An NYPD officer has been arrested more than a year and a half after surveillance video captured him unlawfully arresting a man and illegally searching the man's friend in New York City, the Manhattan district attorney announced Tuesday.
Officer Jonathan Munoz, 32, of Suffern, New York, has also been accused of filing falsified documents with the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney's office to conceal his misconduct, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said.
Munoz faces four years in prison for the top charge of offering a false statement, which is a felony. The NYPD said that he has been suspended without pay.
“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 said.
Munoz's arrest stems from an altercation on March 12, 2014, that was covered in an NBC 4 New York I-Team exclusive about NYPD officers lashing out at citizens who recorded them with cellphones during police searches.
That March evening, Munoz got in an argument with Jason Disisto, who was 21 at the time, near the corner of West 183rd Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue in Washington Heights.
Disisto says he thought something was off when he saw Disisto walk up to his friend on the street and search her pockets, so he asked a bystander to borrow a cellphone. Munoz says he suspected Disisto's friend of buying marijuana.
As Disisto went to switch on the phone's video camera, Munoz jumped on him and tried to grab the phone, according to surveillance video. Officers pushed him into the back of a police car, placed him under arrest and tossed the phone out the window before driving off.
"I was shocked. I was scared, shocked. I had a whole bunch of feelings all mixed up," Disisto said.
Munoz swore after the fact in a complaint that Disisto got in a "fighting stance" before lunging and swinging at him with a closed fist. Disisto's lawyer argued that this account was inconsistent with a video taken of the incident.
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Surveillance video obtained by police showed that Disisto had not tried to fight Munoz and that Munoz had unlawfully searched Disisto's friend as she stood on the sidewalk.
Due to Munoz's misconduct, all charges against Disisto were dropped.
Disisto's attorney, David Rankin, praised the arrest of Munoz on Tuesday.
"We are delighted the New York County District Attorney's office chose to make an example out of Officer Jonathan Munoz. The routine fabrications and misstatements by members of the NYPD has to stop, hopefully next time an officer attempts to frame a citizen of our city, they will think twice."
The NYPD told the I-Team that two of the three officers involved in his case were placed on modified assignment in December 2014, and that the matter was being investigated jointly by the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Representatives for the two officers could not be reached for comment.
Rankin said his client's case is unusual because the encounter was captured on surveillance from three different angles. The footage started well before Disisto arrived and paints a clear picture of what prompted the confrontation and how it went down, Rankin says.
In April, Disisto filed a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD and the officers involved in the encounter.