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AG: No criminal charges in death of man subdued by Nassau police

The state attorney general Friday declined to pursue criminal charges against Nassau County police officers who deployed two stun guns 13 times to subdue an agitated Inwood man who was high on cocaine and allegedly refused to surrender to authorities.

In a 44-page report released Friday, Attorney General Letitia James said "there is insufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charges" in the death of Walter Perez, 36, who died in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2017, following a confrontation with Nassau police officers inside his basement apartment on Doughty Boulevard.

However, the state's top law enforcement officer did advise Nassau police to consider several reforms.

Two police officers used their Tasers a total of 13 times for a total of 66 seconds, according to a report from the attorney general's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit.

But investigators determined that the use of force was justified because Perez had refused to be taken into custody, repeatedly challenged officers to a fight, punched one cop and bit the hand of another, the report said.

“Walter Perez’s death was a tragedy and we convey our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones," James said in a statement accompanying the report. "The Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit is committed to providing the public with exhaustive and transparent accounting of all cases we investigate under the executive order. We undertook a comprehensive investigation into Mr. Perez’s death, and urge the Nassau County Police Department to implement our recommendations.”

The report recommended Nassau police develop training programs on using multiple Tasers against the same person, review methods to defuse incidents with people in mental health crisis and outfit officers with body cameras.

"We urge the NCPD to critically evaluate whether additional efforts to minimize the stress during the latter portion of the incident could have been employed," the report said. "Specifically, in considering the period after Mr. Perez entered his bedroom, was alone, was naked, and had no visible weapon in his hands or within his immediate reachable area, we encourage the NCPD to assess whether other techniques . . . were viable."

Nassau police Det. Lt. Richard Lebrun declined to comment, and none of Perez's relatives or attorney could be reached for comment. A Nassau PBA representative also could not be reached for comment.

Nassau police responded to Perez's apartment, where he had lived for nine years, shortly after 2 a.m. after his landlord called 911 to report that he was intoxicated, banging on walls and disturbing other residents, investigators said, adding that two tenants and the landlord had seen Perez dancing and singing while naked in a common area of the home.

Four officers responded: Nicole Bettes, Jack Castronova, Ray Moran and Robert Sacco. Officers said they observed Perez naked, bleeding from a swollen right eye, sweating profusely and positioned in a fighting stance, the report said.

The officers attempted to calm him down and called an ambulance to take him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, the report and police said.

But the altercation escalated when Perez told officers he had "something for them" and went into his bedroom, investigators found. The officers, concerned that Perez was retrieving a weapon, entered the bedroom and tried to handcuff him, the report said.

No weapon was found, the report said, though police officials said on the day of the incident that Perez had threatened officers with a weapon.

Perez resisted and punched Moran, who then used his Taser to try to subdue him, the report said. Perez pulled the probes from his chest and pushed the officer into a closet, investigators said.

Bettes then used her Taser, causing Perez to fall to the floor, officials said. Moran then  used his stun gun on Perez multiple times as officers attempted to handcuff him, the report said.

While lying on the ground, Perez continued to resist, biting the finger of one officer, the report said. Shortly thereafter, Perez went into cardiac arrest and died later that night at a hospital in Queens.

The New York City medical examiner determined that Perez’s death was caused by “excited delirium due to acute cocaine intoxication following physical exertion with restraint (i.e., handcuffs) and use of a conducted electrical weapon (i.e., a Taser),” the report said. 

The medical examiner found a host of injuries on Perez’s body, including cuts to his forehead, left eye, right eyebrow, left cheek, nose and neck but could not conclusively determine if he sustained the wounds before or after struggling with police.

With Stefanie Dazio

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