Family and friends of Kenny Lazo leaves federal court in...

Family and friends of Kenny Lazo leaves federal court in Central Islip August 1, 2023 Credit: Rick Kopstein

A retired Suffolk County police officer told a federal courtroom on Wednesday that his testimony before a grand jury investigating the death of Kenny Lazo lasted five minutes, with prosecutors asking him no questions.

Joseph Link, testifying in the federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Lazo, said that he was asked two questions by jurors during his brief appearance years ago before the grand jury. Following Lazo’s altercation with other Suffolk police on April 12, 2008, Link transported him to the police precinct in Bay Shore, where he died a short time later.

His testimony, under direct examination by plaintiff attorney Fred Brewington, appeared aimed at underscoring Brewington’s contention that Lazo’s death was never seriously investigated by authorities, whom he contends covered up a blatant example of police brutality common at the time in Suffolk.

Lazo’s family is seeking $55 million in damages and $100 million in punitive damages in the lawsuit. Many such cases often are settled out of court, so this one is providing an unusual window into allegations of police brutality.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A retired Suffolk County police officer said Wednesday that his testimony before a grand jury investigating the death of Kenny Lazo while in police custody lasted five minutes, with prosecutors asking him no questions.
  • Joseph Link, testifying in the federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lazo's family, said that he was asked two questions by jurors during his brief appearance years ago before the grand jury.
  • An attorney defending the police contends they used appropriate force to subdue Lazo during an altercation after he tried to flee and grabbed for an officer’s gun following a traffic stop.

No criminal charges were ever filed against police involved in Lazo’s death.

An attorney defending the police contends they used appropriate force to subdue Lazo, who was 24, during an altercation after he tried to flee and grabbed for an officer’s gun following a traffic stop for suspected drug dealing.

His family contends police should have taken him to the hospital immediately for treatment after he was beaten with a flashlight. Instead, they took him to the Third Precinct in Bay Shore, where he was later found unconscious in a cell. He was rushed to Southside Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Hempstead, NY - Mar 12, 2009: An undated family photo...

Hempstead, NY - Mar 12, 2009: An undated family photo of Kenny Lazo and his son Kenny Lazo, Jr. is provided by attorney Frederick Brewington during a news conference at Brewington's law office located at 50 Clinton Street. Brewington filed a civil suit against Suffolk County, Suffolk Police and the District Attorney for the beating and subsequent death of Lazo which allegedly occured while in police custody on April 12, 2008. Credit: Handout

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

Police contend they could not have known Lazo was going to suffer cardiac arrest.

Link testified Wednesday that Lazo showed no signs of distress as he transported the suspect to the Third Precinct. Lazo then walked from the patrol car into the precinct “under his own power without any assistance,” Link said.

He said Lazo’s injuries did not appear severe. “I didn’t think it was at the level of hospitalization,” he said, adding that he had in the past taken others who were under arrest straight there. Link was not involved in the altercation.

Dr. Zhongxue Hua, a forensic pathologist testifying Wednesday for the plaintiffs, said Lazo would not have died if the altercation never happened. He added that while Lazo was obese, it was not a life-threatening condition at the age of 24.

He also said that if Lazo had been taken immediately to the hospital after the altercation, he would have had a "much, much better" chance of surviving. "He would have a better chance as opposed to no chance."

Under cross-examination by Marc Lindemann, an attorney representing the police, Hua acknowledged he is being paid $10,000 by the plaintiffs for his testimony. He said that about half the 30 documents he examined to render his opinions about the case were newspaper articles — something Lindemann suggested had little relevance to medical issues.

Hua also said he never examined Lazo before his death, and has not seen his medical records from before then. He said he is not an expert in medical emergencies, and last worked in an emergency room about 40 years ago. 

With the trial in its second week, Brewington, a civil rights attorney, continued his attack on the police account of what happened that night, seeking to expose contradictions in their testimony and past reports they had filed.

Under questioning from Brewington, Link acknowledged that he showed an official report he was submitting about the events surrounding Lazo’s death to another officer involved, William Judge.

Link said that he found a package of crack cocaine in Lazo’s pants after he placed him in a patrol car, and felt what he believed was a wad of cash in his pocket. Police say Lazo had a total of $2,000.

Link also testified that another bag of cocaine dropped out of Lazo’s underwear when he got out of the car at the precinct and his beltless pants dropped. He walked in wearing only his underpants and socks, his shirt apparently ripped off during the altercation.

Testimony continues in the trial continues Thursday.

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