Metro

NYC ‘ghost gun’ case in jeopardy over search, DA brawl: sources

A major Queens gun bust could be in jeopardy over an allegedly shady car search — that left two District Attorney’s Office investigators in fisticuffs over the issue, The Post has learned.

The fallout over last month’s brawl during the “ghost gun” arrest of MTA bus driver Jonathan Santos even cost the Queens DA’s Office’s top investigator his job because DA Melinda Katz was kept in the dark about the fight.

“She does not want to be embarrassed and she was mad that she wasn’t told about this,” one source told The Post. “She was mad they hid it from her. The [assistant DA] also didn’t tell her.”

The controversy stems from Santos’ Oct. 18 arrest outside his Richmond Hill home, when investigators from the DA’s office reported seeing the 36-year-old bus driver allegedly loading weapons into the back of his white Chrysler 300.

Santos was charged with possessing an “arsenal” of weapons and ammunition — including several ghost guns and an assault rifle, Katz trumpeted at an Oct. 21 press conference.

He was slapped with a 252-count complaint and faces up to 30 years in prison, if convicted, prosecutors said at the time.

But defense attorney John Mure raised questions about the car search — and whether there was enough probable cause — at his client’s arraignment in Queens Criminal Court.

Two District Attorney's Office investigators got into a fist fight over the search of Santos' vehicle.
Two District Attorney’s Office investigators got into a fistfight over the search of Santos’ vehicle.
Queens DA

“I got a problem with the stop, Judge,” Mure told Judge Edwin Novillo, according to a transcript of the Oct. 20 court proceeding.

“According to the complaint, it appears as though there’s an investigator with the DA’s office that actually observes my client with a garage door open and the back of his car backed to that garage door,” the lawyer said.

“Unsure exactly where this investigator actually is or what he actually sees, but at best, Judge, he sees my client loading something into the car,” Mure said. “He sees some sort of bag. That bag could have been almost anything.”

The investigators followed Santos’ vehicle and pulled him over after a few miles — before coming to blows with one another over the search, the lawyer said.

“This is the part that baffles me, Judge,” he continued, according to court records. “There’s no vehicle and traffic law violations, but a lieutenant actually shows up at the scene. The lieutenant and the detective get into a major argument.”

Mure explained, “My client can’t hear everything but they’re talking about going into that trunk, throughout the search of the trunk about going into the vehicle and they actually began to argue and they get into a fistfight over the search of the vehicle.”

He added that “it appears as though the fight where the lieutenant may have had some bruises. They talk about locking each other up.”

Mure told The Post this week, “It seems the argument was over the search. One wanted to do the search and the other wanted to wait for a search warrant.”

Other sources told The Post the beef was over the lieutenant’s insistence on waiting for backup officers to arrive that day.

Queens Assistant District Attorney Ajay Chheda defended the search in court, saying the investigators who did the surveillance on Santos recognized the bag he loaded into the car as a “large case” typically “used to transport and store these firearms.”

But neither Chheda or Novillo addressed the fight between the cops.

Katz “hit the roof” when she found out about the altercation — and forced her lead investigator, Edwin Murphy, to resign.

Murphy was recruited by Katz in 2019 and was not involved in the actual fight. He could not be reached for comment.

The Queens DA’s Office did not comment on the circumstances surrounding Santos’ case, other than to acknowledge that Murphy had stepped down as chief investigator.

“DA Katz appreciates the contributions he made to the office during the past two years and wishes him well in his future endeavors,” the office said in a statement.


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