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Court rally for man in civil rights suits against Nassau cops, DA's office

New York Communities for Change held a rally Thursday for a Freeport man who alleges he was beaten by members of the Nassau County Police Department during a 2018 traffic stop in Hempstead. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

A Freeport man who sued Nassau police and the district attorney's office after cops allegedly beat him during a 2018 traffic stop appeared in court Thursday following his conviction for resisting arrest during the encounter.

Meanwhile, more than three dozen supporters and family members of Rondese Hilton-Jones, 40, rallied outside District Court in Hempstead Thursday to bring attention to the case. They held a news conference and displayed photos of his injuries — including a wound to his skull that required 10 staples to close — and argued that Hilton-Jones, who is black, had been targeted because of his race.

"We are talking about human beings being brutally beaten," said Marcellus Morris Sr. at the news conference.

"Forget justice reform," said Morris, an anti-gang activist with the group Reign 4 Life and a member of the Brooklyn-based New York Communities for Change, a social justice group. "Forget bail reform. This is human decency."

Hilton-Jones then made a brief appearance before District Court Judge Joy Watson where his sentencing on the resisting arrest charge was postponed until Jan. 29. 

Last March, Hilton-Jones filed a pair of federal civil suits against the Nassau police department and District Attorney Madeline Singas' office related to the 2018 traffic stop, claiming violations of his civil rights.

Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, spokesman for the Nassau police department, declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending litigation. Singas' office referred calls to the County Attorney's Office, which also declined to comment.

The suit alleges that members of the police department's Bureau of Special Operations pulled Hilton-Jones over shortly before 10 p.m. on May 29, 2018 as he drove his 2012 Nissan Altima on Fulton Avenue.

Police records indicate that officers initiated the traffic stop because the driver was speaking on his cellphone without a hands-free device and then swallowed what appeared to be a bag of crack cocaine.

The criminal complaint contends Hilton-Jones resisted arrest and would not obey an order to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. 

"The defendant refused to comply and continued to violently fight with the officers by throwing punches, twisting his body and attempting to wrestle with the officers even as the officers continued to give verbal commands for the defendant to stop resisting," the complaint states. 

Hilton-Jones' lawsuit contends he was not in possession of any narcotics. The suit also alleges officers became aggressive as Hilton-Jones reached into his pocket to produce his driver's license and registration. The Freeport man claims in the suit that officers struck him in the back of the head with either a flashlight or the butt end of a gun.

Fearing for his safety, the suit states, Hilton-Jones fled on foot and hid in the backyard of a home on Meadowbrook Road but was found by officers a short time later. Hilton-Jones said he did not resist arrest but officers stunned him multiple times with a Taser and punched him with fists and a baton, according to the suit.

"Plaintiff repeatedly screamed and begged the officers to stop but the officers kept employing the Tasers on his feet and ankles, including removing plaintiff’s sneakers and socks and placing the electrodes directly on plaintiff’s bare feet," the suit states. 

Hilton-Jones, who declined to talk with reporters Thursday, says in the suit that the beating left him with a herniated disc and sciatic nerve damage. 

A jury last year found Hilton-Jones guilty of resisting arrest but acquitted him of attempted tampering with evidence. The suit claims doctors found no drugs in Hilton-Jones' system shortly after the arrest.

Rev. Bob Lepley, also with the Nassau-based Reign 4 Life, said he has known Hilton-Jones for years, helping to keep him out of gangs. 

"[Hilton-Jones] is a man of peace who abhors violence," Lepley said at the news conference. 

Records show Hilton-Jones served prison time after a 2002 conviction for criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was sent to prison again following a 2007 conviction on charges of criminal possession of a weapon and fourth-degree conspiracy, records show.