MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A Long Island police officer who was recorded punching and kicking a man during a traffic stop was acquitted on all charges Friday.
Nassau County Court Judge Patricia Harrington issued the verdict following a non-jury trial that concluded Nov. 24.
Prosecutors say Nassau County Police Officer Vincent LoGiudice beat motorist Kyle Howell while trying to arrest him. They said LoGiudice used excessive force after Howell tried to empty a bag of marijuana hidden in his glove compartment.
Defense attorney William Petrillo said Howell's movements made the officer fear for his safety.
Howell's attorney, Amy Marion, 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."
Howell has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming he suffered a broken nose and jaw and injuries to his eye.
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.
Portions of the traffic stop were captured on video from a nearby business. LoGiudice was charged after it surfaced.
Assistant District Attorney Bernadette Ford said LoGiudice punched and kneed Howell at least 18 times. "The bottom line is Officer LoGiudice was not justified in using the force he inflicted on Kyle Howell," Ford said during opening statements.
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.
Howell's parents have said their son, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling and police brutality.
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 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.
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.