A judge on Tuesday dropped several criminal charges against Akbar Rogers, the Freeport man whose Dec. 3 arrest by police went viral because of the officers' alleged use of force.
In a proceeding conducted by video, acting State Supreme Court Justice Meryl Berkowitz granted a dismissal motion by the office of Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, who also announced she was declining to bring charges against at least seven Freeport officers, some of whom punched, Tased and kicked Rogers as he lay on the ground during the arrest.
“When I reviewed video of the December 3, 2019, arrest of Akbar Rogers by the Freeport Police Department, I was deeply troubled by what I saw and heard and directed my Public Corruption Bureau to begin an immediate investigation into the use of force used by the Freeport Police officers,” Singas said in a statement, adding that she also hired a use-of-force expert. “At that time, the Mayor of Freeport also requested that we conduct an independent investigation . . . Today we are moving to dismiss, in the interest of justice, the charges pending against Akbar Rogers stemming from the December 3, 2019 arrest.”
The charges against Rogers included a felony assault charge for allegedly struggling with officers and causing one of them “extreme back pain,” along with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. He also faced a charge of evading police during an alleged high-speed chase on Nov. 3.
The DA's office still plans to prosecute Rogers, 45, on the initial arrest warrant, a harassment charge, for allegedly repeatedly pushing a pregnant woman to the floor on Oct. 13. The case is on the docket for Thursday. The harassment charge is a violation, a lesser crime than a misdemeanor or felony.
During the December arrest, Rogers was struck many times in his head, face, back and legs as several officers sat on him, according to cellphone video taken by a neighbor. He was pulled over a chain-link fence in the rear of a home on Seaman Avenue in Freeport by two officers before being pinned to the ground. Police said he was resisting arrest.
One of Rogers’ attorneys, Stephen LaMagna of Garden City, called the charges being dropped “a victory for all decent people who live in a civilized society."
"We now call upon the district attorney to hold accountable these police officers who brutalize the very citizens they are sworn to protect, as well as those who attempted to cover up what these police officers have done. . . . The Village of Freeport and Freeport Police Department have done nothing to hold these police officers accountable for their actions other than to make excuses and defend the indefensible," he said.
Singas' statement said the use-of-force expert, Philip Hayden, determined that the degree of force used to subdue Rogers was “justified by law and policy.” Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said the office would release Hayden’s report of the investigation — which cost the office $4,200 — only if Rogers’ attorney consents. LaMagna said he supports the report’s release and would be in touch with the DA's office.
Sholder said she believes the Rogers case is the first of Singas’ tenure, which began in 2015, in which such an expert was retained.
Attorney William Petrillo, who represents the officers, said in a statement that “these officers work very hard to protect the community they care deeply about. The reality is that sometimes police work requires the reasonable use of force, like in this case."
Singas said that while she was disturbed by the contents of the video of the arrest, the officers’ conduct was "consistent with the officers' training and departmental policies, making criminal charges against the officers unsustainable.” She added that the harsh language officers used during the arrest was unacceptable. “Nonetheless, the abusive language depicted in video of the incident, with an officer responding to Mr. Rogers’ assertion that he could not breathe with “[expletive] you,” and calling him a “piece of [expletive]” is reprehensible and warrants discipline.”
Singas said the case is related to the debate going on nationally over police practices, following the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“I have listened as thousands of our neighbors have marched in the street against racism and police misconduct, and there is discord between law enforcement training and use-of-force policies and the expectations of the communities we serve,” she said. “While the force used against Akbar Rogers was lawful and consistent with officer training, public outrage over this case — and many others that have gripped the nation — make clear that the techniques used by police to subdue those who resist them must be examined and calibrated to minimize harm and to build public trust.”
Two of the police officers involved in Rogers' arrest are sons of Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy. In February, Rogers filed a notice of claim against Freeport police and Nassau County for $25 million, alleging “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.”
Freeport officers named in the claim were Michael Kennedy, Vincent Kennedy, Matthew Koutsogiannis, Michael Geniale, Michael Salisbury, Richard Paulik, Kyle Pistani and Thomas Williams.
During the hearing where the charges were dropped, prosecutor Robert Cavallo said to prosecute the case would not be in the interest of justice. “On December the third of 2019 Mr. Rogers was wanted on bench warrants for nonpayment of fines . . . for vehicle and traffic law convictions and was also being stopped by police in connection with open vehicle and traffic law misdemeanors stemming from an incident that occurred one month prior,” Cavallo said. “The most serious charge arose from injuries allegedly sustained by a police officer as he sought to pull Mr. Rogers over a fence, not from any intentional harm inflicted by Mr. Rogers. While the officers had probable cause to arrest Mr. Rogers, the language that some of the officers used, particularly as Mr. Rogers said aloud that he could not breathe, was offensive, unprofessional, and unacceptable as law enforcement officers."
With Bridget Murphy