A federal judge ripped into a former police officer on Friday, saying it was "horrific" how the white officer tried to minimize his use of a racial epithet to describe a black man swept up in the NYPD's aggressive street stop program.
The scolding came as Michael Daragjati was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for violating the unnamed victim's civil rights by falsely arresting him and for an unrelated off-duty extortion. The term was the recommended maximum under sentencing guidelines.
The 33-year-old Daragjati, who pleaded guilty in January, had recently written U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz to plead for leniency. He described the anti-black slur as "not reserved for people of color" but instead used "as an ignorant reference to those people in the street because of their conduct and disrespect for the community and members of law enforcement."
On Friday, Kuntz, who is black, called it the "the worst possible argument" for Daragjati to use in his own defense.
"Your comments reveal a horrific truth," the judge said in a courtroom packed with the officer's family and supporters. The remarks show that the officer felt free "to denigrate anyone who would cross you," he said.
Daragjati was charged last year amid a growing wave of criticism over the NYPD's strategy of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of people every year. Civil rights advocates say the effort has unfairly singled out young black men and other minorities, while the department calls it an essential crime-fighting tool.
A criminal complaint said the officer was on patrol on Staten Island with a plainclothes anti-crime unit when he stopped a 31-year-old black man. It says the officer grabbed the man and frisked him but let him go after not finding any weapons or contraband.
The man objected, demanding the officer's name and badge number and shouting insults as he walked away, authorities say. Hearing the insults, the officer and his partner chased after him and arrested him.
Daragjati later lied in text messages to his sergeant and in a sworn statement by claiming the man had pushed him and fought back while he was being handcuffed, the complaint said. After two nights in custody, the man finally appeared in court, agreed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and was released.
Around the same time, investigators already eyeing Daragjati in an insurance fraud investigation intercepted a phone call between Daragjati and a woman. They say he was overheard complaining about having to work overtime to process the arrest and had "fried another (N-word)."
"What?" the woman asked.
"Another (N-word) fried," the officer said, according to investigators. "No big deal." Authorities also cited instances where the officer used the slur in other recorded conversations.
At sentencing, Daragjati admitted that he used the slur because he was angry at the man, but he insisted that he wasn't a racist.
"I used stupid words," he said. "When I saw them on paper, I was disgusted."
But the judge cited evidence that suggested that the officer had a history of abuse, including an earlier complaint that he had told another black man, "Shut your (N-word) mouth."
Rather than take the complaint as a warning to clean up his act, "You methodically destroyed your career," the judge said.