Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

Queens DA releases final report on massage worker’s death, calling sex work ‘degrading and humiliating’

As anticipated, district attorney finds no misconduct in raid that led to Yang Song’s fatal fall.

The door to the room where Yang Song's final interaction with an NYPD officer took place. After her death, the door was secured with a cable lock and mourners left bouquets of flowers.
Scott Heins for The Appeal

Queens DA releases final report on massage worker’s death, calling sex work ‘degrading and humiliating’

As anticipated, district attorney finds no misconduct in raid that led to Yang Song’s fatal fall.


中文版本

A redacted report released Thursday by the Queens district attorney’s office on the November 2017 death of Yang Song, a 38-year-old massage worker, confirms that prosecutors found no misconduct in her death. According to the report, which recommends that the case be closed, Yang Song “either intentionally leapt [or] accidently [sic] fell” from the fourth-floor apartment where she worked providing massage services while “attempting to flee apprehension by law enforcement officers, as a result of her unlawful conduct.”

The report and accompanying compilation of surveillance footage also provide a snapshot of what an NYPD vice operation looks like, and how the top Queens prosecutor understands sex work. “The death of Ms. Song is sad and tragic,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement that accompanied the report’s release. “I have always maintained that prostitution is a degrading and humiliating industry.”

In the same statement, Brown praises his office’s participation in prostitution diversion programs, like the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court. “My office has long been at the forefront in helping those trapped in the sex industry find an escape through programs and assistance as an alternative to incarceration,” he said.

Yet Yang Song’s experience, as elaborated in the report, reveals the limitations of any approach that attempts to rescue sex workers by first arresting them. According to the report, Yang Song was nearly finished with a mandate from the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court—five counseling sessions at Restore NYC to resolve a September 2017 prostitution arrest—when the raid took place. She had one session remaining, scheduled for three days after her death.

Hai Song, Yang Song’s brother, was disappointed with the report. “The police are completely off the hook,” he told The Appeal. “As if they’re doing it [the operation] perfectly.”

The redacted report also confirms that Yang Song filed a complaint about a violent incident to the 109th Precinct in October 2016. She reported that a man presented himself as an undercover police officer and sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. A retired U.S. Marshal turned himself in that month, after the New York Police Department’s Police Impersonation Unit produced a wanted poster based on surveillance footage, the report states. He was released, however, after Yang Song selected a different man in a lineup. A subsequent DNA test found that the retired marshal “was not the source of the DNA in all samples” taken from Yang Song’s clothing. The case was closed in April 2017.

Yang Song’s family and former immigration attorney also told The Appeal last year that she had confided in them about being asked to become an NYPD informant, something else that led the family to believe she feared police. There is no mention of this in the redacted report.

The Queens Vice Enforcement Squad planned the Nov. 25 raid at Yang Song’s place of work in response to a civilian complaint on Nov. 15, according to the redacted report. The complainant alleged that “females were offering massages, but were selling intimacy” at the 40th Road location. Prostitution arrests have decreased in New York City since the police pledged to curb them in February 2017. Yet raids and sweeps in response to community complaints have continued, apparently at odds with the agency’s stated goal to build trust among vulnerable immigrants.

Though the police did not break protocol during the raid, according to Brown’s team of investigators, their activity apparently put Yang Song on high alert in the minutes leading up to her fatal fall. The report states that she brought an undercover officer into her apartment shortly before 7:30 p.m. When he exited the bathroom, she allegedly asked him “Are you a cop?” and he replied “No.” (The report cites audio collected from a one-way recording device the officer wore.) Video shows Yang Song opening the door for him to go out, and watching him walk down the stairs before closing the door.

The report also states that although she was alone when she either jumped or fell, Yang Song was aware of several police officers directly outside her bedroom door. At 7:25 p.m., a sergeant, a police officer, and two detectives entered the building, according to the report. They passed the undercover on his way downstairs and “knocked repeatedly” at Yang Song’s door, “stating in sum and substance: police, open up.” The DA’s report concluded that a detective’s “knocking on the subject apartment door while startling does not rise to the level of recklessness or neligence [sic].”

