Gothamist: Video: NYPD Detective Allegedly Puts Man In Chokehold After Noise Complaint

2018_08_chokehold.jpg

An NYPD detective who has been sued multiple times for using excessive force allegedly placed an Inwood man in a chokehold and then shot him with a Taser gun last month while responding to a noise complaint.

According to a criminal complaint, 33-year-old Tomas Medina was outside a car dealership at 438 West 206th Street around midnight on July 14th when Detective Fabio Nunez and Officer Shanee Pierce responded to a complaint of loud music.

“They told me the neighbors complained about the music,” Medina told the Daily News, which first reported the story. “I told him I was already picking everything up to go.”

At around the 11:39 mark in the video below, which was provided by Medina's attorneys at the Legal Aid Society, Detective Nunez approaches Medina from behind, grabs him by the neck, and pushes him into the side of a car.

As Medina appears to resist and protest his treatment, Detective Nunez appears to put Medina in a chokehold, which are explicitly prohibited by the NYPD patrol guide.

Later, the detective seems to draw his Taser gun, and shoot Medina, shocking him. The two exit the frame as bystanders gather and record the encounter, and uniformed NYPD officers swarm the scene.

“He just started choking me. I couldn’t breathe," Medina told the News.

Medina was charged with felony assault of an officer and resisting arrest. The criminal complaint against him alleges that Detective Nunez was "attempting to place [Medina] under arrest for disorderly conduct relating to playing music at an excessive volume," and that Medina bit the Detective's finger and hit Officer Pierce in the eye.

Court documents show that the City has paid out more than $250,000 in five separate settlements since 2005 related to Detective Nunez's conduct; one case involved hitting a man with a baton, another involved a broken arm, another involved a home invasion.

The Manhattan DA's office, which is prosecuting the case against Medina, sent a letter to Legal Aid attorneys this year stating that Detective Nunez may have lied under oath in 2009. That case involved Detective Nunez pulling over a livery cab and chasing and arresting its passenger for drug possession. According to the letter, Detective Nunez claimed that he had never spoken to the cab driver before the arrest occurred, and that he pulled the car over because it had its robbery light on. But the driver would testify that he never engaged his robbery light, and that Nunez pulled up to him earlier that evening to ask questions about his fare. The DA's office declined to charge Nunez for lying.

Detective Nunez, who has been a police officer for 18 years, is currently listed as a "neighborhood coordination officer" for the 34th Precinct.

Medina's arrest occurred one day after the NYPD decided to move forward with departmental charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was involved in the fatal choking of Staten Island man Eric Garner in 2014.

Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney with Legal Aid's Criminal Special Litigation Unit, and one of Medina's attorneys, told Gothamist that there have been at least 48 chokehold allegations against the NYPD in federal court since Garner's death, costing the City more than a half a million dollars in settlements.

"Even though it rose to everyone's attention in 2014 as a prohibited use of force, it still hasn't stopped being used by officers, and it has been named in multiple allegations in lawsuits since," Conti-Cook said.

She added that the fact that Detective Nunez is supposed to be part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's community policing initiative "substantiates what we've been hearing from traditionally targeted communities about neighborhood policing."

"It isn't all basketball games and block parties. Many of the patterns of abusive policing still persist."

Both officers in Medina's case appear to be wearing body cameras, according to the video footage, but Conti-Cook said the Manhattan DA's office said that the footage does not exist. The NYPD's shielding of disciplinary records means that the public does not know if Detective Nunez has been brought up on internal charges before (a search of a BuzzFeed News database of leaked records did not yield any results).

A spokesperson for Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. declined to comment because the case is still pending.

After Garner's death, a 2015 report by the New York City Department of Investigation and the NYPD's Inspector General's Office found that the NYPD's disciplinary process related to chokeholds yielded "inconsistent results," and recommended that the department work more closely with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and that officers undergo de-escalation retraining.

The NYPD responded to that report with a letter stating that eventually all 35,000 uniformed officers would receive the three-day training every year. Just last week, the CCRB released a memo flatly stating that if a chokehold is substantiated in a case, they would recommend disciplinary action.

An NYPD spokesperson did not respond to questions about Detective Nunez's disciplinary record or the lack of body camera footage, and sent us this statement instead:

  • Police officers responded to the Washington Heights location over a loud noise complaint. The suspect physically resisted arrest for a prolonged period of time. One officer was bitten by the suspect. Despite officers continued attempts to deescalate the situation, the suspect continued to resist arrest. The suspect was uninjured, and was eventually placed under arrest and taken into custody. The incident is under review.

Medina's next court date is September 13.