Prosecutors have dropped the charges against a Sunset Park fruit vendor who was arrested for assault and resisting arrest last fall after a cellphone video contradicted the police account, and proved that the officer who accused him couldn’t have witnessed the crimes he supposedly committed.
Police arrested Jonathan Daza on Sept. 14 following a dustup over his failure to move his fruit-stand once a street fair permit expired.
But a bystander’s cellphone video shows officer Vincent Ciardiello kicking Daza in the back while Daza was on the ground and restrained by other officers. The video got the officer into hot water with the department and helped exonerate Daza and two family members who were also arrested, the family’s attorney said.
“In November, the [assistant district attorney] on the case put in an affirmation swearing on facts that clearly hadn’t happened, because there’s a video of the thing,” said Rebecca Heinegg, who represented Daza and his two sisters.
Police botched the criminal complaints against the Dazas and defendants Edwin Morales and Edwin Rosario by presenting the officer who signed a deposition against them as a witness to the events — even though he saw none of the actions he alleged — according to a Jan. 22 memo from the District Attorney’s Office.
Similarly, a document that an assistant district attorney filled out alleges that Daza had an altercation with the officer who gave the deposition the charges were based on, even though the two never interacted, the memo states.
A cellphone video of the scuffle proved the officer who accused Daza in the deposition was not a witness, Heinegg said.
The county dismissed charges against Daza. A grand jury declined to indict Wendy Daza, who was charged with assaulting a police officer, Heinegg said. Police later backpedaled, according to the Jan. 22 memo, claiming they meant to accuse Cindy Daza — not Wendy — of shoving an officer to the ground. Prosecutors told Heinegg they plan to drop charges against Wendy at her next court date in March, Heinegg said.
But the cases somehow dragged on for five months, despite the fact that the prosecutors had seen the exonerating video that showed the police deposition was false, according to Heinegg.
“They seem to have completely ignored the video at first, although the [assistant district attorney] confirmed to me that he’d seen it,” she said. “It wasn’t until I submitted a motion and the video to the court and the ADA’s supervisors that they looked into it and came up with the memo.”
The video went viral after advocacy group El Grito de Sunset Park posted it to its Facebook page in the days following the scuffle. The group’s director said the Daza family’s vindication was a wonderful rarity.
“We look at it like a miracle,” said Dennis Flores. “We’re lucky that this went their way. It was clear in the video that this cop just walked up to him and kicked him for no reason. The police officer wasn’t defending himself, he was just being malicious.”
The incident involving Daza, and another video showing a police officer shoving a pregnant woman to the ground in Sunset Park sparked outrage last summer.
Department bigwigs attended a town hall Flores organized in Sunset Park in October and quietly took a more-than-two-hour verbal lashing from activists and victims of police violence.
The Police Department suspended Ciardiello for 30 days after the incident, and he is currently on modified duty, a police spokeswoman said. The department did not immediately respond to questions about his pay or the status of an investigation into the incident.
Flores wants to see Ciardiello charged.
“It sends a bad tone to the community that cops can get away with this stuff,” he said.