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

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

Suffolk County and the family of a Bay Shore man fatally beaten by police following a 2008 traffic stop have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the deceased’s estate, court papers filed Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip show.

A jury awarded the family of Kenny Lazo $35 million in August following a three-week trial in the Eastern District of New York, and Suffolk officials appealed the verdict, arguing in a motion filed in November that the evidence did not justify the verdict. The motion asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione to reject the verdict or schedule a new trial.

In a letter jointly submitted to Tiscione on Wednesday with lawyers for Lazo's family, the county told Tiscione that a “proposed settlement agreement has been reached.”

Details of the settlement were not disclosed in the letter. Lazo estate attorney Frederick K. Brewington did not return a request for comment. Michael Martino, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, declined to comment on the litigation.

The settlement must be approved by the Ways and Means Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature, according to the letter, which also said “certain terms are still being discussed.” The committee is scheduled to review and vote on the proposed settlement on April 4.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Lazo’s family in 2009 argued that Suffolk police and county officials conducted sham investigations to avoid accountability. It said the officers used excessive force when they beat Lazo with their fists and heavy flashlights and stopped his blue Cadillac without cause. The civil trial provided a rare inside look at alleged brutality cases in the county. Investigations are conducted by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, and the results are rarely made public.

The lawsuit eventually went to trial last summer, more than 14 years after it was filed. Officials said the officers stopped Lazo’s Cadillac after they watched him participate in a drug transaction. They said he was combative when they tried to take him into custody, endangering officers’ lives as he struggled with them while vehicles sped dangerously by on the busy parkway.

The lawsuit named Suffolk, its police department, five police officers and others as defendants. Thirty-six injuries were found on Lazo’s head, neck, torso and other body parts, Brewington told the jury during his closing argument.

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

Attorneys for the county argued in the November appeal papers that the officers named as defendants enjoyed qualified immunity from such lawsuits. They also said Tiscione had prejudiced the case by denying the defendants’ motion to schedule a trial for the officers first, and then a trial for the county and the police department.

Evidence of previous misconduct by officers would be admissible in a case involving the police department and the county, but would be barred if the claims against the officers were tried separately. Trying the officers with the county and the department, the motion said, prejudiced the jury.

In a response filed in late February, Brewington and attorney Scott Korenbaum said the plaintiffs presented more than enough evidence to prove that cops used excessive force and falsely arrested Lazo. Their papers said the defendants have been the subjects of dozens of complaints and lawsuits alleging misconduct, but they were never held accountable.

One defendant, William Judge, was never interviewed by internal affairs, despite seven complaints. Defendant John Newton, the papers said, was the subject of 20 complaints, and was also 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.”

With Vera Chinese


 

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