By Sunil Joshi


March 25, 2010 - Albert Garcia was manning the grill at a McDonald’s in the Bronx late one night when Officer John Florio of the New York Police Department bought a Big Mac in the drive-through. The next day, Garcia was arrested, with Florio alleging that Garcia, then 18 years old, put ground-up shards of glass in the sandwich. Florio claimed that one bite of the sandwich left him with a chipped tooth and cuts in both his mouth and throat.

Five years later, on Tuesday, Garcia was cleared by a Bronx Supreme Court jury of all charges, including a felony count of attempting to assault a police officer. Garcia&rsquos attorney, Raymond Aab, called the case, “one lie after another, an outrage.” Garcia, now 23, expressed relief in a press conference on Thursday.

“People from my neighborhood who didn’t know would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, look, that’s him, that’s burger boy,’ ” Garcia said. “It was hard for me to get a job. I have a son, so it was hard for me to support him, to get work. This was on my back. This was in my way of living my life.”

Garcia was working at the McDonald’s at 875 Garrison Ave. in the Bronx on January 29, 2005, when Florio, a 20-year-veteran of the police department and a member of the city’s K-9 unit, purchased a Big Mac. After eating part of the hamburger, Florio complained to his supervising officer that glass had been put in the hamburger. Officers from the 41st Precinct were then dispatched to the restaurant to investigate.

There, they arrested Garcia, taking him back to the police station, where he claims that he was interrogated for hours and was the subject of verbal and physical coercion by the officers. He maintains that as a result of the harsh treatment, he gave a false confession in writing and on videotape.

“I felt trapped, really confused. I really didn’t know what was going on,” said Garcia, who told police officers that no glass was in the hamburger. He added that police officers “kept putting so much pressure on me, so much pressure. I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t know what to do, so I kind of gave up, and I gave them what they wanted to hear.”

He added, “They really treated me like a dog.”

In Garcia’s confession, which he later recanted, he admitted to smashing a picture frame, grinding the shards of glass and putting them in the hamburger. The Bronx district attorney’s office began prosecuting Garcia soon after his arrest. “There’s nothing in the statements and in the video that shows physical or psychological coercion,” said Gary Weil, the prosecuting attorney. Calls to the 41st Precinct were not answered. By Friday afternoon the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information had not responded to a request for comment.

However, forensic analysis of the glass, which was revealed in court, indicated that it was rounded and its thickness was inconsistent with that of a picture frame. Expert testimony indicated that the shards were consistent with “ubiquitous container glass.” Investigators also compared DNA evidence from both Garcia and Florio to a hair that was found on the sandwich; neither returned as a match. The jury took 40 minutes to return a not guilty verdict.

Aab said he believes that Florio made up the story in order to sue McDonald’s. “The fact is the cop made the whole thing up to get a pay day,” said Aab. “Within a couple days, he sued McDonald’s, and that speaks for itself.”

Florio was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, Richard Kenny, strongly disputed that claim. “The allegation that this is feigned is utterly ludicrous,” Kenny said.

Aab and Garcia said that they are considering filing a countersuit, but until then, Garcia said that he’s looking forward to spending more time with his 4-year-old son and enjoying a life without looming court dates.

“Now that this is over, now I can live my life,” he said.