A New York City police officer was charged with assault after he was called to an apartment to help calm an emotionally disturbed child and repeatedly punched a man multiple times after being asked to wear a face mask inside the residence.
Officer Christian Zapata was just indicted with third-degree assault after he struck a 43-year-old man more than a dozen times in his face last year.
The most incriminating part of it all was that the entire encounter was caught on body camera footage.
The incident took place on Dec. 7, 2022, when police were called to provide aid to an immunocompromised teenager in crisis at a Harlem apartment.
When the cops arrived at the apartment, the victim, whom the New York Daily News identified as Jerome Collins, asked them to put on face masks, but the officers refused. Department police at the time noted that officers were mandated to wear face masks when working indoors.
Zapata told Collins that he was interfering with their response and threatened to arrest him. At that point, another officer accompanying Zapata restrained and started to escort Collins out of the apartment and down the hallway. Collins swats the officer’s hand away but still complies with the escort. That’s when Zapata begins punching Collins about 13 times in just nine seconds.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.
Other officers at the scene had to pull Zapata off Collins to stop the beating.
Afterward, Zapata is seen on body camera video apologizing to Collins’ son.
“I’m sorry, young man, sorry you had to see that,” Zapata said.
Even though Zapata apologized to the boy, Collins told ABC 7 News that the beating impacts how he talks with his son about the police. “What can I tell my son that watched his father get beat? And I try to tell him, ‘Police are good.’ How can I tell him police are good if he seen his daddy get beat?”
Collins was initially arrested but then released. The district attorney’s office decided to charge Zapata and treat Collins as a witness.
“Christian Zapata is charged with repeatedly punching a victim who posed no immediate danger or physical threat,” Manhattan District Attorney Bragg said in a statement. “We will continue to impartially investigate instances where members of law enforcement use unnecessary force, because doing so is essential for enhancing public safety and confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Zapata was immediately suspended after the altercation and demoted from sergeant to officer in August, authorities said. He was also suspended without pay.
He wrote a letter to the police commissioner claiming that he “perceived” Collins – who he identifies as a defendant – escalating the encounter with police before assaulting him.
“My actions in this incident should speak loud and clear that I perceived a hostile threat after the defendant aggressively put his hands on a police officer,” the letter said, according to court records. “I perceived the defendant fighting with my fellow officer and I responded accordingly. I will never stand by and watch a fellow officer get hurt and I stand on that principle.”
Zapata pleaded not guilty to the assault charge and is out of jail pending a trial. He’s due back in court on Jan. 18.
“Pursuant to his training, Sgt. Zapata physically engaged with Collins, striking him until he complied with the instructions of the officers,” Zapata’s lawyer told PIX 11 News. “We are confident that he will be cleared of these meritless accusations.”
Not only does Zapata face local prosecution, but Collins also filed a lawsuit against him and his colleagues in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Collins’ attorney, Neil Wollerstein, said he was pleased that Zapata is being held accountable, but he only faces a misdemeanor, which he calls a “slap on the wrist.”
“If the DA’s office really wants to make an impact and change the culture of misconduct at the NYPD, they should have charged Zapata and the other officers with multiple felonies that were committed as seen on body camera,” Wollerstein said.