Mom: 'Nothing adds up' in police beating of son

Kevin Turner, who fled from Suffolk police officers

Kevin Turner, who fled from Suffolk police officers in 2010 after running a stop sign, was beaten so severely that he later died from his injuries. (Credit: Newsday Photo Illustration/ Arturo Jimenez)

Kevin Turner fled into the backyard of a Bellport home in April 2010 with marijuana and PCP in his bloodstream and two Suffolk County police officers in pursuit.

The officers caught Turner by a chain-link fence and, in what they later reported was an effort to subdue a combative subject, severely beat the unarmed 19-year-old. Their blows damaged Turner's brain and ruptured organs that doctors would have to remove.

Photos taken after the midnight confrontation show the two officers -- Kenneth Hamilton and Jason LaRosa -- with no visible injuries. The only sign of a struggle is a rip in Hamilton's pant leg.


Interactive: See key documents and review the injuries


The same can't be said for the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Turner.

The beating put him into a coma. He woke up five months later in a nursing home, unable to form sentences and needing a ventilator to breathe. He had seizures and developed a blood infection that led to septic shock. He died in January 2011.

The Suffolk medical examiner's office ruled Turner's death a homicide. In medical death investigations, a homicide is simply the killing of one human being by another and is not necessarily criminal. The legal system decides whether a homicide is a crime.

Newsday reviewed medical records, previously confidential police documents and portions of the department's own investigation of the Turner case. The review found inconsistent accounts of Turner's beating by officers, including one who had accumulated multiple excessive-force complaints from citizens. There were also puzzling reports of a knife Turner allegedly brandished but dropped before the beating began. An officer said he lost the knife after forgetting it on the hood of his cruiser.

A police spokesman wrote Newsday that the department suspended its investigation in June 2010 when it and Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota asked the U.S. Justice Department to review the matter. When the federal investigation ends, the department's internal affairs case "will be completed shortly thereafter," the spokesman wrote.

However, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District said its investigation is not active.

Turner's mother, Tawana Scott, is dismayed by what she says is a failure to vigorously investigate her son's death at the hands of two officers who remain on the force. She filed a federal lawsuit last year against Hamilton, LaRosa and nine other officers involved in the incident. The suit alleges the officers showed gross negligence and "fabricated the possession and use of a knife" to justify the level of violence visited on Turner.

"Nothing adds up," Scott said in a recent interview. "How are there not answers yet?"

 

'Someone beat the hell out of him'

Turner was unconscious after emergency surgery when Scott first arrived at her son's Stony Brook University Hospital room late on the evening of April 6, 2010. She barely recognized the person in the bed.

"His face was really swollen," said Scott, a school bus driver. "His head was swollen, like double the size. It just didn't look like Kevin. If I didn't see his thick eyebrows, I wouldn't have believed it was him."

Devon Daniels, Turner's uncle and a pastor who runs the Boys & Girls Clubs of Suffolk, said the doctor who operated on Turner said he would have needed to hit a brick wall in a car going 100 mph to account for his injuries.

"He said, and I quote, 'Someone beat the hell out of him,' " Daniels said.

Although both Hamilton and LaRosa acknowledged striking Turner, Turner's family has focused on the documented history of excessive force complaints against Hamilton, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran who was briefly deployed to Kuwait before joining the department in 2002.

Police records used to judge officer performance are confidential under New York's 50-a law, which agencies routinely cite to withhold from the public the results of internal affairs investigations.

But Newsday obtained an officer history log for Hamilton, a summary that shows Suffolk's Police Department has received at least seven civilian complaints against the officer since 2002. Six complaints involved excessive force, including one lodged the day after Turner's beating. He has also been accused of an illegal search and seizure and making false arrests.

Newsday has not seen any personnel documents for LaRosa, who is 35, so it's unclear whether his career includes allegations of misconduct.

The officer history on Hamilton shows the department investigated him in 2006 for "improper police action" and exhibiting "unprofessional language/attitude." The department again investigated Hamilton in May 2012 for unspecified misconduct, the history states.

The document does not identify who lodged the complaints. It does indicate that investigators cleared Hamilton in each case, except for the most recent civilian complaint of excessive force and the department investigation that began last year, both of which appear to be unresolved. It's unknown if the latest complaint and investigation relate to Turner's death.

While the history is short on specifics, two instances of Hamilton's alleged misconduct are detailed more fully in federal civil rights lawsuits that led to settlements being paid.

