Body Camera Once Again Catches An NYPD Officer Planting Drugs In Someone's Car

from the just-here-to-ruin-lives-and-collect-a-paycheck dept

If at first you don't get punished, plant, plant again.

When a police officer in Staten Island was caught by his own body camera in the apparent act of planting marijuana in the car of a group of young men, the video evidence against him was strong enough to prompt prosecutors in the resulting case to throw out the marijuana charge in the middle of a pretrial hearing. A judge cut short his testimony, and prosecutors recommended he get a lawyer.

This incident of unlawfulness by a law enforcement officer received national coverage via the New York Times. In that case, NYPD officers Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran stopped a car for a minor traffic violation, claimed they smelled marijuana, and ensured they smelled marijuana by planting some in the man's car. Officer Erickson turned his camera off during the search, turning it back on in time for him to "discover" some marijuana in the back of the car -- in an area his partner had already declared "cleared." The man, who was unable to afford bail, spent two weeks in jail until his case was thrown out.

As for Erickson -- whose actions caught on camera were sketchy enough that prosecutors tossed the case -- he went right back to patrolling Staten Island.

[A]n internal review by the New York Police Department found that no misconduct had occurred.

If there's no deterrence, nothing gets deterred.

Now a new video — published exclusively by The Intercept — shows the same officer again seemingly planting marijuana during a different traffic stop just a few weeks after the first, raising questions about the credibility of internal review processes and highlighting the lack of transparency in cases of police misconduct. The video, which didn’t emerge for nearly two years, also underscores the limited information available not just to the public but also defendants, and validates criticism by police accountability advocates that body cameras are of no use if the evidence they capture remains inaccessible.

Here's the video:

As Alice Speri points out for The Intercept, body cameras are useless if people -- especially criminal defendants -- can't obtain copies of the evidence being used against them. In this case, the defendant pled guilty to a crime he didn't commit to avoid jail time. He didn't see the video until attorneys with the Legal Aid Society showed it to him. Even worse, the man was only the passenger in the car and was somehow held responsible for drugs planted in a vehicle that didn't belong to him and that he wasn't driving.

The video the NYPD kept hidden from the public shows officers removing Jason Serrano from the car, ignoring his warnings that he had just been stitched up after being stabbed in the stomach. The cops decided Serrano's reluctance was an invitation to throw him on the ground and reopen his wound. Once they were done brutalizing Serrano, they decided this might pose less of a problem for them if they came up with something they could bust him for.

As Serrano curls up on the sidewalk, bleeding from his wound, and as more officers and bystanders gather on the scene waiting for an ambulance, Pastran searches Serrano’s jacket. “We gotta find something,” Erickson tells him. [...] Erickson again returns to the car and continues to meticulously search it, while Pastran briefs a supervisor who has arrived on the scene. Erickson then appears to place something in the car’s drink holder, before opening the front seat’s console and a small toiletry box. Erickson then says “I smell a little weed” just as he appears to pick up and move the little bud he seemed to have dropped in the drink holder moments earlier. Erickson then searches the back of the car, and when Pastran approaches, the two exchange a charged look as Erickson tells Pastran “I see nothing. … You know what I mean?” He then returns to search the front seat area for a third time, this time dropping a larger bud in the drink holder and saying, “There’s a little bit of weed.”

That's the end result of the NYPD's internal investigation deciding two years ago that planting evidence was no big deal. The cop went back out on the street with a partner who enabled evidence-planting. Serrano didn't spend two weeks in jail but he did spend five days handcuffed to a hospital bed. He pled guilty to the resisting arrest charge, even though it was a blatantly bogus arrest.

And the unwillingness to discipline officers for more minor things -- like editing body cam footage on the fly -- ensures these officers won't be an anomaly.

A report released last month by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which relies heavily on the footage as it investigates complaints of police misconduct, noted that officers “often failed to properly use their cameras by turning on the BWC late, turning the BWC off early, or not turning the BWC on at all,” the report noted, using an acronym for body-worn cameras.

Officers don't start their careers planting evidence in vehicles to turn routine traffic stops into drug busts. They do it because years of experience have shown them cops -- and supervisors -- don't care what they do as long as it results in arrests. The narrative here confirms it. Cops did a bad thing, got away with it, and went right back to doing the wrong things. The cycle of law enforcement continues with citizens being nothing more than grist for the criminal justice mill.

