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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Questions remain on actions after Turner beating

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

It's hard to shake the suspicion of an attempted cover-up in the hours after Kevin Turner, a 19-year-old with a lengthy arrest sheet, was severely beaten after sprinting from police in Bellport almost four years ago.

According to a Sunday investigative report in Newsday, Suffolk police officers Kenneth Hamilton and Jason LaRosa recognized Turner. And the young man's name was on the ambulance report.

So why was he admitted to the hospital as a 35-year-old John Doe?

Turner's family, whose worried calls to hospitals yielded nothing, would be notified hours later in a call from homicide detectives after Turner had been transferred to another hospital.

That's just one of the many disturbing questions arising from the Newsday story.

What about the weapon Turner was said to have brandished that night in 2010?

Was it a gun? That's what a responding K-9 unit was asked to find, according to the report.

Was it a knife? And if so, was it one Turner was alleged to have brandished as a weapon?

This all breeds yet another question: Why was a potentially significant piece of evidence placed on the hood of a patrol car by an officer? And why -- after police suspected that the knife might have fallen off the car somewhere along Montauk Highway -- didn't police attempt to find it?

Turner was beaten in 2010 after, police said, he aimed his car at them and, after the car crashed, jumped out and ran. Officers said they scuffled with Turner and that, at one point, he reached for one officer's gun.

One of the officers, Hamilton, was on patrol that night after six civilian complaints for excessive force; one department investigation for illegal search and seizure and unprofessional conduct; and two federal lawsuits alleging excessive force.

Hamilton had been exonerated by his department on a series of complaints that had been lodged from 2003 -- one year after Hamilton joined the force -- through 2009.

During that time, Suffolk also settled one lawsuit involving allegations against Hamilton.

Between 2010 and 2012, Hamilton was the subject of a seventh civilian complaint alleging excessive force, a second Suffolk lawsuit settlement and another still-open internal affairs investigation.

Turner, as his family acknowledges, was no angel. An autopsy showed marijuana and traces of PCP in his blood.

His background, however, does not justify the beating he received. A doctor would tell family that Turner would have had to hit a brick wall going 100 mph to account for his injuries.

That's hardly how most police officers, who are trained to take control in any situation, go about arresting even more difficult and dangerous suspects every day. And where police know their identity, the suspects don't end up in a hospital, hidden from their families as a John Doe.

Turner's background also should not cloud mishandling of potential evidence or the fact that Suffolk's internal review system -- the results of which seldom become public -- did little to slow Hamilton's accumulation of excessive force complaints and lawsuit settlements.

Hamilton remains a Suffolk police officer, now restricted to desk duty. Turner's family has filed a lawsuit. And a federal investigation into the beating is inactive.

Still, more than three years after Turner's beating -- and nearly three years after his death -- Suffolk's internal affairs investigation remains open.

A policing expert in the Newsday report said that while he could not comment specifically on Turner, he could think of no credible justification for the review to take so long. He's right. There is none.

Which is yet another reason why Long Island's aggressively closed system of resolving complaints involving police should be overhauled.

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