Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Freeport Village Mayor Robert Kennedy are calling for an investigation into the arrest of a suspect who was subdued by several Freeport police officers Tuesday, an altercation that was caught on cellphone video and has been shared widely on social media.
“I have viewed the video and have many questions,” Curran said in a statement Wednesday. “I call for an independent investigation of this arrest by the Freeport Village Police. At this time, I am asking all to remain calm and patient as the investigation unfolds.”
Freeport spokesman Brian Finnegan said Kennedy "was in touch with the Nassau County district attorney’s office and asked the office to look into the matter.”
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, through spokeswoman Miriam Sholder, said her office is "reviewing the matter.”
Earlier Wednesday, Kennedy — who said his son was one of the officers in the video — told Newsday he did not think the police had done anything wrong but that he had asked the police department to prepare a report on the incident.
The Freeport Police Department reports to the village's mayor. Curran is responsible for the Nassau County Police Department, which sometimes assists the village police on major crimes.
The video, which by 9:30 p.m. Wednesday had garnered more than 49,000 views on Instagram, shows what appears to be seven Freeport police officers arresting the suspect, and at least two punching the man while he lies on the ground yelling for help.
Warning: Graphic language
Those parts of the footage have sparked outrage from community residents, activists and on social media, including concern that several of the officers are white while the suspect is black.
Freeport Village attorney Howard Colton said the suspect, whom he identified as Akbar Rogers, 44, was wanted on an outstanding warrant for aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, as well as an earlier physical harassment. On Monday, he had engaged police in a high-speed chase, which they broke off to avoid endangering the public, Colton said. The arrest Tuesday came after police had tried to apprehend Rogers at his home and he had fled, Colton said.
The minute-long video starts with two police officers struggling with the suspect, who is separated from them by a chain-link fence. A third officer joins in and they pull Rogers over the fence and to the ground. The police tell him to stop resisting and place his hands behind his back.
Other officers come on the scene and also start struggling with the man, with one of the officers throwing punches to the suspect's face. One officer appears to kick Rogers while he is on the ground.
“Help me!” the man says repeatedly, while still resisting the officers.
A woman who was videotaping the incident yells at the police and says they are using a Taser on the man.
Colton said Rogers refused multiple requests to surrender and kept reaching for his waistband.
Rogers was arraigned Wednesday in First District Court in Hempstead on several charges related to Tuesday's events, including second-degree assault, resisting arrest and second-degree harassment, according to online court records. He is due back in court Friday.
Rogers' sister, Carla Natalia Amison, of Oakland, California, said it was disturbing to see the video clip and wants the incident investigated. She was still trying to piece together what happened from accounts from relatives. She was told that police were called over a confrontation between her brother and a woman who is a tenant at their mother’s home but was not paying her rent.
Amison said she understands police have a difficult job but need to know their limits.
“From what I saw in the video, it is an excessive amount of force used and once he’s on the ground, the hitting in the head was unnecessary,” said Amison, 57. “The police are supposed to be trained, and if you have a man down, you don’t try to knock him out.”
Several organizations, including the Long Island Progressive Coalition, The Gathering for Justice, Inspire Justice, Justice League NYC, Citizen Action, and Until Freedom, called the incident a “clear use of excessive force” and have arranged a news conference at noon Friday at the Refuge Apostolic Church at 106 Broadway in Freeport.
Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director of the NAACP, said the video was disturbing.
“I think the pile-on video speaks for itself,” she said. “Any abuse of power of some undermines the hard work of the good police officers and continues the mistrust by the black community. I agree with the county executive that an investigation has to be completed.”
Phil Andrews, president of the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce, said after watching the video that he was concerned that police used excessive force, particularly the punches.
"It didn't seem like he was punching back," Andrews said. "If nobody punches you back, you shouldn't continue to punch them."
Andrews, a former New York City correction officer, said he believes the Freeport police should review their policies and procedures for such situations.
E. Reginald Pope, president of the Nassau County chapter of the National Action Network and a Freeport resident, said the police department needs training.
“There was excessive force used by F.P.D. in the apprehension of Akbar Rogers, aka Ace. I was appalled when I viewed the video. Obviously, the F.P.D. needs greater oversight and cultural sensitivity and diversity training immediately."
With Víctor Manuel Ramos, Jesse Coburn and Antonio Planas.