HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- A New York City police officer was indicted Wednesday after authorities say he punched a man more than a dozen times while responding to a call about a child in crisis.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that NYPD Sgt. Christian Zapata was indicted on a charge of assault. He pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault and was released on his own recognizance.
Zapata, 36, responded to a call of a teen with autism in crisis in Harlem in December of 2022.
Officials say Zapata and other responding officers were asked by 43-year-old Jerome Collins, the boyfriend of the child's mother, to put on facemasks but the officers refused to do so.
Collins tried to check on the child and officials say Zapata told him he was interfering and would be arrested.
As another officer started to back the victim down the hallway, Collins swatted the officer's hand and was then grabbed by both wrists and restrained, officials said.
The district attorney said although the victim was not posing any threat, Zapata reportedly stepped forward and punched Collins in the head and face more than a dozen times in the span of nine seconds.
Two other officers intervened and pulled Zapata away. Zapata was suspended after the incident and demoted to the rank of officer in August of 2023.
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. I perceived the defendant fighting with my fellow officer and I responded accordingly. I will never standby and watch a fellow officer get hurt and I stand on that principle," the letter said according to court records.
Collins was arrested following the incident, but the Manhattan district attorney's office declined to prosecute him, and investigated Zapata instead.
"He just snapped, he snapped out of nowhere," Collins said. "And what can I tell my son that watched his father get beat? How can I tell him police are good if he has seen his daddy get beat?"
His lawyer said it's a clear case of police brutality caught on video.
"These are not body blows to the soft part of the belly anything like that," attorney Neil Wollerstein said. "It's to the eye, it's to the face, it's to the jaw."
Zapata now faces an immediate 30-day suspension without pay.