Filed Under: body camera, elmer pastran, jason serrano, kyle erickson, nypd, planting drugs, police, staten island


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:13am

    Seems all court cases involving this officer should be vacated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      You mean, apart from the ones for repeated perjury and planting evidence? And the ones against the department for continuing to employ who they know to engage in criminal acts implicating innocent persons, without doing anything? In law enforcement, no less?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 19 Mar 2020 @ 12:23pm

        Re: Re:

        The officer should enjoy the same accumulated amount of time of those in prison and jail he placed there.

        Say if all those he arrested spent 2 weeks in jail, 30 people?
        Then 60 weeks, and multiply by 1.5 for punishment, 90 weeks in jail.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:37am

    Maybe the incentive system is broken

    Instead of tying incentives to something correlated to high crime rates, they should be tied to lowering the actual crime rates? That would make bogus arrests less interesting as they don't make a dent in the crime rates.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kitsune106, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:37am

    Odd

    Why do cops keep on turning off body cameras?

    They are the ones who say if you have nothing to hide....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:39am

    If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

    Consider it your social duty to gum up the system with lots of cases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      OldMugwump (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:42am

      Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

      Also, if they ask to search your car, politely decline that offer.

      If they have probable cause, they won't ask. They'll just search.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:48am

        Re: Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

        It's easier said than done. Often people don't know their rights but let's not forget that interactions with police have the implicit threat of death, more so if the person is not white.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Mar 2020 @ 6:38am

        Re: Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

        "Also, if they ask to search your car, politely decline that offer."

        When the police brutally beat people for asking them questions on a regular basis and both citizen and officer knows the cop can and will get away with simply blowing your head off for refusing said search...it probably takes a great deal of moral courage to refuse the officer in question.

        And that's assuming you were given any option to say anything at all for being a good upstanding white person.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard M (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 12:26pm

      Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

      Easier said than done for a lot of people. There are people sitting in jail for months before they finally get a trial because they do not have enough money to post bail. They lose their jobs and homes because they are in jail even though they are innocent. In more than a few cases the charges are dropped on their court day because "reasons" so now while they are innocent their life can be destroyed.

      If the choice is to go free if you agree to a plea with a fine or maybe probation or sit in jail for months and basically lose your whole life a large percentage of them are going to plead out so they can get on with their life.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jared, 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:16am

        Re: Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

        Also if they end up losing after pleading not guilty the amount of time they get is significantly more than if they accept the plea deal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 3:36pm

      Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

      yes but they can still hold you in jail while they get a judge to do his thing, and then Investigate your vehicle without you there, and NO audience(public) onlookers.
      And if a crumb is found, and tested with a Cops test, and its 99% chance its tested as WHAT THEY WANT, you get to sit in jail for 2-4weeks to see the judge, and if found guilty(because Cops are always RIGHT) you end up in jail 6 months to 20 years..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:32am

      Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

      Do you not watch shows like Law & Order? The story goes like this:

      Poor (usually black) guy is caught with some illegal drug and gets a public defender.
      The prosecutor offers him a deal: take a plea bargain and go to jail for 5 years or risk a full trial and get 20 years.
      The defendant says he can't do 20 years in jail so he takes the plea bargain.
      The public defender has 200 other case so he takes the plea bargain also and doesn't bother gathering evidence like body cams.

      So no wonder the cops continue to get away with altering the body cams- it's not like many defense lawyers even see it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Mar 2020 @ 6:44am

      Re: If you're innocent, don't plead guilty.

      "Consider it your social duty to gum up the system with lots of cases."

      Here's a question for you; You get hauled into a station. You are given the option - plead guilty of possession with intent to sell and get a plea giving you six months. You'll be out on bail and able to fix your life for the extended vacation. No matter you'll be left without your right to vote forever and a convict record on your name.

      Or you can plead innocent, because you are. You will NOT make bail and the DA will make your court case living hell. A court case where instead of the six months from the plea you face the risk of ten years without parole.

      Even if you win the case your job is gone and your bills have kept right on mounting up for the months it took for your trial. In addition you get saddled with the jail costs. Odds are good you're bankrupt and homeless.

      THAT is a likely option. Pleading innocent - especially if you actually are - will cost you far more than taking the plea bargain.

