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Police: Alleged attack at Smithtown protest under investigation

Protesters gather along Main Street in Smithtown on

Protesters gather along Main Street in Smithtown on Sunday. Credit: James Carbone

A day after what was a mostly peaceful protest against police brutality in Smithtown, Suffolk County police said they were investigating an alleged assault of a marcher.

Police made no arrests in Smithtown or at other protests in Suffolk Sunday, a police spokeswoman said Monday. There was one additional injury in addition to the alleged assault, she said, but the person refused to go to the hospital, has not filed a police report and did not disclose the circumstances of the injury, she said. 

Suffolk County Police’s Hate Crimes Unit was investigating the alleged assault in which a protester said he was punched in the head by another individual, Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said at County Executive Steve Bellone's daily media briefing Monday.

Cameron called it a “serious allegation” and said “we have made progress in the investigation today.” Fourth Precinct detectives, plainclothes officers and the Hate Crimes Unit were participating, he said.

An Instagram video accompanied by text alleging an assault shows a young man in a blue shirt bleeding from the left side of his head. In the text, a user identified himself as Alexandro, 22, from Long Island. Attempts to reach the user were unsuccessful. 

Meanwhile, a local business drew unwelcome attention when its sign appeared in the background of a video taken at the march showing a middle-aged man screaming angrily at marchers. Twitter posters said the man used a slur and users released addresses and phone numbers for a local man they said was the person in the video. Neither the local man nor the person who posted the video could be reached for comment. 

Swept up in the conflict was Katie's of Smithtown, a pub whose management posted a statement on its Facebook page that said, in part, “counterprotesters & instigators who set up shop outside of our establishment have no affiliations with our business or our staff … we do not share in their hateful views or condone any of their actions.” 

In a phone interview, owner Brian Karppinen said he regretted that his business had been drawn into the matter. He supported peaceful protest, he said, but believed a flyer for the event that showed, among other things, a burning building, had been a mistake. “It freaked people out, and said ‘Bring your inferno,’ ” he said.

In a May 30 tweet, march organizer Caitlin Matos-Rodriguez, 20, of Central Islip, wrote, “Let’s make the privileged UNCOMFORTABLE with our noise & passion so much they can no longer ignore us,” and referred cryptically to the march as Phase 1.

Smithtown Councilman Thomas Lohmann, a retired NYPD detective who served on the force at the Crown Heights and Tompkins Square riots and was at town hall during the protest, said it was overwhelmingly peaceful, with roughly 1,000 people present. 

Like Karppinen, he said the flyer had stoked anxiety. “People saw inflammatory statements, things burning,” he said. “People were scared and upset.” 

He praised the police for their handling of the protest on a day when they were responding to multiple large marches across the county. 

Civic activist Amy Fortunato said the event was peaceful and began pleasantly, though video taken later in the day showed raucous, sometimes angry encounters between marchers and counterprotesters.

With Robert Brodsky

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