An off-duty Hempstead police officer groped a woman outside a village restaurant while wearing his badge and after saying he could give her a ticket, a prosecutor told jurors Friday as the veteran cop’s criminal trial kicked off with opening statements.
But an attorney for Officer Louis Arcila, 51, of Roslyn Heights, asked the Nassau County Court jury to consider whether his client’s accuser, who had started civil litigation, had motivation to lie.
Arcila has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, third-degree sex abuse and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the June 28, 2015 encounter that began inside a Jackson Street eatery.
Defense attorney Joseph Lo Piccolo also said evidence would show the woman’s story changed over time, and that the prosecution couldn’t prove the charges just by proving Arcila was flirtatious.
“None of it was an exercise of police power or an abuse of police power,” the Garden City lawyer said of his client’s interaction with the alleged victim.
The officer has been on desk duty since his arrest and faces up to a year in jail if the jury convicts him of the top count.
The defense contends Arcila never touched the woman and wasn’t wearing his police badge — which the prosecution says was on the officer’s waistband — when the two interacted.
Both sides agree Arcila was not wearing his police uniform at the time. At the time of his arrest, Arcila had been on the Hempstead police force 16 years — after nine years with NYPD.
The trial is taking place after an appellate court last year reinstated the official misconduct charge against Arcila that a Nassau judge previously had dismissed.
Prosecutor Lauren McDonough said in her opening statement that Arcila approached the alleged victim by questioning what her toddler was wearing when he saw them inside El Rancho Catracho restaurant.
It was hot out, and the woman, then 30, had dressed her child in a diaper, T-shirt and sandals as she went to pick up her dinner order, also with her 10-year-old child and adult nephew, the prosecutor said.
Arcila followed the woman outside after she left with her food and returned to her vehicle with her two children as her nephew waited inside for his order, according to McDonough.
Arcila knocked on the window, the prosecutor said, adding the woman was nervous because she knew he was a police officer and she had been driving without a license.
According to the prosecutor, the woman lowered the window and Arcila — who was holding a beer in a bag — said he could give her a ticket “because I like your breasts.”
Arcila then got into the passenger seat without permission, groping the woman repeatedly as she resisted and her 10-year-old told him not to touch her mother, according to the prosecution.
The alleged abuse stopped when the woman’s nephew returned to the car, with Arcila leaving after giving the woman a phone number on a piece of paper and telling her: “Call me if you ever need anything,” McDonough said.
Testimony is scheduled to start Monday.