      That is all assuming you are a white man. As a black man your options are even bleaker.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 12:26pm

    In this case, the exoneration of the police by the police, in the face of clear proof of criminal activity, just adds to the mountain of evidence that there is a clear and widespread (some might say universal) “pattern and practice” of criminal behavior by police, and cover-up of same. However, most courts still accept the word of a cop as unimpeachable truth. Which is to say that the courts are complicit in the perpetuation of this problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 12:49pm

    questions??

    how about the cop having MJ to carry with him??
    How about cops with Sinus problems??
    How about a 1 hit, that isnt even illegal in most states??
    Drug tests on Cops??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CyberKender, 19 Mar 2020 @ 1:15pm

    Hence the classic plainative...

    Who watches the watchmen?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 3:41pm

    If only...

    Now a new video — published exclusively by The Intercept — shows the same officer again seemingly planting marijuana during a different traffic stop just a few weeks after the first, raising questions about the credibility of internal review processes and highlighting the lack of transparency in cases of police misconduct.

    No, if anything it answers those questions by confirming what should be blindingly obvious to anyone who spends more than five seconds thinking about it: Tasking the police to hold their own accountable is a recipe for thugs with badges to continue to carry on as normal, because they have zero incentive to change, and even less reason to actually punish their own.

    If someone suggested that investigations into criminal activities by those without a badge should be carried out by the very people being investigated they'd be laughed out of the room and rightly mocked, yet throw a badge into the mix and suddenly internal investigations and punishments(or lack thereof) decided by the accused is seen as perfectly normal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 4:53pm

    Horrible to unlawful acts, who is protecting us from cops like this! Erickson needs to be the one charged and doing time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 6:20pm

    how much longer are we the people going to take the word of unbiased officers
    how many more lifes are going to be destroyed by this corruption
    corona might solve these problems for us
    in the mean time
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-n8YW1rrxI

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:21pm

    ok, since it works that way with everything else (according to cops), lets increase punishments.

    Planting evidence is now a capital crime. It is, after all, possession of a controlled substance, contempt of the courts, perjury, false arrest, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon (in most states, committing a crime while having a weapon on you counts, and you know the cops will at least 'indicate' to the gun)
    Assisting or covering up planting of evidence is 'accessory after the fact', and is also a capital offense (as with other cases, like armed robbery)
    Refusing to investigate/prosecute when a prima facie case is demonstrated (as here) - Life with no possibility of parole.

    And any and all pay/bonuses received since the date of the offense in all 3 cases are proceeds from crime and will undergo civil asset forfeiture.

    Or they can continue as they are for the next few years, until the next 'ferguson moment', when I'm pretty sure people are just not going to take it any more, and will just descend on the cops house in question, and string him up by the nearest tree.
    ...and to be honest, they'll be morally right in doing so. When the law enforcement has no respect for the law, then the public can have no respect for the law, or those that enforce it; the only way to fix that to to bring the enforcement in line with the law, and if they won't do it themselves, then it'll have to be imposed from outside, via the citizenry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 11:21pm

    I don't understand the issue here. A man, as a passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop, refused to comply with the lawful order of a police officer. Subsequently, marijuana, was found in that man's property and also in the vehicle. Are we upset that these officers weren't promoted?! I think we're onto something here. We should thank these officers for enforcing the law, or wait we could just you know say enforce some laws, that'll be "less corrupt". That way we can just break those silly laws, and keep the good ones right?

    So is it okay to break into your home or my home? Which pedophiles should be allowed to teach children?

    I don't think anyone should break into anyone's home. I don't think a pedophile should be near my children let alone in a position of authority over my child.

    I also don't have any faith in the well edited show above.

    If you don't like the laws, get engaged and change them.
    This video is evidence that Jason Serrano committed a crime, and that the two officers, on a personal level, are tools. It does not show them to be 'dirty cops'.

    Be mindful of your prejudices and predetermined conclusions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 3:26am

      Re:

      Marked funny because you're either making a joke(and it's so very hard to tell these days), or you are one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daydream, 20 Mar 2020 @ 5:16am

      Actually, it's not illegal to refuse to give consent to be searched by a police officer, so no 'lawful order' was disobeyed. The police committed an assault by pushing Jason Serrano to the ground and handcuffing him without cause.
      Furthermore, looking at the video, the officer's hand is clearly seen placing down marijuana flakes in the car's cupholder, when it was shown in previous shots to be clean of any drugs (along with the rest of the car).

