Judge throws out man’s guilty plea after bodycam footage reveals NYPD drug planting

The bodycam footage shows an officer planting drugs in the cupholder of a car

A Staten Island man is getting a much-deserved second chance after a judge vacated his 2018 conviction. 

Body camera footage shows an NYPD officer in the arrest of Jason Serrano seemingly planting marijuana in the car he was riding in March 2018, Gothamist/WNYC reported. At the time, Serrano was arrested and charged with drug possession, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration. 

Serrano eventually plead guilty to the resisting charge three months later. He did so as a way to avoid being sent to the notorious Rikers Island. He was unaware of the body camera footage. Prosecutors shared the footage with Serrano’s attorneys months after his guilty plea.

The two officers who arrested Serrano were Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran. Their disciplinary records have since become an area of contention which Gothamist/WNYC was the first to make their records known. The site was able to obtain the records through an ongoing Freedom of Information Law campaign.

The records reveal that Erickson, who is accused of planting the drugs in the cup holder of the car Serrano was a passenger in, was disciplined by the NYPD in two separate incidents in 2018. His record shows discrepancies related to drug seizures. Prosecutors however did not turn Erickson’s records over to Serrano’s defense team.

Judge Tamiko Amaker explained typically, she’d be unable to vacate Serrano’s conviction on the basis of the District Attorney’s failures to turn over evidence. But she made an exception. 

“However, this court finds that the body-worn camera footage, taken with the officers’ disciplinary files, demonstrate that the defendant may have been searched and seized in violation of his constitutional rights,” Amaker wrote. “Accordingly, the defendant’s motion to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL 440.10(1)(h) is granted.

Serrano’s legal team is pleased with the judge’s decision. “We’re thrilled that the court has finally recognized that Jason Serrano’s rights were violated when he was arrested, when evidence was planted on him, and then when he was prosecuted without disclosure of any of that information,” said Marion Elizabeth Campbell, one of Serrano’s attorneys at the Legal Aid Society.

The Staten Island District Attorney’s Office did not respond to for request for comments. They previously opposed Serrano’s request to overturn his conviction, claiming that the body camera footage was ambiguous.

In a separate incident in the same year as Serranto’s incident, Erickson was seen on body camera footage doing a similar action: appearing to plant drugs on a young Black man during car stop. The young man was jailed for two weeks as a result.

“It’s the least they could do,” Campbell continued in regards to clearing Serrano of all charges. “And what they should really do, and what might actually restore some faith in the system, is prosecute Erickson and Pastran.”

The NYPD did not respond to requests regarding the status of the two officers status on the force. Pastran is listed as being on military or extended leave. Erickson’s name is no longer in the database.

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