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Oyster Bay man claims in suit he was shot, beaten in Nassau police traffic stop

John Dowling III, paralegal at left, sits with

John Dowling III, paralegal at left, sits with Christopher Cassar, P.C., at right, and their client Leo Duchnowski, 24, of Oyster Bay, at the lawyers' office in Huntington, on Aug. 13, 2015. Credit: Johnny Milano

An Oyster Bay man is suing Nassau County and six police officers for more than $30 million, claiming he was shot and beaten during a Bayville traffic stop.

But authorities have said police were defending themselves after the man hit an officer with his car while trying to flee -- an assertion the man's attorney denies.

Leo Duchnowski, now 24, was on parole for drug-related offenses, when on July 1, 2013, at 10 p.m. his vehicle was pulled over by officers from the department's Bureau of Special Operations' Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team conducting a drug investigation, the lawsuit says.

Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, the lawsuit alleges the officers used "unnecessary, unreasonable, excessive and deadly force." It claims Duchnowski was shot in the back and then beaten by the officers, who "conspired to deprive" him of "needed medical care and fabricated and disseminated false accounts regarding the unjustified use of deadly force."

Duchnowski, who pleaded guilty on Dec. 17, 2014, to fifth-degree criminal sales of a controlled substance -- hydrocodone -- and second-degree reckless endangerment and served 12 months in jail in connection with the incident, declined to comment through his attorney.

"Just because somebody has drugs on him, doesn't mean they can shoot him in the back, unarmed and driving away from the police," Duchnowski's lawyer, Christopher J. Cassar of Huntington, said Thursday. "It's our position that these officers have to be held accountable . . . . This is a nonviolent offense that they escalated to the next level."

Police never identified the officer who shot Duchnowski, but the suit identified him as Jason Collins. Police had said the officer was treated at a hospital and released.

The suit says the officers were in unmarked cars when they pulled Duchnowski over and Collins "fired several rounds" into Duchnowski's black Hyundai Elantra, striking him in the back.

Duchnowski's "legs immediately became paralyzed . . . and he was unable to use his legs to operate," his car, the suit says. After he was shot, Duchnowski was "forcibly removed" from his car by the officers and "beaten," the suit says.

Cassar said Duchnowski is unemployed as a result of his injuries and "can barely walk."

Nassau police declined to comment Thursday, but at the time said the officer who fired his service weapon was "in fear for his life" after being knocked to the ground by Duchnowski's car, which struck him in the knee.

Cassar denies his client's vehicle hit the officer and said he has ballistics evidence showing Collins "was standing up while he fired that gun" and there are "no medical records that support he was injured."

The other officers named are: Lt. James Watson and Police Officers Damien Suarez, Richard Mahepath, Larry Brue and Samuel J. Augello.

Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said neither the union, nor the officers, who are still with the department, would comment. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in an email: "The County does not comment on pending litigation."

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