By Kevin Deutsch
BRONX SUPREME COURT — The Legal Aid Society on Monday called on Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark to drop criminal charges filed against a woman who lost an eye during what she says was an unjustified beating by an NYPD officer.
Johanna Pagan-Alomar, 45, of the Bronx, is charged with assault, harassment, and obstructing government administration for allegedly accosting Officer Theresa Lustica from behind while Lustica’s partner was arresting Pagan’s friend, Andy Rodriguez, 35, for heroin possession on June 7.
A surveillance camera in the area captured part of the incident on video. It shows Pagan-Alomar, a mother of two, exchanging words with officers before appearing to reach toward Lustica’s back.
Lustica then wheels around and engages Pagan near the intersection of East Burnside Avenue and Jerome Avenue.
Pagan-Alomar, in a lawsuit filed against the NYPD, said the video disproves the police department’s claim that she assaulted Lustica. She alleges the officer threw her on the ground and savagely beat her with closed fists — while the key to her handcuffs was wedged between her knuckles.
Read the Pagan lawsuit.
The blows knocked Pagan’s left eye from its socket and broke her orbital bone, her lawyers said.
“For the rest of her life, Ms. Pagan-Alomar will be reminded daily of that morning in June when Officer Lustica attacked her so viciously that she lost her left eye,” her criminal attorney, Nicolas Schumann-Ortega of The Legal Aid Society’s Bronx Criminal Defense Practice, told Bronx Justice News. “It is shameful that the Bronx District Attorney continues to drag this case on, and that Officer Lustica continues to walk the beat endangering the people of this community she supposedly serves. In the interest of justice, this case must be dismissed immediately, and Officer Lustica must be fired and charged criminally for this horrific assault.”
In a letter sent to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark Monday, Schumann-Ortega called on Clark to drop the charges against Pagan.
“Given the severity of Ms. Pagan’s life-altering injuries, we are asking that your office immediately dismiss the charges against her, and to Charge Officer Lustica criminally for this horrific assault,” the attorney wrote.
Patrice O’Shaughnessy, Director of Communications for the Bronx DA’s Office, said the office will respond to the lawyer’s request.
“We have received the letter and will respond. We will look into the allegation of excessive force, and welcome the cooperation of the defendant in this matter.”
Pagan’s civil attorney, Michael Braverman of the Bronx, said prosecutors are offering his client a disorderly conduct plea to resolve the criminal case. But “she will not accept a plea to anything,” Braverman said.
The civil case is stayed on consent, pending resolution of the criminal case, Braverman said.
The NYPD on Monday again pushed back against Pagan’s version of events.
Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a department spokesperson, said Pagan “physically accosted a uniformed police officer, from behind, without provocation, while the officer was effecting an arrest for heroin possession. The Internal Affairs Bureau conducted an investigation and determined that the officer’s actions were appropriate under the circumstances and neither excessive nor unnecessary.”
An NYPD source familiar with the internal investigation said that when investigators interviewed Pagan, she requested in writing that her complaint regarding Lustica’s use of force be withdrawn.
“The action taken by the officer involved was clearly driven by nothing other than Ms. Pagan’s interference in a lawful arrest and her subsequent attack upon the officer,” the source said. “The allegation regarding the handcuff key was not confirmed.”
Lustica, who works in the 46th Precinct, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Pagan is next due in court April 1.