MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A suburban New York police officer who was seen on video repeatedly punching and kneeing a suspect during a 2014 traffic stop will learn his fate next month, a judge said Tuesday at the conclusion of his nonjury assault trial.
Nassau County Police Officer Vincent LoGiudice, 35, has pleaded not guilty to beating Kyle Howell while trying to arrest him. Prosecutors said in closing arguments Tuesday that LoGiudice used excessive force after Howell tried to empty a bag of marijuana that had been hidden in his glove compartment. Howell was on probation for a prior burglary conviction and feared that a marijuana bust would send him to prison, prosecutors said.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Harrington said she would issue her verdict on Dec. 11.
Assistant District Attorney Bernadette Ford said LoGiudice punched and kneed Howell at least 18 times, and challenged defense claims that LoGiudice and his partner feared for their lives when they stopped him on suspicion of speeding and driving with a broken windshield.
The officers and Howell, now 22, both testified they were acquainted with each other from previous encounters in the Long Island neighborhood where the traffic stop took place.
"If Kyle Howell was this violent dangerous monster ... one would think there would be more than flashlights in their hands," Ford said of the officers, who testified they never pulled their service weapons during the arrest.
Defense attorney William Petrillo argued Howell's furtive movement made the officer fear for his safety, but argued they used restraint. "A reasonable police officer would have been justified using deadly physical force," said Petrillo.
LoGiudice and his partner arrested Howell on assault, resisting arrest and drug charges after he allegedly refused to comply with officers' instructions. After the video surfaced last year, the district attorney's office dropped all charges against Howell.
He has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and its officers; his attorney says Howell suffered a broken nose and jaw and injuries to his eye. Howell's parents claim their son, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling and police brutality; LoGiudice is white.
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 restraining Howell inside the vehicle. No charges were filed against LoGuidice's partner, Basil Gomez.
LoGiudice testified that he was trained to "exceed their level of force" if someone was resisting arrest. "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.
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.