A New York City police officer faces charges for allegedly punching a man more than a dozen times while responding to a call about an emotionally disturbed child last year, prosecutors said Wednesday.
NYPD officer Christian Zapata has been indicted on one count of assault in the third degree stemming from the December 2022 incident, prosecutors said.
Zapata, 36, of the Bronx, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault and was released on his own recognizance on Wednesday.
While responding with several officers to a call of an autistic teen in crisis in a Harlem apartment on Dec. 7, 2022, Zapata allegedly punched the boyfriend of the teen’s mother approximately 13 times in the span of nine seconds, prosecutors said. The incident was captured on police body-worn cameras.
The victim “asked the officers multiple times to put on facemasks and even called 911 seeking the assistance of [a] supervisor,” the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a statement. “The officers refused to do so.”
When the victim tried to check on the child, Zapata told him he was interfering with emergency medical services and would be arrested, according to prosecutors.
Body camera footage shows another officer begin backing the boyfriend down a hallway. The boyfriend swats the officer’s hand away but complies with commands to move away, at which point Zapata steps in and allegedly begins punching the man, prosecutors said.
Zapata can then be heard apologizing to the victim’s son who saw the altercation. “I’m sorry young man, sorry you had to see that,” he says.
The 43-year-old boyfriend was initially arrested following the incident but the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to prosecute and instead turned the boyfriend into a witness against Zapata.
“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.”
In a letter to the police commissioner, Zapata insisted he never loses his composure “because I understand the number one goal of policing is always de-escalation,” according to court records.
“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.”
The NYPD placed Zapata on modified duty following the incident and demoted him from the rank of sergeant to police officer in August.