A federal magistrate's order that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota turn over grand jury-related materials to her for review is significant.
That's because, for the first time, a party independent of the Nassau and Suffolk district attorneys' offices and both police departments will have an opportunity to review materials related to the Feb. 26, 2011, shooting of an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station by off-duty Nassau Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo.
U.S. Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson will examine the material in private before determining whether it should be turned over to lawyers for Thomas M. Moroughan, the cabdriver, who has filed a $30 million federal lawsuit.
In her decision, Tomlinson ordered Spota's office to comply with a March subpoena from Moroughan's attorney seeking records, notes, statements, testimony, photographs relating to a Suffolk grand jury investigation into the shooting and subsequent arrest of Moroughan.
In so doing, the magistrate rejected the district attorney's arguments that grand jury materials were secret under New York State law -- pointing out that since the lawsuit was filed under federal jurisdiction, "this court is therefore not bound by New York State law protecting the secrecy of state grand jury proceedings."
However, Tomlinson did grant a twofold request from Spota's office: She issued an order "unsealing the Special Grand Jury" Spota empaneled in 2012, and, in a second order, required that he release the materials to her for an in-camera -- that is, not public -- review.
Moroughan has filed suit against both Nassau and Suffolk, both police departments and 28 officers and supervisors alleging, among other things, conspiracy, fabrication of evidence, false arrest and excessive force.
He initially was charged with assault and reckless endangerment after signing a confession written by Suffolk detectives.
According to court documents, Moroughan -- who was on morphine, and had a broken nose and two bullets still in his body -- said he signed the statement from his hospital bed without reading it after being assured by police that it would be used to arrest his assailant.
Spota's office dropped all charges three months later, after a Suffolk crime scene analyst report raised questions about DiLeonardo's account of the shooting.
More than four years after the shooting, however, a number of troubling questions remain. Among them:
Why didn't a report from Nassau's Deadly Force Response Team -- which investigates police shootings -- mention that DiLeonardo and another off-duty officer at the scene, Edward Bienz, had been drinking?
Why didn't Suffolk detectives, or the Deadly Force Response Team, interview three witnesses -- at least one of whom identified DiLeonardo, not Moroughan, as the aggressor -- immediately after the shooting?
Why weren't criminal charges ever filed against DiLeonardo?
And, as alleged in recent court papers in the lawsuit, did Nassau have an "unlawful policy and custom of falsifying" deadly use of force reports to shift blame from officers to victims?
DiLeonardo was fired last year, and Bienz was disciplined. Meanwhile, a report from Nassau police internal affairs -- which began its investigation 99 days after the shooting -- remains sealed by federal court order.
There's more than enough here to justify a federal look into the case.