MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A suburban New York police officer punched and kneed a suspect at least 18 times during an April 2014 traffic stop, some of which was captured on video, a prosecutor said Tuesday during opening statements in the officer's trial.
Nassau County Police Officer Vincent LoGiudice, 35, has pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor assault charges stemming from an encounter with motorist Kyle Howell in Westbury, on Long Island. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of the top count.
"The bottom line is Officer LoGiudice was not justified in using the force he inflicted on Kyle Howell," Assistant District Attorney Bernadette Ford said at the non-jury trial.
LoGiudice is accused of beating Howell, 22, while trying to arrest him following the traffic stop. The encounter was captured on video from a nearby business and obtained by attorneys for Howell. He has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit; his attorney says Howell suffered a broken nose and jaw and injuries to his eye as a result of the alleged assault.
LoGiudice and his partner arrested Howell on assault, resisting arrest and drug charges after he allegedly refused to comply with officers' instructions to provide identification. Police said they were forced to physically restrain Howell because he tried to dump out a bag of marijuana hidden in his glove compartment.
The district attorney's office later dropped all charges against Howell, whom prosecutors have conceded has an arrest record as an adult for petty larceny, and several arrests as a juvenile.
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, identified in court records as Basil Gomez.
Defense attorney William Petrillo argued that LoGiudice had known Howell from previous encounters.
Petrillo argued that during the traffic stop, Howell made "furtive" movements inside the car, causing the officer to become fearful for his life. "Use of force in this case was justified," Petrillo told Nassau County Court Judge Patricia Harrington.
Petrillo said when Howell started to "dive toward the passenger side" of the vehicle, "fear kicked in," and that the officer "reacted accordingly to stop the threat, the imminent threat."
Howell, who is expected to testify at the trial, was not in the courtroom on Tuesday. His parents have said that their son, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling and police brutality.