      So...in response to your rhetorical questions:
      I don't think these officers should be promoted, I think they should be prosecuted for framing innocent people for drug possession.
      We totally should break silly laws; that's called civil disobedience, and has always been a key tool used by civil rights campaigners.
      No, it's not okay to break into anyone's home; not even police can do so legally, unless they have a search warrant or other warrant permitting an otherwise illegal activity.
      No comment on people with pedophilia, since (ironically) nobody can seem to have a mature discussion about it.

      People don't like the laws, or the behavior of police officers, and they do get engaged to try and get the law changed (or upheld); they protest, they demonstrate, they petition, and so forth.
      There's the Black Lives Matter movement, the Ferguson protests (which also included rioting), the St. Louis protests...but in most of these cases, the response of the police isn't to help these protesters and make their message heard, but to arrest and brutalise them so as to intimidate them into silence.

      In summary, Jason Serrano was in the right, the police were wilfully in the wrong, and peaceful protests to demand that the good laws are upheld and the bad ones are changed are retaliated against.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 6:18am

      Re:

      I don't understand the issue here. A man, as a passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop, refused to comply with the lawful order of a police officer.

      "May I search your vehicle" is a question, not an order. If you can't grasp basic English, why should we take anything beyond that seriously?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 20 Mar 2020 @ 1:30am

    I think in light of this video, the fairest thing to do would be to subject police in the field to random searches.
    A check of pockets and holsters, the car's compartments and under seats shouldn't take more than five to ten minutes per search, and do wonders to assure the public that they will not be framed for drug possession.

    ...I mean, unless the searches actually catch cops with marijuana flakes in their pockets, but what are the chances of that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    restless94110 (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 5:06am

    Legalize

    This story is just another great reason to legalize all drugs now. No more police corruption! There. Done!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:10am

      Re: Legalize

      Oh they'd find some other form of corruption to run with, but that would at least take away one of the ways they can screw over the public.

      To get rid of police corruption entirely you'd have to get rid of the police, either permanently or by scrapping the entire current system and starting over from scratch with rules and people actually willing and able to enforce them to weed out the inevitable creep of corruption before it can take root and flourish like it currently does.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TruthHurts (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:50am

    Uhm... Shouldn't the officer be arrested for...

    Possession (officer had to possess the drugs in order to plant them)
    with intent to traffic/distribute (planting is indeed distributing)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 3:04pm

      Re: Uhm... Shouldn't the officer be arrested for...

      Should, absolutely, but good luck finding someone to arrest them and a prosecutor willing to charge them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Mar 2020 @ 8:18am

      Re: Uhm... Shouldn't the officer be arrested for...

      "Shouldn't the officer be arrested for..."

      Yes indeed, but here's how it works in the US.

      The prosecutor - usually the District attorney - raises the prosecution.

      The DA is usually entirely dependent on the goodwill of the police force to further his career, not to mention possible political aspirations. One of the guaranteed career-killers is being perceived as "soft on crime".

      Therefore the DA is heavily motivated NOT to prosecute police forces unless it becomes extremely clear that NOT doing so will harm him/her further than raising a case would be.
      Prosecutors have, in many jurisdictions, full prosecutorial discretion so it's really up to them what cases they choose to pursue or not.

      What this means is that even if a police officer commits a crime on camera it's not certain the officer will ever be charged with that crime. On top of this a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) has a lot of inherent leeway in their use of force. They're expected to bear and use arms as part of the state violence monopoly, after all. It's easier for a LEO to get away with outright murder than most other felonies. The defense "I feared for my life" means an officer can gun down children and claim the bad light meant he saw a druggie with a knife.

      The LEO is almost immune to most normal criminal charges, with many layers of defense. And you can't even sue him/her because they possess Qualified Immunity almost no matter what they do, which prevents any form of civil litigation from applying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RonGriffith (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:32am

    REVIEW

    There are people sitting in jail for months before they finally get a trial because they do not have enough money to post bail. https://www.mcdvoice.reviews/ They lose their jobs and homes because they are in jail even though they are innocent. In more than a few cases the charges are dropped on their court day because "reasons" so now while they are innocent their life can be destroyed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WorBlux (profile), 21 Mar 2020 @ 7:57am

    Destruction of evidence.

    Whenever evidence is destroyed the presumption is that it's detrimental to the case of the destroyer. Why aren't judges taking missing footage as a giant red flag? And this is on top of a mountain of prosecutorial misconduct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.