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Ex-Met Wally Backman found not guilty in harassment case

Ex-Met and current Long Island Ducks manager Wally Backman was found not guilty Friday of assaulting his former girlfriend during a domestic incident last August. (Credit: Veronique Louis)

A Riverhead Town Justice Court judge on Friday acquitted former Mets second baseman Wally Backman of assaulting his then-girlfriend during a domestic incident at the woman’s home last August.

Judge Lori Hulse found Backman, now the manager of the Long Island Ducks, not guilty of fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and second-degree harassment, a violation, following a weeklong bench trial.

"I said from Day One … that I never touched her; never laid a hand on her," Backman said after the verdict, noting that the charges likely cost him opportunities to coach in the majors. "Justice was served." 

Prosecutors contend that Backman, 60, of Deer Park, pushed Amanda Byrnes against a wall during a dispute on Aug. 30 at her Riverhead home, and then twisted her left hand as she tried to call 911.

But Backman’s attorneys, William Keahon of Hauppauge and Stephen Civardi of Freeport, portrayed the former major leaguer as the victim of overeager police and a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend.

They said Byrnes had a history of making false accusations and a lengthy criminal record including convictions for aggravated harassment, endangering the welfare of a child and petit larceny.

During his closing argument Friday, Civardi called the charges a “travesty” that unfairly damaged Backman’s life and career.

“They had tremendous ramifications for him and his family,” Civardi said. 

But prosecutor Kyle Grasser said "there has been no inconsistencies in her story. She did not contradict herself at any point during this trial. She did not waver.”

Michael Pfaff, president and general manager of the Ducks, said, "We stood behind Wally because of our belief in his innocence and in every person’s right to due process."

Byrnes, 39, testified that Backman was intoxicated when he drove her car from the Ducks’ ballpark in Central Islip to her home the night before the arrest. 

The couple argued most of the night and Backman became enraged as she got ready for work the next morning, accusing her of sleeping with one of his players, she said. Byrnes contacted her mother who called 911.

“I was in a panic for my safety,” Byrnes testified. 

Byrnes said she suffered lacerations to her hand from Backman's 1986 World Series championship ring and needed surgery in November to repair her pacemaker, which shifted during the incident. Backman's attorneys pointed to records from Byrnes' cardiologist showing the incident probably didn't cause the pacemaker to become dislodged.

Backman told responding officers that he wanted to end the relationship but that Byrnes took his keys and phone to prevent him from leaving, Civardi said.

"He was not intoxicated, not impaired, not stumbling," Civardi said. "He was not doing anything except trying to leave."

Byrnes has made at least 70 unsubstantiated calls to Riverhead police about ex-boyfriends since 2011, Civardi said. 

Byrnes acknowledged under cross-examination that she had nine ex-boyfriends arrested after they ended their relationships with her. She admitted to pleading guilty to aggravated harassment after one relationship ended, but denied throwing a brick through a window at the man’s home or threatening his wife and children. 

In court Friday, Keahon read from six police reports filed by previous boyfriends of Byrnes over the past decade, including a Southampton Town police officer.

The men said Byrnes had behaved erratically, hiding property, making threats and often preventing them from leaving her home. Affidavits of the incidents, obtained by Newsday, support the accounts of the men.

"How do you prosecute any citizen when … you know the complaining witness has a history of psychiatric problems and of making false reports to police that are ultimately dismissed?" Civardi said. 

Grasser acknowledged Byrnes' troubled history but said they did not prove that she was not victimized by Backman.

"Does it mean she cannot be a victim because she has a tendency to pick bad men?" he asked. "Does that mean she should have her 911 privileges revoked?"

John Ray, Byrnes' Sayville attorney, who represents her in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed in September against Backman, said his client's background should never have been part of the trial.

"It's a defeat for victims of abuse," he said.

Backman played for the Mets from 1980 to 1988 and was a key member of the 1986 World Series championship team. He coached in the Mets’ system from 2010 to 2016 and was named the sixth manager in the Ducks’ history in 2018.

In 2001, Backman was charged with misdemeanor harassment for an incident involving his wife and her friend in Oregon and later pleaded guilty. A year earlier, Backman was arrested and later convicted on a DUI charge in Kennewick, Washington.

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