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Partial verdict in case of motorist accused of dragging state trooper

New York State Police investigate an accident in

New York State Police investigate an accident in which a state trooper was dragged across the Southern State Parkway near Exit 19, Peninsula Boulevard, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau jury deadlocked Tuesday on the top charge against a motorist accused of dragging a state trooper across the Southern State Parkway, but found him guilty of assault in what could be the first of two trials in the case.

The Nassau District Attorney’s Office could choose to again prosecute Kyheem Kelly, 31, of Jamaica, Queens, on the unresolved charges, with a spokeswoman saying Wednesday authorities still were deciding how to move forward.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn declared a partial mistrial Tuesday and ordered Kelly back to court later this month.

Authorities had alleged Kelly dragged State Trooper Jean Dhaiti across three lanes of eastbound traffic near Exit 19 in Lakeview on Feb. 15, 2017, after the motorist tried to flee a car stop sparked by suspected cellphone use.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on first-degree assault, along with a second-degree assault charge and the offenses of reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.

But they convicted Kelly of another second-degree assault charge, reckless driving and other offenses that included driving while using a cellphone.

Defense attorney Matt Tuohy said in an interview that he contended during the trial that an inadvertent accident took place after Kelly tried to talk the trooper out of impounding his car while he was on a date with his female passenger.

He tried to portray a chaotic situation in which the trooper lost his temper and went into the car to try to grab Kelly or his keys. The defense asserted that Kelly’s foot came off the brake with the trooper on top of him, or one of them mistakenly hit the gas, before the car “started to go,” according to Tuohy.

“The evidence showed there were a lot of conflicts as to what happened,” the Huntington lawyer said after the partial verdict.

Tuohy said Kelly had never been in trouble with the law before, has joint custody of his 9-year-old son and has held the same food-carting job at Kennedy Airport for about a decade.

Nassau district attorney’s office spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said in a statement Wednesday that the trooper’s life “was forever changed because of the injuries this defendant caused him during a routine traffic stop.”

She added prosecutors were “grateful for the jury’s recognition that Trooper Dhaiti was assaulted,” and said her office “is reviewing its options regarding the unresolved charges.”

Dhaiti, 46, who testified that his injuries included a brain injury and a head wound that required stitches, said he has not been medically cleared to return to his law-enforcement duties.

The trooper said Kelly gave him a fake name during the car stop, and he told Kelly after finding there was no valid registration or insurance for the man’s Honda Accord that he was going to impound it.

Dhaiti, who became a trooper 12 years ago after six years with the NYPD, said he began struggling with Kelly after he opened the door to try to take the keys when the motorist refused to hand them over.

The trooper said he had decided to pull Kelly out of the car and arrest him, and the next thing he knew, the car was moving.

“I feel like I’m being dragged,” Dhaiti testified, saying he tried to get his lower body into the car while holding onto Kelly.

But the Honda crashed into the center median after crossing oncoming traffic lanes, according to Dhaiti, who struck his head.

The trooper testified he was able to grab onto Kelly as he tried to escape on the passenger’s side, with two bystanders helping to capture the motorist.

“It was an ongoing struggle from beginning to end,” Dhaiti said, telling jurors that blood “was pouring everywhere” from a cut above his right eye.

Kelly is due back in court Dec. 20.

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