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Nassau to settle police excessive force suit

Nassau County has agreed to settle a police excessive force suit with a man who lost his leg as a result of a 2004 arrest, bringing to an end a case that produced a $19.6 million verdict against a county detective last month, according to court filings.

Thomas Hartmann, a former construction worker from Long Beach, had his right leg crushed when the officer used his car to subdue and arrest Hartmann for making harassing calls to his wife, a misdemeanor. The verdict was believed to be the largest ever in a police brutality case on Long Island.

The settlement was revealed in a letter filed in court by Hartmann's attorney, but the amount was not disclosed. Hartmann lawyer Daniel Hansen and the county both declined to discuss the amount and other details. Typically in a post-trial settlement, the plaintiff accepts less than the verdict in return for the defendant agreeing to drop appeals.

"It'll be a lower number," said Nassau County spokesman Michael Martino. The final papers will be signed in the next couple of days, Martino said.

Hartmann, 41, testified during last month's three-week trial that as he was fleeing, Det. Karl Snelders ran him down from behind with his police car. Snelders, a 24-year veteran promoted to detective after the incident, said he thought Hartmann had a gun, but no gun was found.

The jury, after a short deliberation, ordered $16.6 million in compensatory damages for Hartmann, and later tacked on $3 million in punitive damages. County taxpayers were responsible for indemnifying Snelders.

The case had a political edge because new Republican County Attorney John Ciampoli, a few weeks before trial, retained an outside lawyer with GOP connections to try the case - Garrett Swenson of Brookhaven - firing the Suozzi administration in-house lawyer who had been preparing for trial. Ciampoli's predecessor said the late switch was part of a political purge that placed the county at risk. But Ciampoli said preparation of the case had been lax under Democrat Suozzi.

Swenson, affiliated for the case with the Islip firm of Sinnreich Kosakoff & Messina, had a combative relationship with Hartmann's lawyers at trial and was not mentioned in their letter disclosing the settlement. It was negotiated, the letter said, with Sondra Toscano, an in-house deputy county attorney.

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