An undated family photograph of Kenny Lazo and his son, Kenny...

An undated family photograph of Kenny Lazo and his son, Kenny Lazo Jr.

Attorneys for the family of a Bay Shore man who died after he was beaten by Suffolk police following a 2008 traffic stop have asked a federal judge to reject the county’s request to reverse the $35 million verdict awarded by a jury in August.

In court papers filed in the Eastern District of New York on Thursday, attorneys Frederick Brewington and Scott Korenbaum said the plaintiffs presented more than enough evidence during a three-week trial to prove that Suffolk officers used excessive force when they beat Kenny Lazo on a Southern State Parkway ramp in April 2008 and then falsely arrested him.

“This case before the trial was very serious,” Brewington said. “It is serious after the trial, and this attempt by Suffolk County to avoid what the jurors saw as problematic is also very serious.”

Suffolk County lawyers argued in a motion filed in November that the evidence presented at trial did not justify the $35 million verdict — $13.5 million in compensatory damages and $21.5 million in punitive damages — the jury awarded Lazo’s family last summer. The county’s lawyers asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione to reject the verdict or schedule a new trial.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Attorneys for the family of a Bay Shore man who died after he was beaten by Suffolk police following a 2008 traffic stop asked a judge to reject the county’s request to reverse the $35 million verdict.
  • The plaintiffs' attorneys presented more than enough evidence during a three-week trial to prove that officers used excessive force when they beat Kenny Lazo in April 2008, court papers say.
  • Suffolk County lawyers argued in November that the evidence presented at trial did not justify verdict the jury awarded Lazo’s family in August.

Brewington and Korenbaum argued that the evidence and testimony at trial proved that officers used excessive force before they arrested the 24-year-old unarmed Lazo, and that they also failed to seek medical treatment for him after the beating. The court papers filed last week also said the evidence at trial showed that Suffolk police and county officials conducted sham investigations to avoid accountability.

“The jury here had ample evidence to support its finding that the County had a meaningless disciplinary process in place, which emboldened the defendants to act with impunity,” the court papers said.

Lazo’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2009 naming Suffolk County, its police department, five police officers and others as defendants, arguing that officers unnecessarily beat Lazo with heavy flashlights and their fists after stopping his blue Cadillac without cause. The case eventually went to trial last year, 14 years after the lawsuit was filed. A total of 36 injuries were found on Lazo’s body, including on his head, neck and torso, Brewington said during his closing argument in the trial.

An autopsy conducted by the Suffolk County medical examiner determined that Lazo died from cardiac arrest “following exertion associated with prolonged physical altercation from multiple blunt impacts.” It also concluded that obesity was a factor in Lazo’s death.

Representatives of Suffolk County and its police department declined to comment on the filing. Lou Civello, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, also declined to discuss the case.

Officials said the officers stopped Lazo’s Cadillac after they watched him participate in a drug transaction, and that he was combative when they tried to take him into custody. They said Lazo tried to flee and had grabbed for defendant William Judge’s gun as vehicles sped nearby on the busy parkway.

The court papers filed last week said the evidence presented at trial rebutted those arguments.  Defendant William Judge, for example, “backtracked on his testimony,” later saying that Lazo had touched his holster. The court papers called Judge’s testimony “preposterous.”

“How Mr. Lazo could do this with Judge on his back was something the jury could doubt,” the court papers said.

The civil trial offered a rare inside look at alleged police brutality cases in the county, which are investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Results of those investigations are rarely made public.

The five officers named as defendants in the case were the subject of dozens of complaints and lawsuits alleging police misconduct, Brewington and Korenbaum said in the court papers, but they were never held accountable. Judge was never interviewed by Internal Affairs despite seven complaints filed against him, including one that involved opening fire on a moving car, the court papers said. Defendant John Newton, the court papers said, was the subject of 20 complaints, but was never interviewed by Internal Affairs.

The evidence at the trial prompted the jury to ask Tiscione if they could make a statement, the court papers filed last week said. Tiscione declined but told the jurors they were free to speak to the media after they left the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

“Upon review of the evidence, we the jury feel strongly that the policies and practices of the Suffolk County Police Department should be better enforced to protect and serve the community,” the statement said. “The failure to properly train, retrain and/or discipline officers directly led to this unfortunate situation. Our hope is that actual change comes from this verdict.”

Suffolk County last year agreed to a $1.7 million settlement with Steven Kelly, a Patchogue man who was shot in 2018 by an off-duty officer who mistook him for a robbery suspect, federal court records show. In August, the county paid $500,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Steven McCune, of Commack, a construction worker who said police brutally beat him during a 2012 altercation in a union hall parking lot.

Suffolk also reached a settlement with a woman who alleged in a federal lawsuit that she was sexually assaulted in 2017 by a police officer in a precinct interrogation room while another cop falsified entries in a prisoner log to cover up for his partner, court papers show. The Suffolk County Legislature is expected to vote to approve or reject the settlement this week. 

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