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.

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

Reader Comments

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  1. 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 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.

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