An NYPD detective who has already cost the city $260,000 in lawsuit settlements allegedly used a banned chokehold on a Queens man enjoying a summer night with friends on an upper Manhattan sidewalk, according to the man’s lawyer and video obtained by the Daily News.
Detective Fabio Nunez and Officer Shanee Pierce of the 34th Precinct approached Tomas Medina, 33, on July 14 just before midnight under the elevated train line on 206th St. near 10th Ave. in Inwood. They were initially there to investigate a routine noise complaint — until the situation escalated and Nunez put Medina in a chokehold, the video shows.
“He comes at me from behind,” Medina said of Nunez. “He just started choking me. I couldn’t breathe.”
A similar chokehold, already banned by the NYPD, attained eternal infamy when Officer Daniel Pantaleo used the tactic to subdue Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014. Garner said “I can’t breathe” 11 times before he died, fueling the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement.
Nunez’s use of a chokehold on Medina happened a few days before the NYPD finally filed disciplinary charges against Pantaleo four years after Garner’s death.
“What we have here is a very dangerous action by Nunez,” said Medina’s lawyer Gurmeet Singh of the Legal Aid Society. “He could have been suffocated. It’s a chokehold over nothing.”
Nunez, 46, an 18-year veteran, is a neighborhood coordination officer — part of Police Commissioner James O’Neill’s signature program to build ties between police and the community. But what happened that night in Inwood wasn’t part of the program.
Medina, who installs lights and sound systems in cars for a living, said he was hanging out with friends outside the Mundo car dealership listening to music. He said he had already begun packing up when Nunez and his partner showed up.
“They told me the neighbors complained about the music,” he said. “I told him I was already picking everything up to go.”
First, Nunez took the speaker to his patrol car, Medina claims. “I said, ‘Give me a chance. I’m picking everything up,’ ” he said.
There was a car blocking the driveway to the car dealership, and Nunez started asking whose car it was, according to Medina. A woman who was there with Medina said it was hers. Nunez said he was going to give her a ticket for parking illegally, Medina said.
“I said why, because the owner of the dealership says we can park there,” he said.
Medina then picked up a chair to take it back into the office of the dealership and turned away from Nunez, the video shows.
The footage, which has no audio, shows Nunez come up behind Medina, grab him on the back of the neck with his right hand, take out handcuffs with his left and shove him against a car, knocking off his hat. Medina puts his hat back on and objects to the rough treatment.
With no warning, Nunez then wraps his arm tightly around Medina’s neck for about 23 seconds, according to the video.
As Medina struggles to get away from Nunez and seemingly resists arrest, the cop forces him to the ground and zaps him with a Taser several times, leaving burn marks spread across his back, according to Medina. He said he also suffered cuts and bruises across his body.
More than 20 officers responded to the scene. Medina was charged with assault on a police officer and taken to the 34th Precinct stationhouse.
“I don’t know why he acted that way,” Medina said. “We weren’t doing anything bad.”
A police spokesman told The News that Medina “refused to provide identification to be issued a summons for a noise violation. When the officer attempted to make an arrest, the subject actively resisted. The incident is under review.”
Last Wednesday, the Civilian Complain Review Board underscored the chokehold ban, saying in a memo it would automatically recommend disciplinary charges against a cop who used it.
“The timing of this incident really shows how little progress the NYPD has made and how it has learned little since the death of Garner,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, staff attorney with Legal Aid.
“The fact that Nunez is described as (a neighborhood coordination officer), yet treats the community he’s supposed to be serving so callously and dangerously, conflicts with the message that the NYPD has been sending about its policing.”
In the criminal complaint, Nunez makes no mention of the chokehold. He also claims Medina bit him on the finger, but that cannot be seen in the video. Medina is next in court Sept. 13.
Medina will likely file a lawsuit at some point, but the city has already paid out boatloads of cash on Nunez’s behalf to other New Yorkers who sued.
Back in 2005, Nunez was sued by Wilkins Cabreja, who was standing at the corner of Arden St. and Nagle Ave. in Washington Heights when Nunez and a sergeant approached. Cabreja mouthed off to them, and Nunez and other officers allegedly grabbed him and ended up breaking his arm.
Cabreja was arrested, but the charges were dismissed. The city settled the case for $100,000.
Likewise, Steven Soto sued Nunez and other cops in 2008 for allegedly hitting him with a police baton at a McDonald’s on W. 181st St. in Manhattan. That case was settled for $38,500, plus $1,500 paid by one of the other officers.
In 2013, Luis Martinez and Prisca Martinez sued Nunez and other cops and won a $40,000 settlement. The couple, in their 60s, was home when Nunez and other officers allegedly burst in and roughly arrested the husband.
Two other settlements involving Nunez were settled for a total of $80,000.
Despite the settlements, Nunez was promoted to detective and added to the neighborhood coordination officer program in 2015.
In 2018, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney notified the Legal Aid Society via letter that Nunez likely gave contradictory testimony under oath in a 2009 arrest.
The case involved the arrest of a man on drug charges. Nunez testified that he initiated a car stop of a livery cab containing a drug suspect by seeing the cab’s robbery light turned on. The driver, however, testified he never turned on the robbery light.
The prosecutor noted the office had decided not to file criminal charges against Nunez for lying on the witness stand.
Medina said he caught a glimpse of Nunez at the stationhouse after his arrest. He was smiling.
“I’m disappointed; he’s supposed to help the community,” Medina’s cousin Lily Carrasco, 45, said. “It’s really bad what he did. He could have killed him.”