Concurrent video inside the apartment shows Yang Song pacing back and forth and staring at a live surveillance feed of the police in the hallway before moving out of the frame. Surveillance footage collected from a camera on the exterior of the building also shows what looks like a body falling through the air. A commotion ensues on the sidewalk, although the body lands outside the frame.

As part of the investigation into Yang Song’s death, the Queens DA pulled arrest data for the building in which she worked. According to the office’s records, there were 43 prior arrests made at the same address. The most recent, on Sept. 27, 2017, was of Yang Song.

This recent arrest may well have been front of mind for Yang Song in the moments before she fell, prosecutors acknowledge. The Appeal asked the district attorney’s office if it would continue to prosecute such cases, considering its conclusion that Yang Song’s death came after fleeing such an arrest.

“We cannot predict how anyone reacts to the prospect of being arrested on any charge,” Kim Livingston, a spokeswoman for the Queens County DA, said. “It is our job to enforce the law but we do so in these instances fairly and compassionately.”

Asked about the purpose of Brown’s comment about Yang Song’s “degrading and humiliating” profession, Livingston said it stood on its own. “There was no victim-blaming,” she told The Appeal.

Soon after the report and footage was released, Flushing residents and activists discussed it in a group chat created shortly after Yang Song’s death. Seeing her alone and panicked in the video was frightening, wrote Ms. H, a 52-year-old woman living in Flushing. She used to work as a phone operator for a massage business, so the video hit home.

“I’ve … heard many arrest [stories] before, the damage and PTSD for workers,” Ms. H said via a social messaging app. She questioned “why it’s a vice job” to police massage workers.

Yang Song knew she was about to be arrested again, Ms. H said. “Anyone would [be] scared at that moment. Would you?”

Additional reporting by Rong Xiaoqing.

 
Read in English
皇后區地檢署公布按摩女之死結案報告

稱性工作『低級又難堪』

 

不出預料,地區檢察長發現警方在導致宋揚墜樓身亡的突擊執法中並無過失。

Melissa Gira Grant, Emma Whitford報道

2018年6月22日

皇后區地檢署周四就2017年11月份,38歲的按摩女宋揚之死發佈了一份稍做刪減的報告,報告稱地檢署在這起事件中沒有發現有行為過失存在。根據報告,宋揚是在『試圖逃避因她的違法行為而招致被執法人員逮捕』的過程中,『要麼是自己跳樓,要麼是不小心跌落』,才從她提供按摩服務的四層樓公寓間墜樓的。報告建議就此結案。

這份報告和同時發佈的一份閉路電視剪輯影像讓人們得以窺視到紐約市警局風化執法行動的現場,探究到皇后區地區檢察長對性工作的看法。『宋小姐之死是一個悲劇,我一直認為賣淫是一種低級又難堪的行業。』皇后區地區檢察長布朗(Richard Brown)在隨報告發佈的一份書面聲明中說。在這份聲明中,布朗對地檢署在幫助遏制賣淫行業方面所做的工作提出表揚,包括設立皇后區反人口販賣法庭,『通過轉介社會服務來取代監禁的方法幫助被迫進入性行業的人逃離魔窟,地檢署一直戰鬥在最前沿。』他說。

但報告中對宋揚事件細節的描述,揭示了任何試圖通過逮捕賣淫女的方式來解救她們的做法都有很大的局限性。根據報告,宋揚已經因為賣淫於2017年9月被捕並被強制參加服務機構『重塑紐約』(Restore NYC)提供的五節輔導課,在這次突擊執法之前,她已經快要完成這些課程,只剩下一節,上課時間原定在她出事後的第三天。

宋揚的弟弟宋海對這份報告表示失望,『警方就完全沒責任了,好像他們的執法做得很完美一樣。』宋海對《The Appeal》表示。

這份報告同時也證實宋揚在2016年10月曾經因為一起暴力事件向109分局報案,稱一個自稱為便衣警察的人拔槍指著她對她進行性侵。報告說,市警總局的冒充警員調查科根據閉路電視的影像公布了疑犯的通緝令後,一名退休的美國國民兵(U.S. Marshal)當月前來自首。但宋揚在指認嫌犯時錯指了另一個人,使這名自首者被釋放。DNA檢測也顯示,這名自首者的DNA與留在宋揚衣服上的所有樣本都不吻合。這起案件在2017年4月結案。

