A jury found an NYPD officer guilty on Thursday of falsely arresting a man for filming him and illegally searching a woman in Washington Heights in 2014, then lying about the interaction in subsequent court documents to justify the bust.
Jonathan Munoz, 33, was convicted of filing a false instrument, official misconduct, and making a false statement, after a trial in Manhattan Supreme Court.
"Police officers have one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world, and they are tasked with carrying out their sworn duty to protect with the utmost honesty and integrity," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. "These tenets are critical to maintaining public confidence in law enforcement authorities and our criminal justice system as a whole."
Munoz arrested a man named Jason Disisto early one morning outside of a Puerto Rican restaurant near West 183rd Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue, after Disisto saw Munoz reaching into a friend's pocket, and Disisto began to record with another friend's phone. As Disisto lined up his shot, Munoz grabbed him, and he and two other officers hauled Disisto off in cuffs. One of the cops threw Disisto's phone out of the car window before they drove off.
Police charged Disisto with obstructing police work, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, and in a police report, Munoz wrote that Disisto lunged and took a swing at him. Fortunately for Disisto, surveillance footage of the incident showed that this was a lie. The city settled a lawsuit by Disisto for an undisclosed amount of taxpayer money. The official misconduct charged stemmed from the baseless search of the woman, whom Munoz claimed he suspected of buying marijuana.
"We are pleased both the jury and the DA's office took this perjury so seriously," Disisto's lawyer David Rankin said in an email (making a false written statement in this context is a form of perjury). "Lying by police has to stop. Maybe this verdict will be a step in that direction."
In all, Munoz was convicted of three misdemeanor counts and four felonies. The misdemeanors each carry maximum sentences of a year in prison, and the felonies carry maximum sentences of four years each. Sentencing is set for May 9th.
Munoz has worked as a police officer since 2006. In December 2015, an NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist that Munoz had been suspended without pay in connection with the Disisto incident. Payroll records indicate that Munoz made $116,000 last year and $111,000 in 2015, on a base salary of $78,000 and $76,000, respectively. An NYPD spokesperson explained the discrepancy in an email, saying that officers can only be suspended without pay for a maximum of 30 days before they return to being salaried. The spokesperson said the department is reviewing Munoz's status now that he has been convicted.
Munoz's attorney was not immediately available for comment.
Earlier this week, the Queens District Attorney's Office indicted two NYPD detectives on similar charges for allegedly falsely arresting an innocent man after planting cocaine on him, and swearing out drug-dealing charges that landed the man in jail on Rikers Island for 52 days. The drug case dragged out for a year and seven months before the man cleared his name thanks to surveillance footage, and the city recently agreed to pay out $547,500 to settle its portion of the civil case. The lawsuit against the individual detectives, Kevin Desormeau and Sasha Neve, is ongoing.
The pair were arrested last month on charges of falsifying the reasons for a search that led to a gun arrest in Washington Heights. Both had previously been named in federal civil rights lawsuits alleging brutality, misconduct, and false arrests.
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has a Conviction Integrity Program in which it tracks civil rights cases against cops to vet witnesses and identify information that needs to be disclosed to defense attorneys. The NYPD has long been criticized by advocates, as well as city and police officials, for not doing enough to track misconduct allegations and reprimand officers with a record of abuse.
The city paid out $228.5 million in awards and settlements for police misconduct suits in 2016, nearly triple the payouts in 2005.