MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Nassau County police officer was acquitted of all charges Friday in connection with the beating of a man during a traffic stop last year that was captured on surveillance video.
Nassau County Court Judge Patricia Harrington issued the not guilty verdict for Officer Vincent LoGiudice Friday following a bench, or non-jury, trial.
He had been charged with one felony count and one misdemeanor count of assault related to the beating of driver Kyle Howell in April 2014 in Westbury. The incident received national attention.
“This is a criminal court and not a court of public opinion and thus the verdict must be based on the evidence and exhibits heard and viewed in this court,” the judge said. “While there’s no doubt that Kyle Howell suffered an injury, the people have failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and that the actions of the defendant were not justified.”
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, supporters of Howell stormed out of the courtroom with arms raised after the verdict was read.
Kyle Howell’s mother, Joan Howell, was furious, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
“We have a broken justice system, which is evident throughout this country – not only in Nassau County with my son, Kyle Howell, but throughout the United States of America,” Joan Howell said.
Howell’s attorney, Amy Marion, also criticized the verdict.
“Justice can never be served in this country as long as prosecutions like this are permitted,” Marion said. “We continue our request for a federal investigation and prosecution.”
Prosecutors said LoGiudice was seen on the video using his fists, knee and flashlight to hit Howell at least 18 times while trying to arrest him. They said the officer used excessive force after Howell tried to empty a bag of marijuana hidden in his glove compartment.
But Judge Harrington ruled that LoGiudice did not use excessive force. She ruled that the officer’s reactions were “reasonable and necessary” because Howell disobeyed orders to show his hands and instead reached across the front seat to empty the glove box of marijuana.
Howell’s actions amounted to a furtive movement that looked to the officer like Howell was reaching for a weapon, the judge ruled.
LoGiudice’s supporters smiled, cheered and clapped upon the reading of the ruling, 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reported. Defense attorney William Petrillo had said Howell’s movements made the officer fear for his safety.
“This verdict validates what we said from day one which is that all actions taken in this case were absolutely reasonable, necessary and justified,” Petrillo said.
Petrillo said Officer LoGiudice had a good reputation in Nassau County.
“It should be a happy day for Nassau County, because this police officer is a tremendous asset to the Nassau County Police Department, as well as the citizens of Nassau County,” he said.
The video, which obscures the view of Howell inside the vehicle, shows LoGuidice and another officer speaking with him briefly. At one point, LoGuidice is seen walking behind the car, pivoting and returning to the passenger-side door. Both officers are then seen punching and kicking Howell inside the vehicle. No charges were filed against LoGuidice’s partner, Basil Gomez.
LoGiudice testified at the trial that he was trained to “exceed their level of force” if someone was resisting arrest. He said Howell, whom he had known from previous encounters in the neighborhood, was fighting back while officers attempted to restrain him.
“When I start to strike him, he’s swinging at me with his right hand,” LoGiudice said. He said Howell’s left hand was under the passenger seat and he was ignoring orders to show his hands. “I’m thinking he’s grabbing a gun,” he added.
Howell suffered a broken nose and eye socket in the incident. He was arrested on assault, resisting arrest and drug charges after he allegedly refused to comply with instructions to provide identification. Those charges were later dropped.
Charges against LoGiudice were filed after video of the encounter surfaced. But Harrington said in announcing her verdict that the video didn’t tell the whole story of the encounter.
“The danger of viewing this videotape alone does not give a clear picture of the events,” the judge said. “Rather, it only depicts part of the actions of the defendant which when viewed alone are disturbing. But the question in this case is what was happening in that motor vehicle — that cannot be seen from the perspective of that video camera.”
LoGiudice would have faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of felony assault and one year in prison if convicted of misdemeanor assault. He left Friday without comment.
Howell, who also left court without commenting, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. Howell’s parents have said their son, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling and police brutality.
Local civil rights activists rallied at the criminal courthouse after the acquittal.
“That is unacceptable. It needs to change. They should have been clearly convicted. There was a gang assault that happened with Kyle Howell, and that wasn’t charged,” said Hempstead defense attorney Frederick Brewington. “Right now, there is no justice. So where there is no justice, there is no peace.”
LoGiudice said prior encounters with Howell included a car stop when he found a BB gun under Howell’s seat and another in which Howell told him he’d been arrested for robberies in the past.
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