A Nassau judge Wednesday acquitted two former correction officers of perjury charges after their attorneys argued the case came down to either believing the law-enforcement veterans or the jail inmates who testified against them.
Defendants John Andujar and Joseph Donlon had faced up to 7 years in prison if convicted on charges that also had included official misconduct and making a false sworn statement.
"It's certainly what we believed the evidence showed," Donlon's attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola, said after the former officers' acquittals on all charges.
Prosecutors had alleged Andujar accepted a Nassau County jail inmate's challenge to fight after the two got into an argument in October 2011, before the officer removed the inmate's handcuffs and shackles and the two squared off and fought each other.
They said Donlon was among officers who saw the interaction and eventually got involved to help subdue convicted robber David Page, now 40.
Authorities also claimed that Andujar, 56, now living in Orange Park, Florida, and Donlon, 49, of Ronkonkoma, then lied twice under oath about the incident involving the inmate, including before a grand jury.
In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Stevenson said an oath to tell a grand jury the truth should be "sacrosanct." She asked Supervising County Court Judge Christopher Quinn to hold the defendants accountable for lies she said they told to avoid liability for their misconduct and to support a prosecution against the inmate for assaulting them.
Authorities later dropped the assault case against Page, who was a state prisoner temporarily at the jail for a resentencing proceeding. He was classified as a high-risk inmate after authorities said he had tried to escape from a courtroom during a proceeding in a 1999 robbery case against him, injuring court officers in the process.
The defense had argued Page punched Andujar in the face without provocation after Andujar took off Page's handcuffs and shackles to put high-risk handcuffs on him. The defense said Andujar returned punches to protect himself.
Prosecutors declined to comment when leaving court after Quinn delivered the verdict in the bench trial.
"I think the message is that the system works," Andujar's lawyer, Lawrence Carra, said of the not-guilty verdicts.
Authorities have said Andujar retired from his job in 2012, and Donlon was fired after his arrest.
A correction officers' union official called for Donlon's job reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and benefits after yesterday's acquittal.
Sheriff's Capt. Michael Golio said the agency is evaluating Donlon's acquittal and no decision has been made yet about whether he'll be reinstated.