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Man sues Suffolk County for $160 million, citing Spota's conviction

Samuel White in an undated photo.

Samuel White in an undated photo. Credit: Samuel White

A man acquitted of manslaughter in the death of a Bay Shore man has filed a $160 million federal lawsuit alleging false arrest and wrongful prosecution by authorities he claims are a part of "culture of corruption" exposed by ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's recent criminal conviction.

A Suffolk jury in July found plaintiff Samuel White not guilty of any crime in the May 2016 death of a man after a fistfight outside a Huntington bar that was caught on surveillance video.

White, now 36, claimed self-defense during a trial in which the Suffolk district attorney’s office didn’t contest that the deceased, Edwin Rivera, 39, had instigated the violence.

Testimony showed Rivera’s ex-girlfriend texted and called him to say she was out with another man. Then Rivera arrived and confronted White as the couple left the bar, sparking a dispute that ended with Rivera suffering fatal blows to his head and neck.

White says in his lawsuit, filed last month in the Eastern District of New York, that his prosecution was built on a faulty indictment and fabricated evidence aimed at framing him as a killer.

The lawsuit names Suffolk County, along with its police department, district attorney’s office and Spota among defendants. They also include two homicide detectives, Ronald Tavares and Michael Milau, and two assistant district attorneys, Laura Newcombe and Daryl Levy, who were involved in White’s case.

“When people in power lose integrity — the system fails. This is another casualty of the Spota Culture of Corruption — and it’s just not acceptable. My client, who had no criminal record at all, walked into the police station as a victim to report a crime against him ... and never left,” White’s Manhattan attorney, Stephanie McClure, said in a statement.

White, then a Brentwood resident, spent nearly a year behind bars before a jury acquitted him, according to the lawsuit. It alleges several violations of his constitutional rights.

Besides monetary damages and a jury trial, the lawsuit also demands the firing of current Suffolk employees named in the suit. It also asks for an independent review by impartial and experienced attorneys of “all files prosecuted during the Spota era” — which stretched more than 15 years.

The lawsuit claims Spota, while perched atop Suffolk law enforcement at the time of White’s arrest and prosecution, led a corrupt system. 

Attorney misconduct, falsification of evidence, unfair trial practices, and Brady violations — when evidence helpful to defendants isn’t properly disclosed — were “custom and routine,” it also alleges.

“His culture of malfeasance pervaded his office and perverted this prosecution as well as many others,” White’s lawsuit says of Spota, who announced in October 2017 that he was stepping down following his federal indictment.

Spota’s own criminal trial and conviction last year revealed that “culture of corruption,” the lawsuit also says.

In December, a federal jury found Spota and his former anti-corruption chief, Christopher McPartland, guilty of charges including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and witness tampering for orchestrating a cover-up of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s 2012 beating of a handcuffed prisoner.

Spota and McPartland are awaiting sentencing but have asked a judge to order an evidentiary hearing in support of their motion for a new trial. Burke previously pleaded guilty to the beating and cover-up and served most of a 46-month prison sentence before his 2018 release to home confinement.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said her office couldn’t comment on White’s claims “due to the pending litigation." The police department released a statement saying it also doesn’t comment on such legal matters.

A spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone said his office couldn’t comment on the newly pending litigation.

But Anthony La Pinta, an attorney for Spota, said in a statement that "the allegations in the complaint pertaining to Mr. White’s trial took place close to two years after Mr. Spota left office," and the trial prosecutor "wasn't even hired by Mr. Spota."

He added: “A grand jury indicted Mr. White and an appellate court reinstated the murder charge. His arrest and prosecution was clearly based on reasonable cause.”

White’s lawsuit points to multiple homicide cases in Suffolk that were dismissed or overturned due to law enforcement misconduct in the time period it says is relevant to his case.

In particular, the complaint cites three felony cases that involved Tavares in which charges were dropped or convictions thrown out — two of them murder cases.

Before White’s trial, the prosecution never disclosed that “multiple cases have been dismissed and parties exonerated, under circumstances in which Det. Tavares coerced false statements and confessions,” the lawsuit says.

It adds that the prosecution “intentionally and purposely” didn’t let Tavares testify at White’s trial — knowing his background would come out during cross examination — and instead had Milau read rewritten notes Tavares took during unrecorded interviews.

White alleges in the federal complaint that the woman he was with that night, Valerie Holloway, set him up for what was actually a robbery and later posed on social media with his large diamond ring — taken along with his gold necklace during the violent encounter.

Rivera, who had cocaine and alcohol in his blood, ripped the necklace off White’s neck after charging at him, the lawsuit also claims.

The plaintiff says when he went to a local police precinct later to report the robbery, police arrested him and ignored his requests for an attorney. They also ignored evidence of his innocence and Holloway’s guilt in Rivera’s death, the lawsuit alleges.

It also says Tavares got an unrecorded statement from Holloway — a statement White claims was “manipulated and coached” — before she testified before a grand jury that also didn’t hear about the law on self-defense before indicting him.

A judge threw out the indictment later but an appellate court restored it after, by law, considering grand jury testimony alone and not the surveillance video, the claim says.

“They pinned the plaintiff, and built the entire case around him, intentionally ignoring all else, and all exculpatory facts, fabricating and manipulating evidence as needed,” the lawsuit alleges.

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