A Nassau police officer has been indicted on felony assault charges that accuse him of repeatedly striking a Westbury man during a traffic stop recorded on video.
Officer Vincent LoGiudice entered a Mineola courtroom Tuesday to thunderous applause from hundreds of fellow cops lining the hallway. The alleged victim, Kyle Howell, 20, of Westbury, later called the show of support for LoGiudice "despicable."
The grand jury indictment accuses LoGiudice of using a "hard object" to hit Howell in the head and face during an April 25 traffic stop in Westbury captured by a store's outside security camera.
LoGiudice caused multiple fractures that impaired Howell's vision and left him needing surgery, according to the indictment.
LoGiudice, 34, a seven-year veteran of the force, pleaded not guilty in Nassau County Court to two felony counts of second-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
Howell, who weeks earlier stood in court as the accused, appeared Tuesday with a bandage on his nose following recent surgery. Supporters escorted him to the courtroom through a sea of police.
Ringed by his parents, pastor and attorneys, Howell said afterward the charges show "justice is on its way," but added that the officers' applause "shows that all these people here are supporting police brutality."
The officer's Rockville Centre attorney, William Petrillo, criticized District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office for choosing to "dive headfirst to the grand jury" without speaking to LoGiudice and his partner, Officer Basil Gomez -- who participated in the traffic stop and can be seen in the video.
"You cannot judge this case by that video because that video does not show what was going on inside that car," Petrillo said. "Every action taken by this police officer and his partner in this case was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances."
Supervising Judge Christopher Quinn released LoGiudice on his own recognizance. The officer faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
LoGiudice had been on modified duty, but a source said he was suspended without pay Tuesday.
Gomez, who remains on modified duty and wasn't named in the indictment, was at the courthouse to support his partner.
A Rice spokesman said later that the case would move forward "only on the indictment" when asked if Gomez had been cleared.
Gomez's Mineola lawyer, Joseph Gentile, said the grand jury apparently decided there was "insufficient evidence" to charge his client and doubted he would face any internal police charges.
Amy Marion, a Garden City attorney representing Howell, said it was her understanding there wasn't enough evidence to support charges against Gomez based on the video.
Last month, Marion filed a notice of claim with Nassau County -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- saying Howell was the victim of false arrest and excessive force.
Officers from Nassau, Suffolk, New York City and state police forces flooded the courthouse Tuesday morning and later held signs outside declaring "Justice for Vinny."
LoGiudice left court flanked by police union board members who escorted him to a waiting sport utility vehicle. He left without commenting.
Rice said in a prepared statement that the community, Howell, LoGiudice and the police department "deserve a full and impartial opportunity to seek justice in this case."
A police spokesman said the department wouldn't comment on the criminal case.
The indictment comes weeks after a judge dismissed charges against Howell at the request of Rice's office. He'd faced offenses including assaulting the officers, tampering with physical evidence, resisting arrest and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Police alleged in criminal complaints that Howell kicked and punched the officers after they tried to retrieve marijuana he put in his mouth, but Howell denied fighting police or having drugs.
His mother, Joan Howell, spoke Tuesday during a rally on the courthouse steps that included chants of "no justice, no peace." She said she was disappointed both officers weren't charged.
Steven Gaitman of Uniondale, one of Howell's attorneys, called the indictment a step in the right direction.
"When you act beyond the scope of 'protect and serve,' what happens? Criminal consequences. And that's why we're here," he said.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said LoGiudice is one of the best officers on the force.
"The fight is not over. There's gonna be a lot more fighting going on. . . . Vinny will be vindicated and justice will be served," he said.