Restaurant owners call NYPD after a fight in the location and end up ...

On Saturday, November 21st 2015, NYPD officers of the 72nd Precinct in Sunset Park Brooklyn assaulted and falsely arrested business owners who called them for help, all caught on surveillance camera. An hour later, same officers returned to the scene, but this time to erase video from the surveillance camera equipment. Eventually, data recovery was used to retrieve video that the officers erased.

Posted by El Grito De Sunset Park on Tuesday, November 24, 2015



Internal police investigators are looking into the arrest of a Sunset Park teen seen on video being roughed up by cops inside the Ecuadorian restaurant his parents own. The owners of El Tesoro Ecuatoriano on Fifth Avenue called 911 when a fight broke out inside on Saturday night during a screening of the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez boxing match. Officers responded at about 9:55 p.m. and cuffed two men allegedly involved in the brawl that smashed up a TV and lamp, according to co-owner Olga Cuzco.

In the process of apprehending one man, surveillance video appears to show one officer kicking a suspect repeatedly as he is prone on the ground in front of the restaurant (the suspect is out of the frame, but the officer can be seen rearing his leg back repeatedly). Around the fifth kick, the video shows the owners' son, Kevin Cuzco, 18, come outside and lean over the officer. Cuzco told the Daily News he was telling the cop that the kicking was unnecessary.

Then a plainclothes officer in a grey hoodie turns his attention to Cuzco. The two exchange words and puff their chests, and the cop shoves Cuzco, beginning a scuffle that continues as Cuzco backs into the restaurant and a bystander tries to separate him from the five officers in pursuit. In the back of the restaurant, video shows two officers tackle Cuzco to the ground, knocking over a third. Cuzco lands head first.

As the plainclothes cops pile on Cuzco, a cook identified by the NYPD as Elmer Ajic rushes out of the kitchen and kicks one in the backside, and he too is forcefully subdued. Cuzco required five staples to close his head wound, according to the News, and he told the tabloid police overreacted to his criticism.

"I felt like, he shouldn't have put hands on me, I didn't put my hands on him," Cuzco said of the cop who pushed him, adding, "I have the right to speak out. I have the right to talk."

Later, Olga Cuzco told ABC7 , "One of the cops said that, 'Next time, don't call the police. Just close the doors and kill yourselves inside, but don't call the police.'"

Police charged Cuzco and Ajic with obstructing an arrest, and prosecutors granted both conditional dismissals, meaning their records will be cleared if they stay out of trouble for six months. The police account of their actions is contradicted in large part by the video. Officer Skerdila Rrakulli told prosecutors that Cuzco and Ajic together grabbed Rrakulli's arms and body in an effort to keep him from arresting Angel Perez, one of the fight suspects. It's not clear from the video what level of contact Cuzco made with the officers arresting the fight suspect, but Ajic is clearly inside the restaurant at this point.

Lying in a criminal complaint, as it says at the bottom of each complaint form, is considered perjury, a misdemeanor punishable by a year imprisonment.

Perez is being charged with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The other fight suspect, Antonio Martinez, was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Both were released without bail on Sunday.

Neighborhood activist Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, retrieved the surveillance footage and a bystander's cellphone video on Monday to publicize the incident. He says police returned for three hours on Saturday night, and that the footage he obtained shows them attempting to tamper with the restaurant's surveillance system.

Flores said he recognizes Officer Elvis Merizalde as the officer with a ballcap and facial hair who arrested Cuzco, and who upon returning climbs up on a chair to inspect something above the bar.

Merizalde drew criticism last year for going on vacation during an armed robbery trial where he was expected to testify.

Merizalde has also been the subject of five federal civil rights lawsuits over the past four years. One, still open, accuses him and several other cops of attacking a teen for filming them, stealing his camera, and falsely arresting him on charges of attacking an officer. Another suit accused Merizalde and a partner of breaking a marijuana suspect's jaw and knocking out his teeth after a brief chase, then lying about the circumstances of the arrest. The charges in that case were dismissed and the lawsuit settled for $85,000, court records show.

The troubled cop is also being sued for allegedly beating and falsely arresting Ronel Lemos Florian, husband of Sandra Amezquita, whom another officer tackled while she was five weeks pregnant. Both Florian and Amezquita had objected to their son being arrested on a knife charge, and both later had their charges dismissed, according to their lawsuit. The city settled two other suits against Merizalde for undisclosed amounts.

Flores's group's repeated documentation of excessive force and lying by Sunset Park cops is part of what spurred NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to pledge last fall to root out "the brutal, the corrupt, the racist, the incompetent." Bratton showed some of El Grito's footage to a group of top cops when he made the vow.

Following the latest incident, Flores said he's frustrated that so far the most punishment cops from Sunset Park's 72nd Precinct have faced has been the loss of vacation days, and in the case of a cop who falsely arrested a fruit vendor and kicked him while he was restrained on the ground, a 30-day suspension.

"[Bratton] didn't weed them out, they're still here," Flores said, calling the precinct, "a dumping ground for bad cops."

He added, "They continue to behave this way, because they understand that this is a slap on the wrist. That's why these cops are doing what they do, because cops are not accountable."