A New York City police officer who responded to a call reporting a distraught teenager repeatedly punched the boyfriend of the boy’s mother, according to a Manhattan prosecutor, who on Wednesday asked a judge that the officer be held for 60 days.
The officer, Christian Zapata, pleaded not guilty to assault in the third degree after he was indicted on the misdemeanor charge by a grand jury in the Dec. 7 encounter. He was released on his own recognizance. His lawyer, Andrew Quinn, declined to comment after the arraignment.
The Daily News reported on the indictment on Tuesday.
Officer Zapata had recently been promoted to sergeant when he and other officers were called to a Harlem apartment, where Leah Turner, the mother of a 15-year-old with autism, called 911 because she was having trouble calming her son.
When they came inside, Ms. Turner’s boyfriend, Jerome Collins, asked the officers to put on a mask, according to court documents and video footage captured by the officers’ body worn cameras.
They refused, crowding inside the small apartment. Only an Emergency Medical Services worker wore a mask.
“If you’re not wearing a mask, please step back,” Mr. Collins told the officers. “I’m asking you all as gentlemen to please put on masks.”
He called 911 and asked for a supervisor to come and order the men to wear masks. He then handed a bag of masks to the officers, who refused to take one and told Mr. Collins not to come closer, the footage shows.
They told him to back up and he refused, saying he wanted to check on the 15-year-old, who was in another room.
Mr. Collins grew angrier, demanding to speak to the sergeant. Then Sergeant Zapata stepped forward and told him he was “interfering with the process.”
“You’re going to end up under arrest,” Sergeant Zapata said.
As Mr. Collins backed up, filming with his cellphone, an officer put his hand on his torso, appearing to push him. Mr. Collins swatted the officer’s hand away.
“Stop touching me,” he said, putting his hands over his head.
That is when Sergeant Zapata grabbed him and began punching as he and another officer held down Mr. Collins’s hands, a scene captured by the body cameras. Sergeant Zapata kept on striking Mr. Collins until an officer stepped between the men.
Mr. Collins was placed in handcuffs and taken out into the hallway. Mr. Collins’s 8-year-old son began weeping.
“Daddy is all right,” Mr. Collins told the boy.
“Are you going to come back?” the boy asked.
“Yes, what did Daddy tell you? He always comes back,” Mr. Collins replied before officers dragged him away.
Officer Zapata told the 8-year-old, who was still crying, “I’m sorry, young man. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Mr. Collins, who works as a home health aide for a relative according to his lawyer, Neil Wollerstein, spent 24 hours in detention and was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. Both charges were dismissed. He was treated for his injuries and did not need to be hospitalized.
He is now suing the police in state court.
In March, Sergeant Zapata sent a letter to then Commissioner Keechant Sewell, saying he had “responded accordingly” to a defendant he believed wanted to harm one of his officers. Losing his rank would be a “tragedy,” he wrote.
“I want to continue representing this department with honor, and I want to one day be sitting in your position as a police commissioner,” he wrote.
He was demoted last month, according to police records.