This piece was published in partnership with The Influence.
In 1995, Marque "Tate" Lynche walked onto the stage in Orlando, Florida, with his fellow All New Mickey Mouse Club members, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and TJ Fantini, to perform "Always in My Heart" in front of a screaming audience of kids. The child actor and singer's other co-stars on the Disney Channel's long-running show included Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and JC Chasez, later of 'N Sync.
Lynche was among the most talented stars of the show. He would convey genuine excitement as he led the camera crew around his hometown of Clearwater, Florida, for short MMC segments. He also starred in at least one music video for MMC, which also featured Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake.
On December 6, 2015, the lifeless body of Marque Tate Lynche was discovered by his roommate, Christopher Freeman (who currently stars in The Lion King on Broadway), in the Harlem apartment they shared. Worldwide media reported the death of a Mouseketeer and fans mourned a lost talent.
And then, days later, TMZ ran the headline: "Ex- Mouseketeer Arrested for Punching Cop Months Before Death," and claims made by two NYPD officers in a report relating to an arrest in August 2015 smeared Lynche's name around the world.
This is the story of what happened in between.
Marque Lynche never experienced the roaring success of his fellow MMC classmates. While Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake became global sensations, Lynche morphed into a relatively successful working artist. He landed a prime role as Simba in the The Lion King on Broadway from 2000-2001. He went on to compete on season three of American Idol in early 2004, but was eliminated before making it to the final 12.
Lynche had always lived in the shadow of his child stardom, but he didn't seem to have been destroyed by it. When his mother, Michelle, became ill with cancer in 2003, he decided to step back from the limelight for a spell to help take care of her. His younger brother, Michael, who would go on to place fourth in a later season of American Idol, dropped out of college, too, to help care for their mother. She finally passed away in 2004, leaving her elder son deeply depressed.
On October 15, 2004, Marque Lynche was pulled over in Florida and caught with 57 Vicodin pills for which he did not have a prescription.
That incident only resulted in a court warning for Lynche, but his world was becoming more chaotic. A struggle with addiction saw him do at least one stint in a rehab facility. Videos of him joking around and playing music with other clients at the Antelope Valley Rehabilitation center in Acton, California, in 2011, have been posted on YouTube. "I'm trying to get footage of the famous Marque Lynche and sell it TMZ or extra extra extra... I'm just kidding," joked the YouTube poster.
In retrospect, considering what TMZ would eventually publish, it was an unfortunate joke.
Lynche continued to write music. He toured Scotland and Ireland in 2012 as part of a production called "An American Gospel Christmas." But overall, his career had stagnated and he had struggled to find high-profile work.
After the death of his father in 2014, Lynche relocated from Jersey City to Harlem. He began attending AA meetings, and this led him to attend meetings at Grace Congressional Church of Harlem. Soon, he was singing in the choir there.
Reverend Nigel Pearce,the pastor of Grace Congressional, tells me Lynche was eager to go from simply attending AA meetings to becoming an active participant in his congregation. "That's how he came to us. We have Alcoholics Anonymous on Mondays and Fridays and somebody from our church spoke to him and that's what brought him to our church on Sunday mornings." Lynche was instantly beloved by the congregation, Rev. Pearce adds: "A lot of people were gathered around him, a lot of grandmothers... and I know that they cared for him very much."
Rev. Pearce got to know Lynche and hoped to be a positive influence in his life: "Marque was sort of happy-go-lucky. He had been coming to church for about six months; he sang for us quite a number of times, and even when I went to preach up at a church out two hours north, I asked him to come and join me with the pianist and he came and sang some songs for us. We would have lunch periodically, and I was getting to know him and his story and how he sang with JT and Christina."
It was at around this point that Marque Lynche's life collided with my own.
On August 12, 2015, I was sitting on the bench on the platform of the 145th Street 1-train subway stop in Harlem, when two police officers approached the young man sitting next to me, who happened to be Marque Lynche, although I did not know it at the time.
The two cops—I would later learn that their names were Officer Christian Diamante and Officer Nicholas Moutselos—asked Lynche to follow them past the turnstile. He agreed. I also walked off the platform and back through the turnstiles, because I had a feeling something was about to happen.
