Activists call on governor, attorney general to look into Rogers' case
Community activists are calling on the governor and state attorney general to investigate Freeport police officers accused of misconduct during their arrest of Akbar Rogers in December, a day after the Nassau district attorney declined to prosecute the officers.
Rogers, 45, whose arrest was captured by cellphone video and went viral, is due in court on a second-degree harassment charge Thursday, two days after District Attorney Madeline Singas moved to drop the charges from the Dec. 3 arrest, but also declined to file charges against at least seven officers accused of roughing him up during the incident.
“We are glad to hear the charges have been dropped,” said the Rev. Arthur L. Mackey Jr., senior pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt, who added he will ask Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James to look into the case. “We are greatly concerned that the officers that brutally beat him had no charges brought against them … It sends the message that Black lives don’t matter in Nassau County. That’s certainly the wrong message because Black lives matter everywhere.”
Singas said it would not serve the interest of justice to prosecute Rogers, of Freeport, and to file charges against the officers was “unsustainable,” because their actions were consistent with their training, according to a use-of-force expert she hired to analyze the case. But she added that officers who verbally abused Rogers during the arrest should be singled out for disciplinary action.
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.
“We’re glad Akbar’s name will finally be cleared, but we will not let up until all the officers involved are fired and charged,” said Nia Adams, a community organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “It’s beyond troubling that Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas has refused to charge the officers, and it's disturbing that she would claim that ‘the force used against Akbar Rogers was lawful and consistent with officer training.’ New York State Attorney General Letitia James must launch a full, independent investigation into this case and any attempts to cover it up . . .
"And let’s be clear: This movement will be relentless until we achieve justice for all the ‘Akbars’ across Long Island, past and present, which can only happen by fundamentally changing our approach to public safety.”
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.
An attorney representing the officers said they were doing their jobs.
“As the district attorney stated, they consulted with a prominent use-of-force expert who agreed with our experts that all force used was reasonable, necessary and justified. There is no need for any retraining or further action,” said William Petrillo of Garden City.
The use-of-force analyst, Philip Hayden, who is based in Spotsylvania, Virginia, is a retired supervisory special agent of the FBI, who has served as an expert witness relating to "Use of Force, Tactical Training, and Mental Mindset during high-risk situations," the DA's office said.
Freeport Village officials could not be reached for comment.
Rogers was being pursued Dec. 3 on a harassment charge, for allegedly repeatedly pushing a pregnant woman down on Oct. 13. As officers captured him behind a home on Seaman Avenue in Freeport, first pulling him over a chain-link fence, 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.
Minutes after the charges were dropped during a video court hearing Tuesday, Singas' office issued a statement explaining why the officers wouldn't face prosecution. But her office declined to release Hayden's actual report without the permission of Rogers. Rogers' attorney, Stephen LaMagna, told Newsday on Tuesday that he supports the release, but Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said Rogers' lawyer has told the office otherwise.
Wednesday night, LaMagna said: “We will review and make a decision. As soon as we do I will contact you. Probably early next week.”
It’s unclear whether a court would agree with the interpretation of the district attorney’s office that the report must remain confidential absent a waiver from the defendant, according to Michael F. Higgins, a staff attorney at the University at Buffalo School of Law's Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic. In a similar case last year, a court ruled that The New York Times was entitled to a report about a conviction review unit, but only with a defendant waiver. The statute at issue, he said, is meant to avoid stigmatizing the target of an encounter with the criminal justice system who wasn't found guilty.