Nassau Police Officer Kenneth Baribault smiled weakly Tuesday at his parents as he sat on the witness stand, demonstrating to a jury what he can and cannot do since an accused drunken driver slammed into his patrol car on the Long Island Expressway more than a year ago.
Instead of talking, he can only give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" sign, and occasionally repeat single words when they are said to him. He cannot walk, as both his right leg and arm are paralyzed. And he cannot always understand things, having suffered a massive brain injury in the crash.
Baribault, 30, of Nesconset, appeared Tuesday at the trial of Rahiem Griffin, the man accused of drunken driving and slamming into Baribault's patrol car on May 18, 2008, as he was arresting another driver for drunken driving. But Baribault did not testify. Rather, he was asked to take the stand while his doctor testified to show the jury what he is, and is not, capable of doing.
"Are you nervous?" Baribault's doctor, neuropsychologist Philip Defina, asked as Baribault's father, also named Kenneth, looked on, his hands to his face.
Defina asked Baribault if he could move his left hand. Baribault did. The doctor then asked if Baribault could move his right hand. Baribault frowned, then used his left hand to lightly shake his lifeless right hand for the jury.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said what Baribault did Tuesday took "bravery beyond words."
"Today, he honored the badge," she said.
It was Griffin's case that spurred Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi a year ago to begin posting the names and photos of accused drunken drivers on his controversial online "Wall of Shame." He has since amended it to include only convicted drunken drivers.
As Baribault, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, demonstrated almost silently on the stand, some jurors sighed deeply, while others shook their heads. Griffin sat with his head bowed, looking up at Baribault only once or twice.
Griffin, 28, of Shirley, is charged with second-degree assault, which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison, and other charges.
Prosecutors say Griffin had been drinking all night and had even taken a drink with him on the road when he plowed into Baribault's patrol car.
Griffin's lawyer, Gerard Brogdon of Jamaica, objected to Baribault's appearance in court, saying that it could prejudice the jury against his client.
Judge Jerald Carter told jurors that Baribault was being allowed to take the stand only as evidence that he received "serious physical injury" as a result of the crash. He said that "sympathy or empathy" are not to enter into their deliberations.