NYPD officer resigns before departmental trial over violent social distancing arrest

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- An NYPD officer involved in a violent arrest over a social distancing violation earlier this year has resigned ahead of the start of his departmental trial.

Officer Francisco Garcia, assigned to PSA 4, submitted his resignation papers Tuesday. The eight-year veteran's trial was to start Thursday, but as a result of his resignation, the trial is no longer necessary.

The incident happened on May 2 in the vicinity of Avenue D and 9th Street in the East Village, where a bystander watching the events unfold somehow ended up in Garcia's crosshairs.

As a couple was being arrested, video shows Garcia break away from that arrest to walk up to 33-year-old Donni Wright with his taser drawn -- swearing and telling him to move back.

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Video showed the plainclothes officer, who was not wearing a protective face mask, slapping Wright in the face, punching him in the shoulder, and dragging him to a sidewalk after leveling him in a crosswalk.

"I'm glad he's not on the force to do this to anyone else," Wright said Wednesday. "I could have lost my life."

Mom Donna Wright is still haunted by these images of her son.

"The audacity for this man to jump on him and sit on him as he claims he's the man," she said. "I don't look at it. I don't want to think about it."

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell said at the time that Wright "took a fighting stance against the officer" when he was ordered to disperse and was arrested on charges including assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. The charges were subsequently deferred as the investigation into Garcia's actions began, and the District Attorney's Office later declined to prosecute.

"The video was very troubling, and what I saw was absolutely unacceptable and obviously the discipline was swift by the NYPD," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in May. "But I want to note that that a video is more and more of a rarity, what you saw is more and more of a rarity. We still have more work to do, unquestionably, but the progress is very clear to see. Policing is changing in this city, has been changing...we're not going to have that kind of behavior in our police force."

Wright's and the couple's arrests drew outrage and also raised new questions about the police department's use of force and their role of officers in enforcing social distancing measures.

"I was not happy with what I saw," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said after the incident. "I think we can be better than that, quite frankly. But I think you need to look at it in the context of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of encounters across the city, whether it's through routine encounters, arrests, taking guns off people without firing shots, certainly summonsing many people. I think the de-escalation training that was put in place in years past and continues, it is yet another tool in the toolbox, and I think it's effective. I wish it was 100% effective, but that's not unfortunately the world we live in. But we'll learn form it, as we do from any example, continue to train, and try to get better."

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PBA President Pat Lynch responded to Garcia's resignation by blasting the city and the NYPD for making the officer a scapegoat.

"It was clear from the outset that City Hall and 1 Police Plaza were going to leave P.O. Garcia holding the bag for their own failures," Lynch said. "We warned them that sending cops out to enforce their half-baked public health policies would create a backlash. They didn't listen, and now a yet another police officer's career has been cut short by politics. Is it any wonder that thousands of cops are heading out the door before the same thing happens to them?"

Still, the family said his resignation isn't good enough. They want him fired and are now hoping he's criminally charged.

"Yes, he should get charged," Donni Wright said. "Just like if I got in trouble, I would get charged."

The district attorney is still investigating, and the Wrights' legal team wants the NYPD to do more.

"We want them to write a recommendation that the officer should be in jail for the crime that he did," community activist Rev. Kevin McCall said.

Donna Wright just wants justice.

"I wanted him to feel what my family and other families feel," she said. "What he did, it's not right. It's not sitting right."

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