One plaintiff, Edgar Jara, said he was unable to work after Hamilton and other Suffolk officers pummeled him in August 2006.

Jara said he awoke to a commotion outside his East Patchogue home, where Hamilton and Officer Michael Richardsen had stopped Jara's 13-year-old son to question him about a case of mailbox vandalism.

Jara said that as he walked out his front door, Richardsen stepped forward and punched him in the face. He saw stars and blood poured from his nose. Jara said Richardsen then gave an order to arrest him.

Several officers started beating him, with Hamilton delivering blow after blow to his face while he was on the ground, Jara said. He suffered a concussion and said he lost some vision and full use of his hands for weeks.

Jara, who has no known criminal record, said police accused him of grabbing at an officer's gun belt. They charged Jara with resisting arrest.

Jara and his wife filed a federal lawsuit against Hamilton, other unnamed officers and the Police Department in 2009 alleging misconduct that included false arrest and brutality. Prosecutors offered to dismiss the charges if the family abandoned its lawsuit. The Jaras settled for $13,000 last year, and the charges were dropped.

In the other federal lawsuit against Hamilton, which also named the Police Department, the county paid Ryan Kroeger a $24,000 settlement in 2007. Charges of resisting arrest were dropped in that case.

Kroeger, then a college student working in a coffee shop, ran a stop sign in Sayville in April 2005 after he had been drinking. Hamilton pulled him over, approached the cab of his pickup truck and yanked him to the ground, Kroeger told Newsday.

The impact broke Kroeger's right arm.

"He said that I tried to attack him, which wasn't true," Kroeger said. "I would never get into a fight with a law-enforcement officer. I never laid a finger on him."

State records show that Hamilton, whose 2012 compensation was $131,000, is seeking a disability retirement due to injuries he says he suffered the day of Turner's beating. Hamilton applied for the disability retirement in July 2012, more than two years after the confrontation with Turner and six weeks after the department opened a new investigation into his actions. State officials redacted from the application the specific injuries Hamilton claimed.

After the encounter with Turner, Hamilton and LaRosa both said they had suffered injuries but declined immediate medical attention. Hamilton was later put on a backboard and taken by ambulance to Stony Brook's emergency room, where he reported having a strained back, discomfort in his head and neck, and a cut on his right hand, according to medical records. The doctor gave Hamilton pain pills, told him to apply ice and heat as needed and to not work for two days.

A police spokesman said Hamilton and LaRosa are assigned to the Fifth Precinct, with Hamilton limited to desk duty.

Hamilton, LaRosa, Richardsen and the other officers named in this story all declined to be interviewed. Suffolk District Attorney Spota did not return calls for comment.

Turner's family says that if Hamilton's history of excessive-force complaints had been properly addressed, Turner might still be alive.

"It's not the first time with this officer," Daniels, Turner's uncle, said of Hamilton. "It's not an incident that just happened out of the heat of the moment. He has a history of this which is documented."

 

'He didn't want to be dead'

Turner also had a history of getting in trouble.

State records show he was arrested seven times on charges that included drug possession, criminal mischief and larceny. Only two of the charges stuck -- misdemeanor convictions for harassment and disorderly conduct.

Family and friends say Turner was wrestling with how to recover from the stumbles of his teen years to create a future.

Daniels said his nephew had aspirations of "being something."

"He just didn't know what that was, and at that age, that's OK," Daniels said. "I know one thing: He didn't want to be dead."

Turner grew up in Bellport with his mom, an older sister and younger brother. Scott separated from Turner's father, Darryl Edwards, when Turner was a toddler.

Edwards, who lives in Brooklyn, was absent during Turner's childhood. At 13, Scott said, Turner sought out his dad and the two established a relationship. Turner occasionally visited Edwards, who would take his son to work with him at a soda warehouse. Edwards would let him carry items that customers bought to their vehicles, and the boy would pocket the tip, Scott said.

After the beating, Edwards visited his son several times, both at the hospital and in a nursing home. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Turner decided in 11th grade that cars, motorcycles and girls were more important than William Floyd High School, so he dropped out. After leaving school, he went through a series of part-time jobs such as stocking shelves at a Party City, telemarketing and working the line at a company that packaged perfumes.

Turner fathered a daughter, Ke'Ionna, with one girlfriend and a son, K'Dreese, with another.

T'Keyah Bush, the mother of Turner's son, said he loved the boy. He disliked people swearing around him, and if anybody smoked near K'Dreese, he'd ask them to move away.

