Legal Aid Society lawyers urged Staten Island’s district attorney to prosecute two New York City cops who appeared in body camera footage to plant drug evidence after a traffic stop of four Black men in February.
However, the prosecutor and police officials have denied seeing what’s obvious to many in the video, and they won’t reassess the case in light of the officers’ record of targeting Black and Hispanic drivers.
In a letter to District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, the legal advocacy group claimed that video evidence suggested that Officer Kyle Erickson planted a joint in Lasou Kuyateh’s car after he and his partner Officer Elmer Pastran originally searched but found no drugs, SILive.com reported on Friday.
NYPD body camera footage “revealed criminal acts and misconduct by NYPD officers planting false evidence, arresting an innocent person, making false sworn allegations and assisting in the prosecution of manufactured charges,” the letter stated. “We cannot condone illegal acts by police to bring false charges against members of our community.”
Erickson and Pastran pulled over the BMW that Kuyateh was driving with three other young Black men as passengers on Feb. 28. The reason given for the stop was that the vehicle turned without a signal and its windows were heavily tinted.
The New York Times obtained footage of what happened next. The men admitted to smoking marijuana earlier but insisted there was none in the car. Pastran replied, “I don’t appreciate being lied to. I know there is weed in the car. I smell it.”
Pastran and Erickson originally declared that they found nothing. However, Erickson’s camera turned off as the search continued. Shortly after, Kuyateh is heard yelling that Erickson put something in his car. Erickson said he found a joint on the car floor behind the driver’s seat, in the same area where Pastran already searched. The officer’s camera had suddenly turned back on right before discovering the marijuana cigarette.
Kuyateh, who was 19 at the time, was arrested and spent two weeks in jail before making bail. A criminal court judge dismissed the charges in October during pre-trial hearings over the gap in the police body camera video.
Police officials and the district attorney’s offices told SILive.com that they cleared the officers of wrongdoing after internal investigations. They will likely be unmoved by the Legal Aid Society’s findings that 80 percent of the drivers stopped by the two officers were either Black or Hispanic. About 54 percent of their marijuana arrests involved Black people while arresting just four white people for drugs.