It was a routine arrest, New York Police Department Officer Jonathan Munoz said he suspected a woman of buying marijuana, and a man interfered with the arrest, taking up a "fighting stance" before throwing a punch at him (video below).
But Munoz didn't realize there were several cameras trained on the entrance of the nightclub where he made the arrest, and the footage shows the opposite situation -- Munoz illegally searched the woman, then threw a punch at 21-year-old Jason Disisto, apparently because Disisto had begun to film the arrest on a smartphone, The New York Times reported.
Now, Munoz faces up to four years in prison if he's convicted of offering a false instrument for filing, official misconduct and making a punishable false written statement in connection with the March 12, 2014 incident in Washington Heights. He was arraigned on the charges on Dec. 22.
Munoz and two other officers arrested Disisto, and the footage shows the officers taking him to a squad car. A few minutes later, the officers disposed of the smartphone -- which they thought was the only recorded account of the arrest -- by throwing it from the patrol car, The New York Times reported.
Disisto spent 24 hours in city lock-up and paid $1,500 bail after the arrest. Now he's suing the city, alleging the NYPD routinely makes retaliatory arrests against onlookers who film police during incidents. The charges against Desisto were dropped.
"Had this officer's attempts to conceal his alleged misconduct succeeded, an innocent man may still be facing charges for a fabricated crime," District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. "Illegal searches and unlawful arrests go against the years of training each NYPD officer receives, erode the public's confidence in law enforcement, and will be prosecuted by my office's Public Corruption Unit."
In a response to Disisto's lawsuit, New York City's lawyers said the police department denied the NYPD has a policy of retaliating against civilians who record officers. But Disisto's attorney pointed out that, if not for the video evidence, prosecutors and the courts would not have believed his client.
“The officers attacked him and this is borne out entirely by the video evidence from the bar,” attorney David B. Rankin told The New York Times. “But for this video, Mr. Disisto likely would have been prosecuted.”