Bush said the two of them planned a move to Bridgeport, Conn., where Bush's father lived. He'd asked the couple and their son to join him there.

"We liked being together," Bush said of Turner. "It was going to be a new start."

Turner was supposed to catch a ride with his mother on April 5, 2010, to the Port Jefferson ferry, which would take him, Bush and their son across Long Island Sound to Bridgeport. But Scott said Turner did not show up and finally called her around 9 p.m., after she'd already put Bush on the ferry.

Scott said Turner sounded sad, because he did not like to disappoint his mother.

"I had an attitude on the phone when he called me," Scott said. "I was upset: 'You got us sitting waiting for you and you didn't go!' And that was the last we heard from Kevin."

 

Drugs in his blood

Turner called Bush several times that night after she'd arrived in Bridgeport. She remembers her phone cutting out and Turner asking why she had not waited for him. He told her he planned to catch the ferry the next day.

Just after midnight, Turner and a friend, Leon Mann, were in a black Kia SUV with Turner driving. Earlier in the evening, Turner had smoked marijuana, which can be laced with PCP.

A sample of Turner's blood taken later at the hospital and tested by the Suffolk police crime laboratory was positive for both drugs.

Bruce A. Goldberger, president of the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, said the concentration of PCP in Turner's blood -- 13.9 micrograms per liter -- is considered low but could have been higher when he was caught by police.

It would be difficult to say how the drug, a hallucinogen that can cause irrational behavior, might have affected Turner, Goldberger said. Responses to the drug vary, and there is no reliable research linking PCP concentrations in blood with levels of impairment.

A blow to the head can cause behavior similar to PCP intoxication, Goldberger said.

"Someone who uses PCP can be disoriented," he said. "But somebody who has a head injury can be disoriented as well, and it would be hard to differentiate one from the other."

Daniels, Turner's uncle, brought Mann, who is now 22, to investigators after the beating. Mann declined Newsday's interview requests.

Daniels said he was with Mann when police interviewed him, and Mann was "very clear" that he did not see Turner act aggressively before they separated in their attempt to escape the police.

"We won't try to sugarcoat it. Did they smoke weed? Yes, they smoked weed," Daniels said. "But the PCP, the small amounts that were in his system, did not cause him to be combative."

Ken Auerbach and John Bennett, attorneys who represent the Turner family, said that regardless of Turner's degree of hostility and impairment that night, if any, police are trained to subdue difficult suspects and are given tools to do so.

The attorneys noted that LaRosa was equipped with a stun gun but did not use it.

 

'Striking the head and body'

Police reports obtained through discovery in the federal lawsuit show LaRosa and his partner Richardsen -- the same officer involved in the Jara case -- saw Turner drive through a stop sign at the corner of Post and Patchogue avenues shortly after midnight. LaRosa said he turned on his lights and sirens, and Turner initially stopped, but took off as LaRosa approached the Kia on foot.

LaRosa reported he followed Turner for seven blocks, ultimately chasing him south on Bellport Avenue as the Kia hit speeds in excess of 60 mph in a 30-mph zone. Hamilton sped north up Bellport to join the pursuit. Hamilton reported that as Turner accelerated toward him, both drivers lost control of their vehicles. Hamilton's struck a parked car, and he would later say that he strained his back in the accident. Turner struck a mailbox and street sign.

With the Kia stopped, Mann ran from the vehicle and escaped. Turner ran and did not.

After leaping on and over the hood of LaRosa's cruiser, which had stopped next to the SUV, Turner ran through the backyards of homes in the residential neighborhood. LaRosa noted later that Turner was holding his waistband, as if he might have a weapon.

Hamilton caught up with Turner first, behind a house at 530 Agamemnon Ave., a block from the accident scene. In the report he wrote the day of the confrontation, Hamilton said he spotted Turner standing amid trees behind a 4-foot-high chain-link fence at the rear of the backyard and heard him "making loud growling noises and yelling incoherently." Hamilton wrote that he recognized Turner, who was "known to be violent and who had previously stabbed someone in the past."

(A written statement Mann signed six weeks after the beating notes that Turner had been briefly locked up a few days before the incident on a warrant "for cutting someone with a knife." However, Newsday could find no records showing that Turner had been arrested for stabbing someone or wielding any sort of weapon. Mann wasn't charged after fleeing on the night of Turner's beating.)

Hamilton reported that Turner pulled a "silver knife with a blade approximately five inches in length" from his waistband, so he drew his gun and ordered Turner to drop his weapon. After repeated demands Turner complied, and Hamilton holstered his gun as LaRosa arrived from an adjacent yard.

