The perjury trial of two former Nassau County correction officers kicked off Wednesday, with authorities claiming one accepted a jail inmate's challenge to a fight before both officers twice lied about the October 2011 incident under oath.
But lawyers for defendants John Andujar and Joseph Donlon attacked the credibility of inmates who are expected to testify against them during the bench trial in Mineola before Supervising County Judge Christopher Quinn.
The defendants said in statements to a jail official and then to a grand jury that a convicted robber, David Page, attacked Andujar without provocation after Andujar tried to put him in high-risk handcuffs at the Nassau County jail, according to the prosecution.
Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Stevenson said Andujar and Page got into an argument as Andujar was putting restraints on the inmate, before the officer, who "let his ego get in the way," then took off the inmate's handcuffs and shackles and began fighting him. She said Donlon was among the officers who witnessed the interaction and helped subdue Page.
The prosecutor said Page was a state prisoner who was temporarily at the East Meadow facility for resentencing. Stevenson also said Page already had been classified as a high-risk inmate because he had tried to escape a courtroom, injuring court officers during a proceeding in his 1999 robbery case.
Authorities said Andujar and Donlon are facing up to seven years in prison if convicted of offenses that include felony charges of perjury and making a false sworn statement. They also face misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and making a false written statement.
Andujar's attorney, Lawrence Carra of Mineola, said Wednesday that his client worked as a Nassau correction officer for 25 years without one incident or complaint. He said his client approached Page that day to put him in high-risk handcuffs after a request from a lieutenant that followed an earlier inmate altercation.
Carra said Page "clocked Andujar in the face" without provocation after Andujar took off Page's handcuffs and shackles to put the high-risk handcuffs on, before the officer -- while using lawful force -- then returned the punches.
Donlon's attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola, said his client was a hardworking family man who spent 22 years in corrections and that the government's case is based on the word of inmates who are the "dregs of society."
"These were two guys doing their jobs . . . not looking for a fight," Gann said.
The sheriff's office said Andujar retired in December 2012, and Donlon was fired in December 2013 due to the arrest.
Prosecutors said Page was indicted on assault charges after the officers' grand jury testimony, but that case was later dismissed.