NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police officer caught on camera making a violent arrest during a social distancing enforcement action in May has quit rather than face an internal disciplinary trial this week.
The NYPD confirmed Wednesday that Officer Francisco Garcia had submitted resignation paperwork and that his disciplinary hearing, scheduled to begin Thursday, has been canceled.
Garcia was seen on bystander video kneeling on 33-year-old Donni Wright's backside May 2 after pulling a stun gun on him, leveling him in a crosswalk, slapping him in the face, punching him in the shoulder and dragging him to a sidewalk.
It wasn't clear from the video what Wright had done, if anything, to trigger the officer's reaction.
The head of the city's largest police union said in a statement that Garcia has been left “holding the bag” for the failings of police and city leadership.
At the time of the confrontation, police officers had recently been thrown into the job of enforcing coronavirus pandemic rules that barred gatherings and required people to either stay 6 feet apart from each other or wear masks.
The video of Wright’s arrest was one of several that spurred outrage over the city’s use of police to enforce social distancing, along with data showing people of color were subject to the vast majority of distancing-related arrests and summonses in the city.
“We warned them that sending cops out to enforce their half-baked public health policies would create a backlash,” Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said. “They didn’t listen, and now a yet another police officer’s career has been cut short by politics.”
The city later altered its approach, telling officers to stop citing people for not wearing face coverings.
Wright's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said Garcia's resignation should “set an example for police officers all over this country that if you assault an innocent victim the way he did, pictured in video, you will lose your position — you will not be a police officer.”
Wright, who was treated at a hospital after his arrest, has filed a lawsuit against the city seeing $40 million.
By quitting before the trial, Garcia ensures that he will be able to receive a portion of his pension based on eight years of service.
The New York Daily News first reported that Garcia was resigning.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said a criminal investigation into Garcia's conduct during the confrontation in the East Village is ongoing. If Garcia were to have gone through with the departmental trial and testified, that evidence could be used in any criminal proceeding.
Several other officers involved also face departmental disciplinary charges.
The confrontation with Wright began as officers were in the process of arresting a couple for allegedly failing to comply when asked to disperse. Police said one of them had a bag of marijuana.
Wright was a bystander. Video showed Garcia walking toward Wright, who was 10 to 15 feet away, shouting at him to get back.
The officer pulled his Taser and pointed it at Wright, possibly triggering it, then holstered the weapon. Wright was standing in front of the officer with what appeared to be a clenched fist at his side, when Garcia said, "What you flexing for? Don’t flex.” He then grabbed Wright, threw him to the ground and kneeled on him.
Over the years, Garcia been named as a defendant in six lawsuits that the city settled for a total of $182,500, according to court records and a Legal Aid Society database.
In one encounter, Garcia and other officers were accused of throwing a man down and then punching and kicking him. In another, Garcia was accused of throwing a woman against a metal grate and onto a sidewalk and using a homophobic slur when asked for his badge number.
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