A pair of New York City police officers are once again in hot water with the public after newly-released body camera footage shows the cops clearly planting cannabis in a car before making an arrest. The footage of illegal police malpractice — which was released this week, two years after the stop occurred — came just months after the exact same officers were caught on camera planting false cannabis evidence in a separate car.
The new video, which was obtained exclusively by The Intercept, shows Staten Island NYPD officers Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran stopping a car, telling the driver and passenger that they smelled weed, and demanding the two get out of the car so they can search it.
Immediately, the car passenger, Jason Serrano, informs the officers that he is returning from the hospital after surgery for a stab wound, and shows them his bandages and stitches. Officer Erickson can then be heard saying, “I don’t want to see that,” before forcing him out of the car and then quickly pushing him to the ground. Serrano would remain handcuffed, in visible pain, lying on the sidewalk for the rest of the incident before an ambulance had to come take him to the hospital.
Before Serrano could be treated for the damage to his wound, the cops rifled through every inch of the car, with their body cameras catching multiple muttered expletives as the officers failed to find any contraband. On a third trip into the front seats of the car, Officer Erickson’s body camera clearly shows him holding a small nug of what looks like cannabis, before he drops it in the center console, immediately picks it up, and then tells his partner that he found something. A few moments later, the same cop is seen fiddling with Serrano’s jacket — after it had already been thoroughly searched — before allegedly finding an empty plastic bag with drug residue in it.
As a result of Erickson’s false evidence accusation, Serrano sat for five days handcuffed to a hospital bed while his stab wound re-healed, and was charged with both possession of illegal drugs and resisting arrest. In an attempt to avoid jail time, Serrano took a plea deal. The video of the false arrest would not come out for another two years.
“They said I was resisting arrest, but I just didn’t want to hit the floor, the only thing I was thinking about was this,” Serrano told The Intercept, pointing to the scar on his stomach. “I still had staples in me… I couldn’t even stand up straight.”
And while Serrano’s case alone may seem like enough to keep Officers Erickson and Pastran off the street and put into jail cells of their own, the cops were actually caught planting cannabis as evidence during another traffic stop just two months before Serrano’s arrest. The victim in that instance, who was also detained for narcotics possession, has since filed a $1 million lawsuit against the NYPD. Despite clear video footage of the officers planting false evidence in at least two separate cases, both Erickson and Pastran are still on the force, patrolling the same Staten Island neighborhood.
New York legislators and citizen advocates have for years tried to tamp down the power of the NYPD, especially when it comes to minor, non-violent offenses like cannabis possession. But as the world continues to change dramatically in the face of the growing coronavirus crisis, departments across the country — including major east coast cities — have taken a hands-off approach to policing. The recent changes have been pitched as ways to protect officers, but with arrest stoppages for most misdemeanor and non-violent crimes in places like Philadelphia, the new cop directives will also protect thousands of citizens from the police. Similarly, newly detected calls of COVID-19 inside of America’s prison system have led to loud, encouraging calls for widespread prison reform in the interest of safety, including the release of all cannabis offenders.
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