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Wounds tell story of Kenny Lazo's death

The bruises and cuts on Kenny Lazo's face were barely visible as he lay in his open coffin at a Bay Shore funeral home.

But beneath the makeup, there are dark bruises and cuts, worse than the ones his family said they saw in a photograph of the right side of his face at the medical examiner's office to identify his body. A photo his girlfriend took yesterday before the funeral shows the other side of the face, the one they say they had not seen.

The photo shows a purple bruise beneath his left eye, and a thick scratch on his cheek.

"The photograph says everything," Lazo's father, Alfonso Lazo, said at Rose's Funeral Home.

What role these wounds played in the 24-year-old man's death is at the heart of the family's struggle for answers, and one of the questions investigators are probing. According to Suffolk police, Lazo was selling drugs in West Islip and struggled with three officers who tried to arrest him.

Lazo allegedly tried to grab an officer's gun, prompting them to beat him with flashlights. He collapsed about 30 minutes after his arrival at the Third Precinct. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, police said.

When to use force, and what is appropriate, is a variable officers deal with daily. When a suspect reaches for a gun, officers can use anything to protect themselves - a radio, a flashlight or a gun.

"Police officers everywhere are trained, if someone is trying to get your gun, you should assume they are trying to kill you," said Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

Moskos said police departments generally don't like officers to use flashlights, as there is a belief they are more likely to hit someone with them than a baton. Another professor at the school, Eugene O'Donnell, said the question is whether the department authorizes officers to use flashlights as weapons. He said it's common to use them.

"What particular weapon they use is really not of consequence," he said.

"What's of consequence is whether or not they're legally justified using the force that they're using."

The police department maintains they acted defensively. Lazo's family, however, believes they used excessive force. They question why Lazo would flee officers if he stepped out of his car voluntarily, and why officers didn't take him to a hospital after he was beaten.

For two days, police have not responded to requests for a more detailed timeline of Saturday evening, information on Lazo's cause of death, and on whether the officers involved are on any kind of modified duty.

Lazo's family says they have not been able to get information from the medical examiner's office on his death.

An attorney representing the mother of Lazo's 5-year-old son has called on District Attorney Thomas Spota to hire a special prosecutor to investigate.

Spota's office declined to comment yesterday.

A spokesman for the state Commission of Correction confirmed it had begun an inquiry, but could not discuss details.

Officials have not commented on the information provided by a witness who was at the precinct Saturday night and who said he saw an officer demonstrate the beating, then watched others there laugh.

The officer then made a crude remark about moving the body before it started to stink up the room, said the witness, Eric Melendez.

The case so far

April 12

8:15 p.m. Police receive a complaint of drug dealing and pull over Kenny Lazo on the Southern State Parkway. Lazo struggles with three officers. Police later say Lazo reached for an officer's gun, and they hit him with flashlights.

9 p.m. Lazo collapses at the Third Precinct and is taken to a hospital, where he is pronounced dead.

April 13

Lazo's family goes to medical examiner's office to identify his body but is only shown a photo. The Homicide Squad investigates.

April 14

Police release more details about Lazo's death. His family releases a copy of the photo of his cut and bruised face.

April 15

Attorney for mother of Lazo's son asks the Suffolk district attorney for special prosecutor to investigate. Police maintain they acted defensively.

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