Westbury resident Kyle Howell, 20, filed a lawsuit in early May 2014 against the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) that claims two officers used excessive force against him during a routine traffic stop on April 25, 2014. After being punched and kneed in the face by the officers, Howell suffered from a broken nose, facial fractures, nerve damage and an eye injury that will require surgery. The entire incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera and shows Howell engaged in a physical altercation with the two officers. Howell was taken to the hospital as a result of his injuries and was charged with assault, evidence tampering and misdemeanor drug possession.
According to official documents pertaining to the case, police officers pulled Howell over because he was driving a car with a cracked windshield. The officers claim that they saw a small bag that appeared to be cocaine as well as another bag that appeared to contain marijuana. The officers claim that Howell placed the marijuana in his mouth in an attempt to conceal the evidence. When the police asked Howell for his license and registration, the 20-year-old didn’t immediately comply because he began videotaping the incident with his cell phone. After not complying with the police officers’ orders, a nearby video camera captured the police engaging in a physical struggle with Howell inside the vehicle. Police stated that the officers feared Howell was trying to reach for a weapon.
Howell denies the allegations that he had any drugs in his vehicle. He stated that the officers overreacted when he moved in an attempt to stop his paycheck from blowing into the street. Howell stated, “My paycheck started to fly out the door. I went to go reach for it, and the next thing you know, I got a knee to the face. Then the next thing I remember, I was in the hospital.” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated that her office is reviewing the video and investigating the incident.
Since 2002, Nassau and Suffolk County have settled $30 million in legal claims involving police misconduct. Forty-nine officers were sued more than once. Most of the cases involved excessive force. Since 2008, both county’s police departments have had 1,150 internal affairs investigations into allegations of police misconduct. While some of the cases resulted in officers being terminated, many of the officers involved in incidents continued to stay on the job or retired early.
David Harris, a law professor who studies cases of police misconduct, said that a lack of oversight of both county police departments is a “systematic institutional problem.” Because of New York State’s Civil Rights Law 50-a, police departments do not have to publically disclose the results of misconduct investigations. As a result, many police departments, include those in Nassau and Suffolk County, are overseen by local police officials and lawmakers. Nassau DA Kathleen Rice, in a response to a survey, indicated that oversight of the county’s department needs to be increased.
Dennis Dunne, chairperson of Nassau County’s public safety committee, said that more oversight may not be necessary. He commented, “The police are a quasi-military organization. They have to police themselves so they can help keep us safe.”
Website Resource: LONG ISLAND OFFICERS CAUGHT ON VIDEO VIOLENTLY STRIKING DRIVER, ABC News
Young man filmed being beaten by cops to file suit against Nassau County Police Department, NY Daily News, Mark Morales, May 6, 2014
For Their Eyes Only, NY Newsday, Sandra Peddie & Adam Playford,