’ funeral last Monday.
“We are in the midst of this global pandemic and we are in the middle of our American society that has been confused by the kind of abuse that brings us to George’s coffin today,” said the Archbishop.
“And there is no justice at this time when we pray for God’s grace on his soul, while we pray for comfort for Athanasia, a mother deprived of her son.”
There are an estimated 1.5 to 2 million members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States. The community, the largest outside of Greece, is highly concentrated in New York City, Boston and Chicago.