This article was originally published on April 25, 1992 and has not been updated.
For the first time in 16 months, Erroll Freeman had dinner with the 2-year-old daughter he hardly knows. But eating was hard since he has no front teeth. Freeman lost them and damaged nerves in his wrist, he said, when two Suffolk County police officers took him to a remote area in Wyandanch and beat a confession out of him in December, 1990. In an unusual move Wednesday, Suffolk County Court Judge Stuart Namm dismissed burglary charges against Freeman, 38, of West Bablyon, saying that court testimony supporting the man's allegations that he had been beaten by arresting officers undermined the credibility of the two officers who have a history of prior complaints.
"They accused me of a burglary, and when I tried to tell them I didn't do it, they cuffed my hands behind me. They didn't read me my rights or nothing," Freeman said Thursday at his home after being released from his 16 months in jail. "Look, I know I have a record, and I was on parole when they picked me up. I had no problems answering their questions, but they didn't have to beat me."
Deputy Insp. Howard Mandell, of the Suffolk County Police Department's First Precinct, said that the two officers could not be interviewed because the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office plans to appeal the judge's decision. Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. blasted Namm for dismissing the case rather than just suppressing Freeman's alleged admissions.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the cop-bashing Judge Namm" has employed "over the last year or two," Catterson said. "In this case we have a defendant with 14 prior arrests and multiple convictions for burglary, petit larceny, assault, possession of stolen property and grand larceny," Catterson said. Catterson added that Freeman's "fingerprint was found in a house in which he was accused of committing a burglary."
According to Freeman, he was walking to a friend's house in Wyandanch on Dec. 10, 1990, when the two officers stopped him on Grand Boulevard. He said they questioned him about a burglary, and he told them they had the wrong person. "They rode around asking people if I had sold some stolen goods," Freeman said. "When they couldn't get anyone to say it was me, they told me they would give me one more chance to answer their questions."
Freeman said the two officers - identified by Freeman and his attorney as Michael Crowley and James Hickey - parked the patrol car in the municipal parking lot near the Wyandanch train station. "Hickey struck me in the face. I lowered my head and leaned back to protect myself as best I could," Freeman said. "He hit me again in the face, and then they started punching me in the side. Hickey pulled out a blackjack and hit me in my head, knee and mouth."
Freeman's Legal Aid attorney, Michael Ahern, said that the defense offered evidence that Freeman had been beaten by presenting photographs showing "substantial injuries" and by calling a dentist and a doctor as witnesses. Ahern said that Namm ruled that this testimony undermined the credibility of the arresting officers. Namm was out of town yesterday and Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Ahern added the two officers had about 18 prior complaints against them, but all were found unsubstantiated by the Suffolk police. Bob Kearon, department attorney, said that he couldn't comment on complaints but the officers "work in difficult sectors in the First Precinct, and they're very active police officers and very often such activity generates complaints from certain segments of the population."