'Spider-Man' arrested in Times Square scuffle

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Spider-Man punched a police officer in the face over the weekend in Times Square while resisting arrest, the police said, the latest episode of children-friendly characters displaying R-rated behaviour in front of stunned tourists in the heart of Manhattan.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse stood dumbfounded, smiles plastered on their faces, and Elmo placed a red mitt to his cheek as the officer and Spider-Man grappled on the sidewalk before falling to the ground.

The punch broke the officer's glasses, the police said, and the struggle sent his police hat flying.

Another officer helped put the ersatz superhero in handcuffs, a cellphone video posted to YouTube showed.

By Sunday, the Spider-Man had been unmasked as a 25-year-old Brooklyn man, Junior Bishop, and he was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. He was held on US$3,500 (S$4,300) bail.

His arrest on Saturday came at the intersection of two trends in Manhattan street life: the proliferation of television and film characters jockeying for attention from tourists in Times Square - along with the tips they pay for photos - and the intensifying focus of the Police Department on quality-of-life offences.

After touring Times Square this month, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton called for greater regulation of the ubiquitous characters, who have become recurring features of newspaper headlines: a different Spider-Man fighting with a woman over a photo; an Elmo with a nasty mouth; angry Cookie Monsters and Super Marios.

The characters in Times Square are permitted to collect donations but may not demand money. Tourists are free to pay nothing for the privilege of posing with an Elmo whose fur is streaked with Midtown grime.

The altercation on Saturday began at about 2pm on a tourist-clogged walkway at 42nd Street and Broadway after a man dressed as Spider-Man, in a black skintight suit and a mask, posed for a picture with another man and a woman who offered him US$1 in exchange.

Spider-Man refused to accept the bill, the police said, telling the couple that he would accept only larger sums.

At that point, officer Eduardo Molina stepped forward from his post on the corner and told the woman that she could give whatever amount of money she wanted.

"Mind your own business," the Spider-Man told the officer, using an unneighbourly word.

The officer then asked for identification; Bishop said he did not have any. The officer and a partner moved in to arrest him.

Video taken by a passer-by and posted online by The New York Post showed the culmination of the encounter: the officer and Bishop twisting and wrestling for control for about 30 seconds.

Bishop had been arrested on at least one other occasion after being accused of aggressively demanding money from tourists while dressed as a PG-13 character, the police said.

His lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment on Sunday afternoon. At least one other character was arrested last Saturday for blocking pedestrian traffic.

On Sunday, costumed characters - a Statue of Liberty, two Elmos, two Iron Men, a Hello Kitty - complained that the police regularly interfered in their work.

"The cops say, 'Don't give them anything'," said Mr Jose Escalona Martinez, 41, who dresses as Batman.

Nearby, one red Elmo could not shake off a two-year-old who kept asking for high-fives and hugs for 10 minutes after their photo.

The boy's mother, Ms Fatima Ashour, a tourist from Kuwait, said: "He adores Elmo." She gave a US$1 tip.

Five officers, including a sergeant, stood watch. One posed for a photograph with a tourist.

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