A Westbury cabdriver has filed a lawsuit claiming a robbery charge was trumped up against him after LIU Post lacrosse players used a police connection to prevent their own arrests after skipping out on a $28 fare home from a bar.
The claim filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Central Islip alleges one of the police officers involved in the arrest told the cabbie that police knew the charge was false, but got orders to arrest him and not the students since one was the nephew of a three-star Nassau police chief.
Attorney Harry Kutner Jr. filed the lawsuit in late February, a week after, he said, a Nassau County district court judge dismissed the robbery case against his 25-year-old client, cabbie Mevyo Jean.
"To have somebody arrested for robbery in order to cover up a crummy misdemeanor for his nephew and his buddies, for sticking a cabdriver for $28, it kind of shows how untouchable they think they are," Kutner said Thursday of the police official he listed in the claim as "Chief Frank Doe" as he works to identify the officer.
Among other defendants, the lawsuit lists Nassau County, a county detective and more unnamed police officials, along with Nassau's district attorney, Kathleen Rice.
It also names eight defendants who are identified as college students who were part of the March 2013 incident on the LIU Post campus, including five listed on the 2014 roster for the men's lacrosse team.
Records that the plaintiff provided show two of the students, brothers Robert and John Cegielski, signed police complaints against Jean.
They alleged the cabbie snatched an iPhone that belonged to one of the brothers after the full fare wasn't paid, and then temporarily dragged the student alongside the taxi as he drove away.
The lawsuit says Jean picked up the students at a Hempstead bar and agreed to a $35 fare, but all passengers except for one of the brothers fled without paying upon arrival at the campus.
It also claims that Jean had the last passenger call the others to come back with money, but they returned "with many other very large, muscular" students and ran in a menacing manner toward the cab before the driver drove away.
Jean also said Thursday that the last passenger, who threw $7 on the dashboard before trying to run from him, told Jean the other students were going to come back and jump him.
The cabbie said the student also told him his uncle was a police officer so he shouldn't "mess" with him. He said the student told him he'd left his phone in the cab and Jean said he could come and get it later in exchange for the fare.
A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney referred questions on the lawsuit to the county Thursday and declined to talk about the robbery case, which Kutner said is sealed.
A county spokeswoman and a police spokesman said they wouldn't comment on pending litigation.
The students and their families either couldn't be reached or declined to comment.
An LIU Post spokeswoman said school officials were unaware of any claims against the university and had no comment on cases against other parties.
Jean said he was studying electrical engineering in college by day and driving a cab by night at the time of the incident.
The Haitian immigrant and Westbury High School graduate said the felony charge temporarily derailed his bid to become a U.S. citizen and left him too nervous to keeping driving a cab.
He said the income loss led to money troubles for him and his wife, who have a 3-year-old daughter. The suit seeks more than $2 million in damages.
"Who says that they're not gonna go out again and try to do that same thing again?" Jean said. "I mean, someone got to pay."The other student defendants were identified in the lawsuit as Brandon M. Bertone; Matthew Maloney; Tyler Olli; Daniel Jeannotte; Adam Winne; and William Ardamis.
Ardamis, Jeannotte and Winne are on LIU Post's 2014 lacrosse roster, along with the Cegielski brothers. Bertone was on the school's 2013 team roster.