They then accused Lynche of jumping the turnstile. As they were running his information, he became upset, but he never raised his voice.
I saw one of the cops take his handcuffs out and make an attempt to cuff Lynche while they were standing there talking. Lynche was clearly unhappy about this, and he argued with Officer Moutselos.
I watched the whole encounter, and at no point did Marque Lynche raise his hands or strike either of the officers. He was uncooperative, locking his hands to prevent the officers from cuffing him.
Officer Moutselos then shoved Lynche against the gate. (Lynche's lawyer later speculated that the impact from this shove is the only possible way Lynche's open hand, holding the soda bottle, could have inadvertently swung and made contact with Office Moutselos; I saw no such contact.)
Officer Diamante joined his colleague at this point, and they forced Lynche to the floor and cuffed him.
Another bystander and I filmed parts of the encounter.
In this clip, filmed by Jezeil Jimenez, Officer Moutselos can be seen holding cuffs in his right hand while Marque Lynche searches for ID:
Marque Lynche spent several days in jail, and I was able to track him down a few days after his release. I was shocked to find out that he had been charged with assaulting a police officer.
I was then able to obtain the police report, written by Officer Christian Diamante. (You can read the full report obtained by The Influence and view photographs of it here.)
It is illegal to make a false statement in a police report, yet what Officer Diamante wrote shocked me.
Officer Diamante stated in the report that he "observed the defendant strike Officer Moutselos about the head with a half-full soda bottle approximately three times." He wrote that "I am further informed by Officer Moutselos that he observed the defendant strike him about the face with a closed fist."
Having witnessed the whole event, suffice it to say, both of these statements contradict what I saw.
"I am further informed by Officer Moutselos," continued Officer Diamante in the report, "that at the conclusion of the altercation, he had suffered redness and lacerations to his face, and a dislocated right shoulder."
The two videos below show the officers using force against Lynche to get him cuffed. The second of these two clips—which shows both officers actively engaged with both arms in successfully cuffing him—offers evidence against the dislocated shoulder claim.
In this clip, filmed by Patrick Hilsman, Officers Moutselos and Diamante can be seen forcing Marque Lynche to the ground:
In the following clip, filmed by Jezeil Jiminez, Officers Moutselos and Diamante can be seen cuffing Marque Lynche:
Another eye-catching aspect of the report is that Lynche was charged with "possession of a weapon in the fourth degree"—the half-empty plastic soda bottle he was carrying.
I was not the only witness of Lynche's arrest. Jezeil Jimenez, a 22-year-old man who has just graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in literature, also witnessed and filmed the incident. Here is how he recalled it when I spoke to him last week:
"As I was buying a new Metrocard, I saw the two officers walking in [to the platform area]. Then two officers returned [from the platform], walking with Marque. I was somewhere in between the kiosk and the station agent desk. I had not swiped through; I was on the outside.
I saw how they were handling Marque, and it seemed kind of aggressive. While they were doing that I asked the officers, 'Hey, is he clean? Why not just let him off with a warning?'
He [the officer] said, 'Yeah, it's OK, we are just running his name through our database right now.'
Marque looked through his bag until he found what I think was a social security card or a benefit card. He handed it to the officer, and that's what they used to run the name and address through. As I was talking with the officer, he was also on the phone, waiting for a response ... to find out if Marque had any active warrants. At the same time, Marque was talking with the other officer.
I thought, Hey, why not film a bit? so I began recording. I was speaking to them to say, "Let's not be aggressive, just give him a ticket and let's go."
He got the call from central. He was like, "Yeah, actually he's clear. Well, just give him a ticket." As he was telling me Marque was clear, the other officer called him over (the officer I was talking to), and that's when they began to try and arrest Marque."
They were pretty calm; they were standing there not trying anything, and it went from that to trying to arrest him for God knows what reason.
After getting Jimenez's version of events, I read to him the section of the police report that described Lynche repeatedly punching an officer and dislocating his shoulder.
