A Hempstead man shot in the leg by a Hempstead Village police officer during a 2017 traffic stop filed a federal lawsuit against the cop, the police department and others, alleging a host of civil rights violations, including the use of excessive force.
John Green, 28, and his two female passengers were driving home from a gas station on May 15, 2017, about 1:30 a.m. when officers Robert Frank and Vito Buccellato followed them in their police car, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
After about five minutes, the officers activated the police car lights.
“Not sure what the lights were for, [Green] continued driving at a normal rate of speed for a few blocks and then made a left turn on Harvard Street toward his home,” according to the lawsuit filed on July 26.
Green pulled up to his house and the front passenger got out, the lawsuit said. Then officers Frank and Buccellato, who had followed Green home, got out of their police car with guns drawn and pointed the weapons at Green.
They told Green to “Get out of the [expletive] car!” and “Put your hands up!” according to the lawsuit.
“[Green] made no physical motions, took no actions, showed no aggression and demonstrated no furtive movements to raise any suspicion to cause a reasonable officer to draw his firearm, and no less discharge the firearm into [Green’s] car striking [Green] in his leg,” the lawsuit said.
Green’s attorney, Frederick Brewington of Hempstead, said his client sped off because he was shot for no reason and he was afraid of the cops.
Officers Frank and Buccellato, however, tell a different story.
According to the criminal complaints filed against Green, the officers said they first saw Green, in a 2002 Mercedes-Benz, speeding on Stewart Avenue in the Village of Hempstead, and initiated a traffic stop by turning on their cruiser’s lights and sirens.
“The defendant then began to flee the marked police vehicle, traveling in excess of twenty-five miles per hour above the speed limit,” according to the criminal complaints filed against Green. “As [Green] fled, he committed numerous traffic infractions and was able to evade the Police Officers by traveling across lanes of traffic, making several turns and failing to stop at stop signs and traffic lights.”
After Green’s Mercedes pulled up in front of his Harvard Street house, Frank and Buccellato said they approached the SUV on foot. Without explaining what prompted one or both to draw their guns, the officers said in the complaints that “during said vehicle stop there was one shot discharged by P.O. Frank, striking the exterior driver's side door.”
After the shooting, the officers said, Green drove off and they gave chase, but they lost him.
The Mercedes was later found crashed into a parked vehicle on Princeton Street and Bennett Avenue, according to the complaints.
Two days after the shooting, Green told his parole officer what had happened, according to the lawsuit. The parole officer took Green to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was treated for the gunshot wound, then called Nassau County police.
Initially, Nassau County police charged Green with misdemeanor crimes of unlawful fleeing of a police officer and leaving the scene of an incident without reporting. They released Green and directed him to appear in court for arraignment on June 1, 2017, the date on the desk appearance ticket.
As Green was walking home, Nassau County police picked him up and brought him back to the Third Precinct under false pretenses that he had forgotten to sign some documents, the lawsuit said. But Green was later told he was under arrest for violating the terms of his parole. Green had been convicted of identity theft for unauthorized use of a credit card, according to Brewington.
The parole violation order didn’t come from Green’s parole officer, Brewington said. The order came from a parole official in Albany.
Later in the day, Hempstead Village officers arrested Green at the Third Precinct and he was eventually charged with traffic infractions and parole violations. Brewington said the parole board held a hearing and determined that Green did not violate the terms of his parole.
Also named in the lawsuit are the Village of Hempstead and the Nassau County Police Department and unnamed officers.
The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages in excess of $5 million and an additional $10 million in punitive damages. It also asked the court to issue an order preventing the same thing from happening in the future.
Hempstead Village Mayor Don Ryan declined to comment. Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a spokesman for Nassau County Police Department, also declined to comment.
Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, said the investigation into the shooting was ongoing.
“The NCDA is writing an investigative memo with regards to the shooting in May 2017. The memo has not been finalized to date because the office has not interviewed a witness known only to the defense counsel,” Brosh said. “We anticipate interviewing that witness in the near future.”