SILIVE.COM: Lawyers want 2 cops prosecuted, cases reviewed after controversial drug arrest

Body camera footage allegedly shows the discovery of marijuana in the defendant's car.

SILIVE.COM: Lawyers Want 2 Cops Prosecuted, Cases Reviewed After Controversial Drug Arrest

December 14th, 2018

By Mira Wassef

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The Legal Aid Society is imploring the district attorney’s office to prosecute two Staten Island cops for allegedly “planting false evidence” following a car stop involving four young black men earlier this year, as well as to review all prior convictions stemming from the officers' arrests.

In a letter to District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, the lawyers claim Police Officer Kyle Erickson of the 120th Precinct planted marijuana in the back seat of Lasou Kuyateh’s vehicle after he and his partner, Officer Elmer Pastran, searched the same area and already declared it clean.

NYPD body camera footage, the letter alleges, “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 video footage, obtained by the New York Times, shows Pastran say “back seat looks pretty clear.”

While rifling through the BMW, Erickson’s body camera was shut off for more than four minutes after he is heard saying in the video, “We have to find something, you know what I mean?” Erickson’s camera came back on just in time to capture him finding the joint, which he claims was burning in the back seat.

However, Pastran’s camera recorded Erickson “place a small object into an area in the back of the car,” which the footage previously shows was all clear, Legal Aid alleges in its letter. This is indiscernible in the Times video.

The Times footage shows the officer searching the car place what appears to be a small, green plastic bag in the console. It was not clear from the video where it came from or what was in it.

"He’s putting something in my car,” Kuyateh is heard repeatedly screaming in the video.

Kuyateh was arrested and charged with criminal possession of marijuana after the Feb. 28 incident. The charges were dismissed in October during pre-trial hearings after the body-camera videos were played in court.

Both officers testified about the stop and search. Erickson told the court he had found a lit joint in the back of the vehicle, but the video refuted his statements, said the Legal Aid letter.

“I expect officers be held responsible for this criminal action. I think Staten Island is entitled to that," said Chris Pisciotta, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society on Staten Island.

"We cannot condone illegal acts by police to bring false charges against members of our community,” he said in the letter.

The NYPD and McMahon’s office told the Advance they had already cleared the officers after separate probes.

“There was no evidence that the officers conducted anything but a lawful stop, performed a consensual search, and had probable cause to arrest the defendant,” said Det. Sophia Mason of the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Public Information office.

“Allegations against responding officers were determined to be unfounded,” said a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

But Pisciotta wants McMahon and the NYPD to reassess the case.

“I am disheartened by the initial action by the NYPD,” he told the Advance. “These are their videos. I don’t understand how they can’t go forward with an investigation.”

THE INCIDENT

The officers claim they smelled marijuana after pulling over the vehicle for tinted windows and failing to signal before turning. Some of the young men in the car admitted they had just finished smoking, but that there was nothing in the car, according to the Times report.

“I don’t appreciate being lied to,” Pastran said in the video. “I know there is weed in the car. I smell it.”

The officers then search the car for nearly four minutes without finding anything.

“Nothing. Clean. F---." Pastran said.

Kuyateh used his cellphone to record the officers searching his car and filmed Erickson holding small, plastic bags before he begins screaming, said the Times’ story.

“Yo, you were just putting something in my car,” he yells.

Kuyateh is then handcuffed after his outburst.

At the same time, Erickson was still in the vehicle and his body camera had been off for about four minutes, according to the Times. He then discovers the joint.

“It’s a marijuana cigarette, it’s lit,” Erickson is heard saying in the video.

Later, the officers discuss who they should arrest before deciding to take Kuyateh into custody.

RACIAL PROFILING ACCUSATIONS

In the letter to McMahon, the Legal Aid Society argues Erickson and Pastran target minorities after analyzing their arrest histories.

They claim that about 80 percent of their car stops and arrests are of either black or Latino people, and 54 percent of their marijuana arrests involve black people, said the letter.

The note claims the cops arrested only four white people for drugs.

The alleged pattern of racial profiling raised doubt about the cops' previous cases, and those convictions should be reviewed, said the note.

“Staten Island requires accountability and justice now,” Pisciotta said in the letter.