"That's a flat-out lie!... Just for the record, Marque didn't make a single aggressive move; he was standing there asserting his rights, saying, "Listen, I haven't done anything—it's a violation, give me a ticket. There is nothing going on here." It went from that to him being like trying to arrest him out of nowhere. From there, they wrestled him against the gate and then onto the ground. Marque's bottle flew away—he had a bottle in his hand—and they were smashing that into the ground. As he was getting up, I heard the officer say that Marque punched him. I didn't see a punch happen."
Reverend Pearce was one of the first people Marque turned to for help after the arrest. "It was August, and I was on vacation, and I got a call that he [Marque] needed to be bailed out and needed $7,000, $7,500," Pearce told me. "We are a relatively poor church, and I couldn't convince the trustees, and technically, he wasn't a member of the church yet, and it was hard to justify $7,500 to pay bail. I sort of kept in touch with him, asked him how the case was going, and when he said he was going to court, I said that I would be there for him."
At the court hearing at 100 Center Street, which I also attended, prosecutors offered Lynche a "plea deal" for assaulting an officer. They tried to set bail at $6,000, and offered him a sentence range of one to three years.
I had supplied my film to Lynche's lawyer, however, and she casually mentioned to the prosecutors that she was in possession of a video contradicting the police report.
In less than a minute, the prosecution shifted course and decided that no bail would be required. They didn't even ask to see the video before this rapid change of position. A new hearing was scheduled for a later date—one that Lynche would never make.
I kept in touch with Lynche after that hearing, offering to serve as a witness in his case. He and I would speak every few weeks to check in.
But a few months later, I stopped hearing from him. I searched online for information, only to find out that he had passed away on December 8, 2015.
As of yet, no information about his cause of death has been made public. The Influence contacted the detective in charge of investigating Lynche's death; he informed us that the coroner's report has not yet been released. We also contacted members of Lynche's family, who would, presumably, have been given this information, but they declined to respond.
Rev. Pearce has also tried to find out more, without success. "I kept calling [the coroner] and saying, 'Have there been any conclusions?'" Pearce recalled. "'We would like to have a memorial service. What's happening with the body? Has anybody come to claim it?' I hadn't been able to get any details or info ... It sounds like if I keep calling, they won't give me anything, and they hope I just go away, but I'm going to continue to call to just find out cause there has gotta be some kind of conclusion to how this happened and why this happened."
Marque Lynche's death brought his name back into the headlines in a way that hadn't happened during his later showbiz career. The existence of a video of the arrest had clearly made prosecutors very nervous, but with Lynche's death before any more proceedings could take place, they were "off the hook," as Rev. Pearce puts it.
But the NYPD report gravely tarnished the posthumous reputation of a sweet, talented, and troubled man. TMZ based its December 14, 2015, article about his arrest on that report, which I was also able to obtain: "Ex-Mouseketeer Arrested for Punching Cop Months Before Death."
The comments posted below the article read like a laundry list of racist tropes. Jimenez's own comment below the line—"I was there, I have video, and this is entirely inaccurate. He never touched the officers. This is a complete fabrication"—is a single dissenting voice.
Jimenez, who has a close relative who is a police officer and is no knee-jerk cop-hater, says that he is shaken by the experience. "My trust in the police has gone down," he said. "When you see something like this, it makes you question the [police] as a whole, even though there are good officers. If there are channels for things like this to happen, for a blatant lie to become the truth and treated as fact ... It doesn't bode well."
Rev. Pearce is more sad than angry.
"For me, it was hard to believe that he hit anybody, especially anybody in authority," he said. "He was very respectful of me as a pastor. I have a hard time imagining how he would hit somebody... He was thirty-four years old. It was a life that had a promise."
Tragically, that report filed by NYPD Officer Diamante is likely to define how Marque Lynche is remembered by many thousands of people. Marque Lynche didn't need to be convicted of a crime for his guilt to be widely assumed. The police narrative has been treated as a piece of his biography and engrained in his online obituaries. Lynche will never get to tell his side of the story of the last months of his life.
Patrick Hilsman is an associate editor of The Influence. Follow him on Twitter.