New York, NY – Parents, school administrators, and some community members in Washington Heights went into a panic on Thursday when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection K9 officer parked his marked vehicle on the sidewalk in front of a public school while he went to lunch.
A second officer from the same department parked his marked police vehicle on a street adjacent to the Castle Bridge School, and the two federal officers went into Coogan’s restaurant across the street for lunch, the New York Daily News reported.
People who saw the two police vehicles mistook them as belonging to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and flipped out.
Juan Martinez, from Mexico, fled his candy stall on the corner at the sight of the officers because he thought it was an ICE raid, the New York Daily News reported.
"I didn't know what they were doing," Martinez said. "School was getting out and everyone was scared."
He said that another illegal immigrant who was working on the block also ran when the officers stopped their vehicles.
A nervous parent alerted the school’s administrators to the vehicles, and Castle Bridge School Principal Julie Zuckerman tracked the officers down at lunch at Coogan’s, where they were eating a burger and chicken pot pie, the New York Daily News reported.
Zuckerman stormed into the restaurant and told the officers to move their vehicles.
"I told them to move their truck because it could be seen as threatening," she said. "They have to go looking for parking like everybody else. Don't play on my stoop."
Zuckerman’s school is two-thirds Hispanic, and 30 percent of the students are still learning to speak English, the New York Daily News reported. It’s located in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood.
The officers pushed back, said they were having lunch, and asked the principal if she would ask New York Police Department officers to move.
"It's outrageous, clearly, and an abuse of power," the principal said, offended the officers had taken a lunch break in the community where her school is located.
The host of Coogan’s restaurant expressed displeasure that the law enforcement officers had chosen to eat in a spot favored by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, the New York Daily News reported.
"The bastards had lunch here," Quincy Lopez said. "ICE is another word for gestapo."
Blue Lives Matter reached out to Coogan’s restaurant’s management to find out if Lopez’s attitude was reflective of the establishment’s attitude toward law enforcement, but the restaurant did not respond to the request for comment.
The New York Daily News reported that many immigrant families who were picking their children up from the Castle Bridge School were frightened by the sight of federal law enforcement vehicles.
"It's shocking," said Dionicio Rodriguez, who was picking up his 6-year-old daughter. "If you're an immigrant, you're going to be scared."
Washington Heights City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez heard about the incident and took to social media to express his outrage, according to the New York Daily News.
Rodriguez’s first tweet incorrectly identified the officers as ICE agents, and then he went after the wrong agency.
"This is totally unacceptable. They should be out. Abolish ICE," he tweeted.
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza posted angry tweets in both English and Spanish after he heard about the incident, the New York Daily News reported.
"@NYCSchools are safe havens. This had nothing to do with our school, but we understand the impact it can have on our families," Carranza wrote. "We're working with @NYCImmigrants to keep this from happening again."
The New York Daily News reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had not responded to requests for comment.