宋揚的家人和之前為她辦理移民申請的律師去年都曾對本刊表示,宋揚曾告訴他們警局想找她做臥底,她的家人也因此相信她對警察心存恐懼。但這份報告中對此並未提及。

根據報告,警局皇后區風化組是在11月15日接到民眾投訴之後才在11月25日做出突擊執法行動的,投訴中說40路的這幢樓裡『有女性提供以按摩為名的性服務』。2017年2月,市警局承諾將贊緩逮捕賣淫女後,此類逮捕在全市範圍內有所下降,但在接到社區投訴後的突擊執法仍然在繼續,儘管這種做法顯然與警局定下的與移民社區建立互信的目標背道而馳。

儘管根據地檢署的調查警方在這件事中並未違規,但無庸置疑在宋揚墜地身亡之前的那幾分鐘裡,警方的行動令她陷入恐慌。報告說當晚7點30分之前她曾帶一名便衣警察來到她的房間,當他從廁所出來後,據稱她曾問他『你是警察嗎?』他回答說『不是』。(報告從那名便衣佩戴的單方錄音機裡得到這些信息。)錄像顯示宋揚打開門讓這名男子出去,看著他走下樓梯之後關上房門。

報告也說雖然宋揚在墜樓時是獨自在房間裡,但她很清楚有幾名警察就在她的房間門外。根據報告,7點25分,一名沙展、一名警員和兩名警探一起進入這座樓內,他們跟那名正在下樓的便衣警員在樓梯上擦肩而過,然後在宋揚的房門前『不停的敲門,並說著‘警察,開門’這樣的話』。地檢署的報告說,警探『在嫌犯門前敲門雖然讓人心驚,但並沒有達到莽撞或忽視的程度。』

與此同時宋揚房間內的閉路電視拍到她盯著顯示走廊上的警察的那台電視屏幕,並在房間裡不停走來走去,最後她從鏡頭中消失。樓外面的一台錄像機也拍到看似一個人從天墜落的鏡頭,雖然落地的畫面在鏡頭之外,但人行道上可以看到人們聚集過來。

在對宋揚之死的調查中,皇后區地檢署調出了宋揚工作的那幢樓裡的逮捕紀錄,根據官方紀錄,這幢樓裡之前曾經有過43次逮捕,最近一次發生在2017年9月27日,被捕者正是宋揚。

公訴官表示,宋揚墜樓那一刻,心裡可能是想著最近那一次被捕的情況。本刊記者問地檢署,其報告已經認定宋揚是在逃脫被捕時死亡,那麼該署是否還會繼續對賣淫女提出起訴。『我們無法預測具體的個人會對因任何原因被捕的可能性做出何種反應,我們的工作是執法,但在這種情況下,我們的執法是公平和富有同情心的。』皇后區地檢署發言人李文斯頓(Kim Livingston)說。

被問及檢察長布朗對宋揚從事的職業做出『低級和難堪』的評價是何目的時,李文斯頓說此話無須過度解讀,『沒人在指責受害人。』她對本刊表示。

報告和錄像公布後不久,法拉盛民眾和維權人士在宋揚死後專門設立的一個微信群裡對此做出了討論,52歲家住法拉盛的H小姐在群裡留言說,看到錄像裡她一個人緊張害怕的樣子讓人不寒而慄。H小姐曾經在一個按摩店接電話,這條錄像讓她感同身受。H小姐在群裡留言說:『我聽說過太多這樣被捕的遭遇,和被捕留給工人們的那種傷害和心理陰影。』她質疑為何對按摩店工人的執法是風化組的工作。H小姐說宋揚當時知道自己又要被捕了,『任何人在那種時刻都會很害怕的,你不怕嗎?』

(補充報道:榮筱箐)

榮筱箐譯