Hamilton said as he went to arrest Turner, who was still on the other side of the fence, Turner punched him in the head. He said he grabbed Turner and pulled him over the fence.

The three men wound up on the ground, Hamilton said, and Turner repeatedly grabbed for LaRosa's gun.

"In order to subdue the suspect I struck him with my fists about the body and head until PO LaRosa was able to get handcuffs onto him," Hamilton wrote.

LaRosa's report differed from Hamilton's in key ways, including on which side of the fence the brawl began.

LaRosa wrote that he came upon Hamilton, who had drawn his gun, and heard him order Turner to drop his weapon. LaRosa did not report seeing Turner with a knife or with a weapon of any kind and did not say that Hamilton ever holstered his gun. He said he saw Turner attempt to punch Hamilton, so LaRosa went to assist by striking Turner in the legs with his baton.

Instead of a fight on the ground after hauling Turner over the fence, LaRosa said Turner first squared off with him and "started striking me in the face, chest and legs." LaRosa said he then pushed Turner over the fence, which caused the two officers to fall on top of Turner.

LaRosa said Turner kept kicking and punching him and reached for his gun. He said he shouted to Hamilton, "He is going for my gun!" and that he used pepper spray, to little effect.

"Fearing for my life and the life of PO Hamilton," LaRosa reported, "I began striking the head and body with my fists in order to gain control."

 

'This is the knife'

Once Turner was in handcuffs, several other officers arrived. Hamilton and Unit 514, LaRosa and Richardsen's cruiser, requested that K-9 officers search the area for a gun, not a knife, according to records. K-9 Officer Michael Cassidy reported that his police dog, Bullet, found a knife in the wooded area where Turner had been found.

Cassidy said he gave the knife to Sgt. John Durkin, a fellow K-9 officer. Durkin reported placing the knife on the opposite side of the fence, inside the yard of 530 Agamemnon, and alerting officers that it was there. It's the last mention of the knife that night in the reports from K-9 officers.

Six days later, Officer Frank Munsch, who was at the scene, wrote in a report: "I was handed the knife by an officer I believed was PO Hamilton and he stated 'This is the knife.' " Munsch wrote that he put the knife in his pocket and then drove LaRosa from 530 Agamemnon around the block to where the vehicle chase ended on Bellport Avenue. There, he wrote, he gave the knife to LaRosa's partner, Richardsen.

Hamilton charged Turner with menacing him with a knife on the day of the confrontation. Munsch, however, wrote in his report that he believed the knife was Turner's personal property, not evidence, when he gave it to Richardsen.

A report prepared on April 28 for the department's internal review of the incident shows that investigators questioned Richardsen on April 21, two weeks after Turner's beating. Noel DiGerolamo, the then-vice president of the Suffolk PBA, attended the interview.

DiGerolamo, who is now PBA president, did not return calls seeking comment.

Richardsen told investigators that LaRosa and Munsch approached him at the Bellport Avenue scene on the night of the beating. Munsch gave him the knife, he said, and he put it on the hood of his cruiser.

Richardsen said he drove in another police car to complete arrest paperwork at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, where Turner was first taken. Richardsen said he then returned to the Bellport Avenue location, got in his cruiser and headed to the Fifth Precinct.

"He recalled while he was westbound on Montauk Highway, something may have fell [sic] off the hood, possibly the knife," the April 28 report states.

The lawsuit claims that "Richardsen participated in the conspiracy" with other officers and "failed to secure the alleged knife despite allegedly having custody of it."

Richardsen told investigators that after arriving at the precinct, LaRosa called him and asked where the knife was. He said he told LaRosa it had fallen off their cruiser at Bellport Avenue and Montauk Highway. He also said he thought the knife was Turner's property, not evidence. Either way, the department's protocols call for such items to be safeguarded and invoiced.

Richardsen did not stop to look for the knife, according to the April 28 report, and there is no mention that other officers tried to find it. Richardsen's account to investigators of how the knife was found and lost is not included in the report he wrote three weeks earlier, on the day Turner was beaten.

In that report, Richardsen makes no mention of getting a knife at all.

 

John Doe

Ambulance personnel found Turner handcuffed behind his back and seated on the ground. He had contusions on his head and was bleeding from his mouth.

They noted that Turner was belligerent and uncooperative. He complained that he could not breathe or see, and he was calling out for his mother.

