By Alec Snyder, CNN
Updated: Mon, 23 Dec 2019 16:13:00 GMT
A New York police detective who testified in a probable cause hearing in the case of slain Barnard College student Tessa Majors is facing lawsuits that allege he falsified evidence, made false accusations and forcibly searched residences without warrants, court documents show.
New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea said Detective Wilfredo Acevedo has never been found to have made a single false statement or falsely arrested anyone and touted his exemplary record of service.
The president of the union that represents active and former NYPD detectives called the lawsuits a "commonly used strategy employed by defense attorneys" to undermine investigations.
The cases were highlighted by the Legal Aid Society in an email to CNN. Hannah Kaplan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, represents a 13-year-old boy who has been arrested and charged in connection with the killing earlier this month.
CNN has not been able to reach Acevedo for comment.
"The calculated, personal attacks against a member of the investigative team working to solve the murder of Tessa Majors is an obvious and unethical effort to make prejudicial statements outside the courtroom to effect a jury pool," Shea said in a statement.
"The detective singled out here has made 237 arrests including 93 felony arrests removing dangerous criminals from our streets. He has been recognized with 24 department medals. He has never been found to have made a single false statement or falsely arrested anyone by either the Department, the (Civilian Complaint Review Board), any Civil Court or District Attorney."
In two cases, both filed in April 2018, Acevedo was accused of "forcibly search(ing) plaintiff and his residence without his consent and used unnecessary and unreasonable force against plaintiff without any legal justification or provocation," according to one of the lawsuits.
The lawsuits accuse Acevedo of initiating criminal prosecutions with charges that Acevedo and his fellow officers knew to be false, making false accusations and withholding exculpatory evidence.
The original charges were dismissed in both cases, court documents show.
"Detective Wilfredo Acevedo's troubled past, which includes lawsuits alleging that he planted and falsified evidence, lied in court documents, and used excessive force, coupled with three substantiated disciplinary findings from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, is of great concern," The Legal Society said in a statement. "These allegations of a pattern of serious misconduct cast further doubt on the case against our client, and given Acevedo's long problematic history of violating New Yorkers' constitutional rights, he simply cannot be regarded as credible."
Majors, 18, of Charlottesville, Virginia, was walking through Morningside Park near the Barnard campus December 11 when she was confronted by assailants and stabbed several times, police said.
After the attack, she stumbled up a flight of stairs to street level before collapsing at a security booth near campus. A school security officer called 911, and she was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Acevedo interviewed a 13-year-old suspect, and Shea said the questioning was conducted on camera with a guardian present. The teen faces charges of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.
Acevedo testified in a Tuesday hearing that the boy said he went to the park with two other people with the intention of robbing someone. At some point before the attack, the teen told police, one of the other two people dropped a knife on the ground and he picked it up and handed it back to them, Acevedo said.
Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, said Acevedo "is an excellent investigator with fifteen years of service."
"The misconduct alleged in the lawsuits (is) nothing more than allegations and don't speak to his credibility. That's the narrative that police critics and criminal justice reformists like to generate," Palladino said in a statement.
Gothamist was the first news outlet to report the story of the lawsuits against Acevedo.