A Suffolk police officer has been indicted on a charge he falsely claimed in a report that a suspected car thief resisted arrest during an encounter earlier this year that was captured on body camera video and showed officers striking the suspect, prosecutors said Thursday.
Suffolk Officer Matthew Cameron, 33, of Commack, who wrote the police report detailing the incident that began on the night of Feb. 23 in Port Jefferson, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of second-degree offering a false instrument for filing and was released without bail by Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei at his arraignment Thursday.
He faces up to 364 days in jail if convicted.
According to the indictment, Cameron's report was "false in its failure to disclose accurately Christopher Cruz’s conduct in.... charging Cruz with the crime of resisting arrest."
Cameron, who joined the police department in 2014, "kicked [Christopher] Cruz in his right calf, and pushed him in the back" while he was being held by another officer, causing Cruz "to pitch forward, breaking out of the other SCPD officer's grasp," according to an investigation by the Suffolk District Attorney's office.
But neither Cameron nor any other officers were charged with striking Cruz.
Cameron was one of two officers "temporarily suspended" after body camera footage showing him and other officers striking Cruz was publicly released by County Executive Steve Bellone and then-Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. Four other officers were placed on modified duty.
The police department did not respond to questions Thursday about the current employment status of Cameron and the other officers.
Cameron's indictment was the only criminal charge to result from the special grand jury convened by Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, whose office spent nine months investigating the conduct of several Suffolk police officers accused by Cruz and his attorney of physical abuse.
The special grand jury "investigated whether other police paperwork contained intentional falsehoods, including that of other police officers [and] ... did not find reasonable cause that these other officers committed a crime," a news release from the district attorney's office said.
At the time, Bellone called the video "disturbing, unacceptable and something that cannot be condoned." A Bellone spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Cruz’s attorney, Frederick K. Brewington, decried the results of the probe — and questioned whether the district attorney’s office sought to indict Cameron and other officers for what Brewington claims was police brutality.
"We are extremely disappointed that these police officers who conspired to beat and falsely charge Mr. Cruz are getting a free pass from criminal prosecution," said Brewington. "There’s no accountability here. Clearly the fact that Mr. Cruz was kicked, beaten, cursed at and abused while he was in handcuffs has been disregarded and is an affront to the rights of people everywhere."
Brewington added that "there are questions about how fervently this matter was pursued" by the district attorney’s office.
Brewington said he was not given advance notice of Cameron’s arraignment, something he should have been apprised of because his client was the victim of Cameron’s alleged conduct.
"This is not how you treat victims," said Brewington.
A spokeswoman for Sini said in response: "A Special Grand Jury composed of Suffolk County residents decided to indict a police officer for filing a false complaint and to not seek other charges after hearing months of testimony and considering the relevant evidence and law. We respect the Special Grand Jury's decision."
Cameron’s defense attorney William Petrillo said in a text message Thursday: "Officer Cameron is a highly active and well-respected police officer. He has been involved in more than 1,400 arrests with no complaints against him. He pleaded not guilty and we will address the allegation in court."
Cruz, 30, of Long Beach, pleaded guilty to petit larceny in September after acknowledging before Suffolk District Court Judge Richard Dunne that he had entered a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Feb. 23 and drove off without the owner’s permission. Dunne sentenced Cruz to time served.
In June, the judge dropped second-degree assault, third-degree criminal mischief and resisting arrest charges against Cruz, after prosecutors said they were "not sustainable charges."
Body camera footage of Cruz's arrest showed he was handcuffed when an unnamed officer "twice pushed Cruz's face to the side while Cruz was handcuffed and on the ground," the DA's office said. The officer subsequently indicated he was moving Cruz's face to "avoid being spitted on."
It was then that another officer stood Cruz up while holding him by his coat, and Cameron kicked him, prosecutors said. After that, several officers "moved to secure Cruz again," with one officer yelling, "he's fighting again." An officer could also be heard yelling "stop resisting."
The DA's office said the physical encounter, beginning with Cameron's kick and ending with an officer saying "it's done," lasted 12 seconds.
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk, County Police Benevolent Association, said Thursday: "I’m happy to say the grand jury did not find any criminality with regard to his contact with Mr. Cruz."
Cameron wrote in a police report documenting the interaction with Cruz, that the man "resisted by flailing his arms aggressively, kicking his legs at officers and spitting toward officers."
Cameron wrote that after Cruz was "taken to the ground," he continued to resist but he was "subdued" and eventually taken into custody. Cameron wrote that even after Cruz was handcuffed he "continued to flail and attempt to resist and refused to comply with verbal commands."
Brewington, in a notice of claim against the county, said Cruz raised his hands in surrender when approached by officers and during the encounter "was not in any way resisting against the officers." Brewington said he plans to file a lawsuit.
Matthew Cameron is not related to Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, a police department spokeswoman confirmed.