Francisco Garcia, seen in the black t-shirt and Yankees cap, kneels on a man’s head after punching him during social distancing enforcement in the East Village COURTESY OF WITNESS DAQUAN OWENS
The NYPD officer who violently arrested a man in the East Village during a social distancing stop this weekend has a lengthy history of alleged brutality — garnering more than half a dozen misconduct lawsuits in five years, and costing city taxpayers nearly $200,000, according to the Legal Aid Society.
In a video recorded on Saturday, a plainclothes officer can be seen punching and tackling Donni Wright, a groundskeeper with NYCHA, while shouting the n-word, brandishing a taser, and subsequently kneeling on Wright’s head. The confrontation began after officers, some of whom were not wearing face coverings, spotted “a number of people not wearing masks” at the corner of Avenue D and 9th Street, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Monday.
The officer’s shield number, recorded by observers, matches that of Francisco Garcia, a housing patrol officer who’s been named in at least seven civil lawsuits since 2015.
According to a complaint filed in 2013, Garcia allegedly told a woman eating with her partner inside a Harlem restaurant that she “dressed like a man.” When the woman attempted to get his badge number, Garcia allegedly pushed her, then replied: “Take a fucking picture of it, fucking dyke.” The city settled that suit for $8,500.
A year later, Garcia was accused of wrongfully arresting a man trying to visit his girlfriend inside a Washington Heights NYCHA building. According to a federal lawsuit, which the city settled for $27,500, Garcia “forced [the man] to the floor face-first,” then punched, kicked, and clubbed him.
“It goes to show that the disciplinary process for NYPD officers is not working,” said Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with Legal Aid’s Cop Accountability Project. “It’s a culture of toxicity.”
A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to inquiries about whether Garcia ever faced discipline for past instances of misconduct. The department is not required to disclose such records, due to a state secrecy law that is among the nation’s most restrictive.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who described Saturday’s arrest as “not acceptable,” said the NYPD had taken “swift action” against the officer involved. Garcia was reportedly stripped of his badge and gun, pending an internal investigation, but has not yet been suspended.
The incident has inflamed tensions surrounding the NYPD’s approach to policing public gatherings during the COVID-19 public health crisis. This weekend, the department deployed 1,000 officers for social distancing patrols. Officers issued 89 summonses, mostly in parks, on Saturday, according to the NYPD.
While the city has yet to release data showing the demographic breakdown of those summonses, attorneys say they’ve seen firsthand evidence of disparities in enforcement.
“The NYPD is using this as a pretext to stop, question and frisk the same communities where they’ve been doing that for years now,” Wong told Gothamist. “We’re seeing that kinder, gentler side of the NYPD in Central Park and the West Village…while they’re running up black teenagers for not wearing masks, then issuing summonses for low-level crimes.”
In the East Village incident, police recovered a small amount of marijuana, a taser, and $3,000 cash from the first two people officers arrested, according to the police commissioner. Wright, who was beaten and handcuffed after he happened up on the scene of the initial arrests, remained in police custody as of Sunday night, according to his mother.
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that the charges brought against all three individuals have been deferred pending the outcome of the internal investigation.
Asked about the incident on Monday — and the stark contrast with how NYPD officers calmly approached New Yorkers in other crowded spaces this weekend — the mayor said the department’s approach to enforcing social distancing was “overwhelmingly working.”
“You can’t do effective enforcement without the NYPD,” de Blasio said. “This one incident was troubling. But there have been thousands of interactions between civilians and police officers in recent weeks that went very well.”
Police accountability activists disagree.
“The East Village incident is part of a disturbing trend,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform. “On the ground, we are hearing and seeing too many stories from Black and Brown communities about police abusing their authority and brutalizing New Yorkers during the pandemic. That’s wrong and unacceptable.”