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Nassau district attorney: Outside use-of-force expert looking into Rogers' case

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Community organizers held a rally Thursday for Akbar Rogers, who said he was beaten and injured by village police during an arrest in December 2019. The Nassau County district attorney’s investigation of the arresting officers remains incomplete. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

More than six months after a Freeport man said he was beaten by village police during his arrest — a scuffle captured on video by a neighbor — the Nassau district attorney’s investigation of the officers involved remains incomplete.

The officers are seen on video Dec. 3 pulling Akbar Rogers, 45, over a backyard fence of a home on East Seaman Avenue and subduing him with punches, kicks and Taser shots while he screamed for help. The video has been widely shared on social media.

Rogers was charged with felony assault, according to court papers — for struggling with officers and causing one of them “extreme back pain” — and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. 

Following accusations of police misconduct during the arrest, the Village of Freeport turned the case over to the district attorney’s office.

“The investigation into this incident is ongoing, assisted by an independent, nationally recognized use-of-force expert,” said Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Madeline Singas, after Newsday made an inquiry Wednesday into the status of the case. 

“The District Attorney has met with community leaders regarding this case, and she is committed to improving the relationship between law enforcement and the public we serve,” Sholder added. 

She didn't respond to questions about why the case required an outside expert, provide the expert’s name, release how many other cases an outside expert was brought in for, nor provide a timeline for the probe.

The case is a local example, said Rogers’ lawyer, Stephen LaMagna of Garden City, of unchecked allegations of police brutality, the kind that fomented protests nationwide after a bystander’s video of George Floyd being restrained by a Minneapolis cop who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes until he died.

In February, LaMagna's firm filed a notice of claim against the village seeking $25 million.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon outside Singas' office, Rogers, along with advocates and community leaders, demanded she drop the charges.

About 50 supporters stood by and listened, some held signs, including one that read:  “Shut Down Racism and White Supremacy.”

Rogers told those gathered that he feared for his life as police officers punched and Tasered him.

“But for the grace of God, this rally could have been my memorial service," Rogers said, reading from a statement. "But for the grace of God, I could have ended up like George Floyd, because like George Floyd, these police officers tried to suffocate me. I could not breathe."

During the arrest, Rogers said to police, “I can’t breathe,” according to the video. The officers named by Rogers' legal team are: Michael Kennedy, Vincent Kennedy, Matthew Koutsogiannis, Michael Geniale, Michael Salisbury, Richard Paulik, Kyle Pistani and Thomas Williams. All remain on full duty, according to the village. 

The notice alleges "false arrest, false imprisonment, civil rights violations, assault, battery, abuse of process, negligence, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent training, use of excessive force, negligent infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution." 

A lawyer for the officers, Edward V. Sapone of Manhattan, declined to say whether anyone has testified before a grand jury in the matter, but he said Rogers originally was wanted for allegedly assaulting a pregnant woman.

“He was resisting arrest. He would not let the officers cuff him,” Sapone said, adding: “He was not following their commands ... This case is not about race. Not every case involves police brutality.”

Rogers is an African American; the officers in the video appear to be white. Freeport police said Rogers was reaching for his waistband during the incident.

LaMagna said Rogers denies the assault allegation, a second-degree harassment violation, Sapone referenced.

Rogers also had faced a traffic violation since November, when the police said, they first tried to arrest him: On Nov. 3, the police spotted Rogers in a Mercedes-Benz and chased him, an incident in which they said he reached 100 mph, Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton said. The chase was aborted for safety reasons, he said. LaMagna said Rogers never fled and that there never was a 100-mph pursuit.

LaMagna said his client was not resisting Dec. 3, and that the police violence continued once Rogers was handcuffed.

Colton said the officers, two of whom are the Freeport mayor's sons, "are still working. We’ve heard nothing from the DA’s office to indicate they shouldn’t be.”

He added: “Any action that we would take against the officers would have to be advised to do so by the district attorney’s office.”

Rogers had been working in construction, but as a result of injuries from the police encounter — a fractured wrist, shoulder derangement and tear for which he is awaiting surgery and numerous Taser burns — he’s been unable to work, LaMagna said. 

With Bridget Murphy and Antonio Planas

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