Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and other officials learned that two officers had been captured on a police body camera video kicking an alleged auto thief as a result of a routine review of the arrest last week, a spokeswoman for the police commissioner said Wednesday.
Police spokeswoman Dawn Schob said the department would not release additional information about the officer wearing the body camera, citing the ongoing investigation.
Hart reviewed the video on Monday and notified Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who watched the footage Tuesday, several hours before he and Hart announced that the two officers had been suspended without pay and could face criminal prosecution, Schob said.
Three other officers and a supervisor who were at the scene have been placed on modified duty and could face discipline pending a hearing, officials said. Authorities declined to identify the officers Wednesday.
A squad supervisor conducting a routine review of arrest reports and other items related to the arrest of alleged auto thief Christopher Cruz, 30, watched the body camera footage last week, Hart said Tuesday night during a news conference to announce the suspensions. The commissioner said she learned about the video on Thursday and her office made a referral to Internal Affairs, which triggered an internal investigation.
A formal referral was made to Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini's office on Friday, which also launched a criminal probe, officials said. Sini's office didn't return a request for comment on Wednesday.
Hart said Internal Affairs downloaded the video over the weekend to determine which officers were present. She watched the video on Monday.
"I know people will be rightfully angry and disappointed and I can tell you that I am too," Hart said Tuesday night. "This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated."
Hart added: "I expect our officers to act with respect and restraint. If you witness misconduct by a fellow officer, you are obligated to stop it."
Bellone saw the video on Tuesday. Hart and Bellone declined to comment Wednesday.
Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, president of the NAACP Brookhaven town branch, said the Cruz incident is a reminder of why reforms are needed.
"The allegations — disturbing under any circumstances — stand out significantly against the backdrop of discussions about the need for police reform that are currently taking place in our community and at large," she said.
Police said Cruz, whom they described as homeless, stole a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in Port Jefferson Station late Feb. 23. Officers in an unmarked car spotted the Jeep pull into a gas station on Route 112 and when police in marked vehicles arrived at the scene, Cruz rammed a police car and injured an officer before driving off, according to Suffolk police.
A short time later, Cruz lost control of the Jeep and slammed into a snowbank near the intersection of Canal Road and Strathmore Court in Mount Sinai, police said. He rammed a second police car and crashed into a snowbank before he was arrested shortly after midnight on Feb. 24. A second officer was injured while Cruz was being taken into custody, police said.
Cruz is seen in the video standing near several officers, his hands cuffed behind his back, when a cop kicks the back of his leg and pushes him. A second officer is also seen pushing Cruz, who fell to the ground.
Cruz was charged with third-degree grand larceny, second-degree assault, third-degree criminal mischief and resisting arrest. Officials said Cruz is out of jail on supervised release.
Civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, who is representing Cruz, has scheduled a news conference Thursday at his Hempstead office. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo said he believed the six officers disciplined in the incident will ultimately be exonerated.
"We embrace an investigation and look forward to bringing all the facts and circumstances to light," he said.
The incident occurred as Suffolk police are completing a plan for police reform due on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk by April 1. Cuomo ordered departments last year to submit proposals for reforms after the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.