Feds Investigating Drug-Planting Allegations Involving NYPD Officers
The allegations had previously been dismissed by the NYPD and the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office despite explosive video footage from two separate car stops in Staten Island in 2018.
Federal prosecutors are investigating drug-planting allegations involving one current and one former NYPD officer, say lawyers for two men who were previously arrested by those cops.
The probe by the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, first reported by THE CITY, comes more than three years after the NYPD and Staten Island prosecutors cleared the officers despite body camera footage appearing to show one of them placing marijuana in two civilians’ vehicles.
That former officer, Kyle Erickson, also had previous NYPD findings against him for drug invoice discrepancies. The other officer, Elmer Pastran, is still employed by the department.
Jason Serrano, one of the two men who accused the NYPD officers of framing him, was approached by FBI agents in September who wanted to talk to him about his arrest, according to his civil attorney Joel Wertheimer. Last week, Serrano and Wertheimer met with federal prosecutors and FBI agents at the U.S. attorney’s office in downtown Brooklyn.
“There are few more fundamental violations of civil rights than evidence-planting, and anybody who wants citizens to trust the police should prosecute these actions with the full weight of the law,” said Wertheimer.
“Instead of prosecution, Officer Pastran is still on the force and Officer Erickson was allowed to retire. I am grateful that the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York is seemingly willing to do what our local leaders will not.”
“After the city clears them, the feds pick it up,” Serrano told THE CITY in a phone call. “I feel like something is getting done. It took a little while but obviously people see the truth.”
The FBI also sought an interview with another man who had been previously arrested by Erickson and Pastran, according to that man’s attorney, who spoke to THE CITY on the condition of anonymity.
John Marzulli, spokesperson for the Department of Justice’s Eastern District office, said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence of any investigation as per DOJ policy.”
Pastran, who is currently listed on the NYPD website as a community policing officer in Staten Island’s 120th Precinct, did not respond to requests for comment.
Erickson, who left the force last year in the midst of a Civilian Complaint Review Board case against him for an alleged retaliatory arrest, did not respond to requests for comment sent to the attorneys who defended him in a previous civil suit.
The Staten Island district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to questions about its previous decision to clear the officers.
Asked about the federal probe, an NYPD spokesperson responded only by confirming Pastran is still on the force.
‘We Have to Find Something’
Erickson and Pastran’s conduct first came under scrutiny in late 2018 when a Staten Island judge abruptly halted Erickson’s testimony in a marijuana possession case against Lasou Kuyateh, and prosecutors advised Erickson that he may need to seek counsel, as The New York Times previously reported.
In that case, Erickson had sworn on the stand that he found a marijuana cigarette on the backseat floor of the car Kuyateh was in. But body camera footage contradicted his testimony.
The video footage of the beginning of the search appears to show no marijuana on the car’s rear floor. In the footage, Erickson can be heard telling Pastran, “We have to find something. You know what I mean?” Then Erickson’s camera cuts off.
Subsequently, it turns back on, and he can be seen picking up a marijuana cigarette and announcing his alleged finding, despite his partner’s previous declarations that he did not see anything.
Kuyateh spent two weeks in jail before getting out on bail. He refused a plea deal and sued the city after his charges were dropped, winning a $326,000 settlement.
Less than two weeks after Kuyateh’s arrest, Erickson and Pastran stopped and searched another car and claimed again to find marijuana, as well as cocaine. This time the man they arrested was 30-year-old Jason Serrano.
Just before he begins peering into the vehicle, Erikson mumbles to his partner, “We gotta find something,” echoing his comment from the previous search. But during this search, body camera footage first published by The Intercept shows Erickson repeatedly admitting that he does not see anything. At one point, he tells Pastran, “I see nothing. You know what I mean?”
Subsequently, the video appears to show Erickson dropping a chunk of weed into the car’s cup holder and the officer then declares that he has found “a little bit of weed.”
Wanting to avoid Rikers Island, Serrano says, he agreed to plead guilty to a resisting arrest charge which spared him the drug charge. “If I had known any of this, I would have never taken that” deal, he later told Gothamist.
At the time of his plea, Serrano was not aware of the explosive body camera footage, which prosecutors turned over to his attorneys months later.
Nor was Serrano aware of Erickson’s disciplinary file, which showed that in January of 2018, three months before his arrest, the NYPD had lightly disciplined the officer for an invoice discrepancy following a marijuana seizure. Then in April 2018, a few weeks after Serrano’s arrest, the NYPD again lightly disciplined Erickson for another invoice discrepancy in a separate drug seizure.
Despite these disclosure issues, Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon fought Serrano’s attempts to vacate his guilty plea for months. A judge tossed Serrano’s conviction last year, citing Erickson’s disciplinary history, which prosecutors never turned over to Serrano’s attorneys.