When a police officer in Staten Island was caught by his own body camera in the apparent act of planting marijuana in the car of a group of young men, the video evidence against him was strong enough to prompt prosecutors in the resulting case to throw out the marijuana charge in the middle of a pretrial hearing. A judge cut short his testimony, and prosecutors recommended he get a lawyer. But an internal review by the New York Police Department found that no misconduct had occurred.
Now a new video — published exclusively by The Intercept — shows the same officer again seemingly planting marijuana during a different traffic stop just a few weeks after the first. On both occasions, two officers — Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran, of the 120th Precinct — stopped cars for minor traffic infractions, then claimed the vehicles smelled like marijuana. In both instances, body camera footage shows the officers extensively searching the cars for several minutes and finding nothing. In the first incident, in February 2018, Erickson’s body camera is then suddenly switched off and then back on just as he discovers a marijuana cigarette that did not appear to be there when his partner was first searching the car.
The new video raises questions about the credibility of internal review processes and highlights the lack of transparency in cases of police misconduct. The video, which didn’t emerge for nearly two years, also underscores the limited information available not just to the public but also defendants, and validates criticism by police accountability advocates that body cameras are of no use if the evidence they capture remains inaccessible.