Back in June, the New York Times reported that over the past three years black people were arrested in New York City for low level cannabis crimes 8x more often than white, non-Hispanic people by the NYPD. When they broke it down further and focused just on Manhattan, blacks were 15x more likely than whites to be arrested for weed.
In the first six months of 2018 alone, over 6,000 people were arrested for low level possession of weed in New York – most of them black or Hispanic.
This led to an announcement by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill regarding a shift in marijuana enforcement policy in an effort to “reduce unnecessary arrests.”
This racial disparity in cannabis related arrests is not unique to New York, but those numbers cited above are much higher than the national average.
Combine this with the fact that the state’s governor race this year focused heavily on marijuana legalization, with tens of thousands of corporate cannabis donation dollars pouring into the contest, and from the outside it certainly appears that the Empire State is on the right track to real cannabis reform.
But, old habits die hard it seems and the NYPD has been slow to get behind the state’s decriminalization movement.
That fact couldn’t be more evident than in the case of 19-year-old Staten Island resident Lasou Kuyateh who was pulled over on February 28th of this year by two veteran NYPD officers who testified that his windows were tinted too dark and that he had failed to signal properly when making a turn.
The officers discovered three other young black males in the car with Kuyateh, and ordered all four to exit the vehicle, claiming that they could smell weed.
One of the four detainees admitted that he had smoked some weed earlier in the day but insisted that he had none on him or in the car.
Officer Elmer Pastran recognized some of the detainees from prior encounters and struck up a conversation with them, squeezing the half-baked confession out of the one semi-stoned suspect.
He gave them the old line that he “doesn’t like being lied to” and that he could smell weed in the car.
The young men remained adamant about their innocence.
Pastran’s partner from the 120th Precinct, Officer Kyle Erickson, commenced a search of the vehicle. He took the front seat while Pastran searched the back.
This highlighted area from bodycam footage is where Officer Erickson would later testify under oath that he found a lit blunt “in plain sight” just minutes later
NYPD officers are required to wear, and utilize, body cameras, and the footage from Pastran’s camera clearly shows that he finds nothing in the back seat area of Kuyateh’s BMW sedan. He’s even heard on the recording expressing his frustration verbally, stating the backseat is “clean”.
Erickson’s camera, on the other hand, conveniently “malfunctioned” for more than four minutes during the search, leaving the only evidence of his actions being recorded by the peripheral of his partner’s camera, and by Kuyateh’s cell phone footage as he kept a close eye on the officers’ search.
Erickson is seen in Pastran’s footage re-searching the back seat and also finding nothing.
At this point, Kuyateh can tell that the officers are frustrated and he sees Officer Erickson produce the roach of a smoked blunt from out of nowhere and then “discover” it behind the driver’s seat on the rear floorboard.
Miraculously, Erickson reactivated his body camera just seconds before “finding” the blunt.
Kuyateh immediately accuses the officer of planting the evidence and is arrested for obstructing justice. Officer Erickson calls Pastran over and shows him the roach, claiming it was lit and that he had to put it out.
He is heard on camera urging his hesitant partner to arrest all four occupants, but Pastran refuses.
Erickson’s report would later claim that the blunt was found “in plain sight”, even though both officers searched the area unsuccessfully, and Pastran’s body camera footage shows no such evidence.
What Officer Erickson apparently didn’t realize is that somebody smarter than him already thought of the ol’ broken camera trick and his body camera had a feature built in that somehow allowed it to record 30 seconds of footage before Erickson reactivated it.
In that 30 seconds of footage, there is no audio, signifying that Erickson thought it was still off, and clearly shows him planting the evidence in the car and then “discovering” it a moment later.
Watch the footage obtained by the Times for yourself – what do you see?
Kuyateh was thrown in jail for two weeks until he could make bail.
He went to court ten times over the case and even rejected a plea bargain that involved no further time behind bars. He knew he was innocent and he intended to not only prove it, but to expose the crooked cops in the NYPD.
So at the pre-trial hearing, when Officer Erickson took the stand and reiterated (under oath) that he had found the blunt still lit and “in plain sight”, the judge in the case (who had seen the body camera footage) abruptly interrupted the trial and called the lawyers from both parties into an off the record sidebar. There the judge advised the lawyer for the NYPD that Erickson should hire a personal lawyer immediately.
Kuyateh’s case was dropped right then and there. They literally didn’t even finish questioning Erickson.
Kuyateh’s lawyer protested, saying that the public deserves to know the truth, but the judge closed and sealed the case.
So that’s why we are telling his story, hoping to spread the shame that the NYPD deserves. The officers tried to link Kuyateh to a local gang, and pointed to an assault on his record as a minor as some sort of proof that he deserved the discrimination that he faced that day.
Maybe he is a gangbanger, who knows? But we do know he had two jobs at the time of his arrest and had just purchased the used car with his own hard earned money. He and his friends were out cruising around that day and got accused of three things by the cops – dark windows, an improper turn signal, and some phantom weed. . . none of these things pose a threat to society yet two experienced officers decided to use these young men as pawns in some sick game of careerism.
Internal investigators at the NYPD supposedly reviewed the bodycam videos and, shocking nobody, found no evidence of misconduct. And so, Officers Kyle Erickson and Elmer Pastran are still listed as active duty police officers at the NYPD’s 120th Precinct.
The war goes on. . .