A Nassau County police officer accused of using excessive force against a suspect was indicted on assault charges, but the case was well underway in the court of public opinion as hecklers and supporters converged on the courthouse.
Vincent LoGiudice pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three counts of assault—two as a felony, one as a misdemeanor—two weeks after charges against the man he allegedly beat during a traffic stop were dropped.
“Judging this case by the video is like judging a book by its cover,” William Petrillo, the Rockville Centre-based attorney for LoGiudice, told reporters after his client’s initial court appearance.
Petrillo was referring to the surveillance camera footage that attorneys for the driver, 20-year-old Kyle Howell of Westbury, have said shows LoGiudice beating Howell when LoGiudice and his partner, who wasn’t charged, pulled Howell over in April. The charges were dropped on the same day that the county hired a police ethics consultant for $675,000 in response to a string of misconduct cases.
While hundreds of police officers from various law enforcement agencies packed the Mineola court house in a show of support for LoGiudice, a woman shouted at cops outside about police corruption. Officers immediately outside the courtroom, concerned that Howell supporters were trying to form a wall that would effectively force LoGiudice to face a gaggle of media, pushed their way through to make a path for their colleague.
“Our community, the victim, the police department, and Officer LoGiudice deserve a full and impartial opportunity to seek justice in this case,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “My office will continue to ensure that that’s exactly what everyone receives.”
Petrillo, who said the district attorney’s office didn’t interview his client, maintains that the actions taken by LoGiudice were “reasonable, necessary and justified.” Howell, who required surgery for several broken bones in his face, has said that he was reaching for his paycheck, which he said was about to blow away out of an open door when LoGiudice allegedly kneed Howell in the face repeatedly.
Howell also has said that he was chewing gum, not trying to swallow marijuana to hide it from the officers, as police alleged. Outside court, one police supporter held a sign that read: ‘”I was just chewing gum and reaching for my paycheck” #yearright.’
LoGiudice faces up to seven years in prison, if convicted. He was released without bail and is due back in court July 2.
Outside court, James Carver, the head of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the union that represents the department’s rank-and-file officers, led supporters in a chant of “Vindicate Vinny!”
“You’ve only seen a small snippet of what actually happened that day,” Carver told reporters of the video. “There’s a lot more going on in there.”
Amy Marion, the Garden City-based attorney representing Howell in a lawsuit against the county and the officers, said that she and her client are content that charges have been filed against LoGiudice, but they are concerned with the reaction from police.
“We are horrified and disturbed by the reaction of other law enforcement officers and the PBA president himself who are condoning brutal attacks of its citizens in our county and sending the message to law enforcement that this conduct will be tolerated,” Marion siad. “We also are concerned that the neither of the officers were charged with the false statements they made which resulted in our client being arrested and charged with felony assault against both officers.”
The case against LoGiudice—before Judge Chris Quinn, who now presides in the same courtroom in which ex-Second Deputy Nassau Police Commissioner William Flanagan was convicted of misconduct last year—began the same way the case against Flanagan, who’s appealing, ended: With a round of applause from police supporters.