Although police identified Turner at the scene, and an ambulance delivered him around 1 a.m. to Brookhaven Memorial under his name, Turner was admitted to the hospital as a 35-year-old John Doe.

Scott and other family members had started phoning local hospitals, including Brookhaven, when Turner couldn't be reached on his cellphone. When they asked about a 19-year-old named Kevin Turner, they were told that nobody with that name had been admitted.

"He was Kevin Turner, and somebody turned him into a John Doe so I couldn't find him," Scott said.

Brookhaven did not have a surgeon available who was qualified to treat Turner's injuries, according to the lawyers who filed the lawsuit over his death. Federal law requires that hospitals taking taxpayer money be adequately staffed for emergency care.

Dr. Robert Galler, who treated Turner at Stony Brook hours later, wrote in a report that Brookhaven had violated that law, and Turner "stayed in that hospital inordinately long without neurosurgical care." A spokesman for Brookhaven, which the family's lawsuit charges with negligence, declined to comment, citing federal and state patient privacy laws.

With no neurosurgeon present at Brookhaven, Turner was taken around 4 a.m. to Stony Brook and rushed to surgery.

Records from Stony Brook noted that "multiple assailants" had beaten Turner and that he'd been "assaulted by Police."

Doctors discovered that Turner's head had been struck enough times, and with enough force, to create what's known as a subdural hematoma. The condition, which is typical in cases of traumatic brain injury, occurs when veins between the brain and skull are torn, flooding the space with blood.

Galler wrote that after opening Turner's skull, he found "an extremely large subdural hematoma." He noted that it was acute and "under significant pressure," which would have impacted the brain's delicate tissue.

Doctors also removed Turner's damaged spleen and half his pancreas, which had been torn.

Turner's family said they finally learned of his whereabouts when a Suffolk homicide detective called later in the day to say he was at Stony Brook.

When Scott saw Turner at the hospital for the first time, he was senseless and unable to communicate. Five months later when he emerged from the coma, Scott said that while Turner seemed awake, he did not comprehend where he was or why he was there.

Turner underwent several surgeries to treat an abscess in his abdomen and combat flesh-eating bacteria, but ultimately his injuries proved too severe. Respiratory and kidney failure, septic shock, pneumonia and necrosis contributed to his death on Jan. 2, 2011.

The autopsy report summed up the cause of death -- "complications following blunt impact injuries of head and torso."

 

The birthday party

Scott and Daniels met with detectives from the district attorney's office within days of the beating. Daniels, who has friends in the Suffolk Police Department, spent months in regular contact with the detectives.

It's unknown how diligently the department has investigated the incident. Bennett, a Huntington attorney representing the Turner family, has requested the department's internal affairs investigation. Bennett said he was told that the records can't be provided because the investigation isn't complete.

Merrick Bobb, a police oversight expert who monitors departments under federal scrutiny, wrote Newsday in an email that he could not comment on Turner's case specifically but could "think of no credible justification" for such an investigation to take so long unless there was an ongoing criminal proceeding related to the case.

The Suffolk Police Department said last week it would complete its investigation when it learned that the federal review had concluded. Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District, told Newsday on Thursday its review is over.

"Until we get additional information, evidence or witnesses, it will remain inactive," Nardoza said.

A document filed by Bennett in the lawsuit states that "all parties were advised on or about April 2013 the U.S. attorney's office is not prosecuting this matter at this time."

Federal prosecutors pursue cases against police for abuses under a provision of the United States Code that the Supreme Court has construed narrowly. In cases like Turner's, prosecutors must show not only that police used force beyond what was needed to do their jobs but that they intended to do so.

In the vast majority of such cases -- 98 percent nationwide since 1986 -- prosecutors don't charge police despite investigators having found evidence of a possible crime, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a federal data analysis center at Syracuse University.

Scott and Daniels both say they don't believe officers set out to kill Turner. And they don't hold Turner blameless for running from the police. They just can't understand how Turner wound up in a casket instead of in jail.

"At what point do you decide you are going to get into fisticuffs with a kid and beat his brains in?" Daniels said. "Just doesn't make logical sense to me."

Turner's family had a get-together this year on Aug. 31, Turner's birthday. The day before, Scott took Turner's son K'Dreese, now 5, to shop for hamburgers, hot dogs and buns. He asked why they were buying so much food.

Scott said she told him it was for his father's birthday.

"He got so excited, 'Oh, I am going to see my daddy!' That broke me down. I had to walk away. Because how am I going to tell my grandson the people you are supposed to trust, the police, took him from us? How am I going to tell him that?"

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