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Gillibrand says state should investigate Freeport cops actions during arrest

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is pictured in Bethpage

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is pictured in Bethpage on June 29. Credit: Barry Sloan

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand backs a demand by local activists that the state investigate at least seven Freeport cops whom the Nassau County district attorney declined to prosecute over December’s bystander-recorded arrest of Akbar Rogers, according to the senator’s spokeswoman.

Video of the arrest — showing some of the cops punching, Tasing and kicking Rogers as he lay on the ground and yelled, “I can’t breathe” — went viral on the internet. About seven months later, on July 7, the office of District Attorney Madeline Singas announced no charges against the cops, who include two of the mayor’s sons, and the dismissal of pending charges against Rogers alleging resisting arrest and assault. He was accused of causing one of the officers "extreme back pain.”

“I support a state inquiry into this incident,” Gillibrand said, according to an email from spokeswoman Jessica Woolford, and called the case “disturbing.”

Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Letitia James, said Saturday that the office could not conduct a criminal investigation on a case like this absent a referral from the governor. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office did not return a message seeking comment.

In declining to pursue a criminal case against the cops, Singas’ office said the force used to restrain Rogers was “justified by law and policy.”

Singas’ office retained an outside use-of-force expert, the first time in her tenure that she has done so in a police case.

In a statement, Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said, “We will cooperate with any review by other agencies with jurisdiction.”

“DA Singas called for a commission to transparently and inclusively develop statewide training and use of force standards to prevent abuse and she called for disciplinary action against the officers who violated departmental policies,” Sholder said, referring to a finding that the officers improperly used harsh language, including answering Rogers’ plea that he couldn’t breathe with "[expletive] you," and calling him a "piece of [expletive]."

Soon after Singas’ announcement July 7, the Rev. Arthur L. Mackey Jr., senior pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt, said he wanted Cuomo and James to look into the case and that not bringing charges against the cops “sends the message that Black lives don't matter in Nassau County."

Nia Adams, a community organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, called Singas’ decision regarding the cops “beyond troubling” and said James and Cuomo “must launch a full, independent investigation into this case and any attempts to cover it up.”

William Petrillo, one of the cops’ attorneys, said Saturday night: “Another investigation would be a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money. Multiple independent use of force experts have all reached the same conclusion, that any force was reasonable, necessary and justified.”

Stephen LaMagna, one of Rogers’ attorneys, said “we fully support and welcome Sen. Gillibrand’s support” for the probe “into the fundamentally flawed decision by the Nassau district attorney declining to prosecute these police officers for their obvious illegal misconduct in beating an unarmed Mr. Rogers which was caught on video.”

Rogers’ lawyers have filed a notice of claim, the first step toward suing the government, over the arrest.

Singas’ office has said it is still prosecuting Rogers, 45, on earlier charges. When he was arrested in December the cops were pursuing him over a harassment charge a month earlier, for allegedly pushing a pregnant woman to the floor, and fleeing police. The matters constitute violations, a lesser crime than a misdemeanor or felony. 

Gillibrand and New York’s senior U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, believe the Rogers case shows why a bill in Congress, the Justice in Policing Act, which would tighten use-of-force standards, should be passed, according to Woolford and Schumer’s Angelo Roefaro.

“Exercising independent oversight and demanding complete accountability of law enforcement is key to ending police brutality,” Gillibrand said, according to Woolford. “This disturbing incident demonstrates why there must be a national use of force standard, as proposed in the Justice in Policing Act.”

Roefaro declined to say whether Schumer wants an independent probe.

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