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Family of Daniel McDonnell, who died in Suffolk police custody, gets $2.25M wrongful-death settlement

Danielle McDonnell, of Lindenhurst, holds her 2001 wedding

Danielle McDonnell, of Lindenhurst, holds her 2001 wedding photo of her and her husband Daniel McDonnell on June 26, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The wife and son of a Lindenhurst man who died in May 2011 after a struggle with Suffolk police officers in a First Precinct cell will get $2.25 million in a settlement of the family's wrongful death lawsuit, court records show.

The payment to the family of Daniel McDonnell, 40, had already been approved by the Suffolk County Legislature after a settlement reached during a short trial last spring, but the amount was revealed Thursday in a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Gary Brown in federal court in Central Islip.

A state Commission of Correction report of McDonnell's May 6, 2011, death, released June 18, 2013, called it a "preventable homicide" and recommended the state attorney general "undertake a criminal investigation into the excessive use of physical force by the Suffolk County Police Department resulting in the death of Daniel McDonnell."

The report is authored by Phyllis Harrison-Ross, a physician and member of the Albany-based agency.

The state Commission of Correction investigates deaths in state jails, prisons, detention centers and police lockups.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown and Suffolk police officials could not be reached for comment.

"The McDonnell family remains hopeful that there will be a criminal investigation, particularly in light of the commission's report that referred the case to the attorney general for criminal investigation," said Stephen Civardi of Freeport, who represented Danielle McDonnell, the victim's wife. "When a citizen dies in custody being held on a misdemeanor, there's a clear and absolute need for a full and complete criminal inquiry."

Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which monitors state government, said Schneiderman's office should explain whether it acted on the commission's recommendation.

"The public should expect that the attorney general act on a criminal referral by a government agency and if they haven't acted on it, I think the public needs to know why," he said.

McDonnell had been in custody on a criminal contempt charge after a dispute. He was taken into custody at 2 p.m. May 5, 2011, and died the next day after First Precinct officers shot him repeatedly with a stun gun and pinned him to the floor with a riot shield when he yelled for his medication for bipolar disorder and flooded his cell by stuffing his clothes in the toilet, the report said.

At least nine officers were involved.

Earlier, officers had declined to give McDonnell the medication delivered by his mother, citing a labeling problem. But the report said they did not call the pharmacy.

The 27-page report noted inconsistencies in the officers' versions and said Suffolk police, the county medical examiner and prosecutors failed to properly investigate the death.

The commission called the homicide squad's investigation "cursory and incomplete." At the time, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota issued a statement calling the report's critique of his role "inaccurate and baseless."

Other county officials declined to comment then, citing the pending litigation.

The report said of the county medical examiner's review that, "the forensic investigation failed to adequately identify and examine the blunt force injuries to McDonnell . . . and failed to adequately establish and examine the events."

--With John Riley

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