MTA officer Lawrence Ffrench is charged with leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it, a felony, and third-degree intimidating a witness.
An MTA Bridges and Tunnels officer was arraigned Thursday on charges he crashed into a pedestrian while in his patrol car, then dumped the injured Staten Island man on the opposite side of the Verrazano Bridge.
Officer Lawrence Ffrench nervously repeated that he "was in trouble" when he hit Julio Canete on May 26, 2016, in Bayridge, according to court documents.
Canete, 41, was walking toward the S53 bus stop when he was struck by Ffrench’s marked MTA vehicle and thrown into the air, Assistant District Attorney Prabhalya Pulim said Thursday in court.
“The defendant’s post at the time of the incident was traffic enforcement. He should have been keeping pedestrians safe — not endangering lives,” Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said.
Ffrench, who was on duty and in uniform, is suspected of picking Canete up off the ground near the corner of Gatling Pl. and 92nd St. and asking him where he lived. When a disoriented Canete told Ffrench he lived in Staten Island, the officer put him to the back seat of his squad car and drove him more than a 1/2 mile across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, according to a lawsuit Canete filed in Manhattan Federal Court in May against Ffrench, the MTA and others.
Ffrench, 42, is suspected of leaving Canete on the pavement of a parking lot at Tompkins and Wadsworth Aves. in Staten Island — and driving away.
Canete called 911.
Prosecutors said at no point did Ffrench, a 10-year veteran, call for help — a charge the officer’s attorney disputes.
“They knew who was involved because my client took it upon himself to call it in, unlike what the district attorney said,” attorney Vesselin Mitev said.
Prosecutors say Ffrench drove the cop car to an employee parking lot and switched into his personal vehicle. According to the federal lawsuit, it was only after Ffrench overheard a radio call that he rushed back to the scene.
The lawsuit and Pulim also allege that Ffrench threatened Canete as he lay on a gurney in the ambulance, ordering him "not to tell anyone he had hit (him) with his police car."
MTA Bridge and Tunnel spokesman Chris McKniff called the charges “deeply troubling” and said Ffrench has been suspended without pay.
“If the charges are proven true, additional actions will be taken,” McKniff said.
Canete spent four days in Staten Island University Hospital, where he was treated for numbness and pain to his right arm and swelling and pain to his right knee. He had surgery on his knee and continues to undergo physical therapy.
Ffrench is charged with leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it, a felony, and third-degree intimidating a witness. Mitev entered a not guilty plea on Ffrench’s behalf. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
“My client is the victim of what’s known as a cash-grab when people try to get hit by a police car and sue the city. That’s exactly what happened here,” Mitev said.