By Daniel Dunaief
Suffolk County Police Department suspended two officers for kicking Christopher Cruz, a 30-year-old homeless man who stole a car and injured two other officers, after he had been handcuffed.
Cruz had stolen a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee in Port Jefferson Station late on the evening of Feb. 23. During a 35-minute chase, Cruz rammed two police cars, injuring two officers who were eventually treated and released from the hospital.
Cruz, who has been charged with several crimes, including third-degree grand larceny, second-degree assault, third-degree criminal mischief and resisting arrest, was kicked by officers who now face their own criminal investigation. At the same time, four other officers, including a supervisor, who didn’t stop the assault on a handcuffed suspect, are also on modified duty pending the investigation.
“The matter is now in the hands of [District Attorney Timothy Sini’s] office, and I can confirm that there is a criminal investigation,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press conference on Tuesday night.
The two officers have been suspended without pay.
“If we are to continue to build trust with all of our communities, we have to be transparent and we have to hold our officers to the highest standards,” SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, said during the press conference.
Hart called the incident “disturbing” and said the department would continue its internal investigation.
The investigation of the officers’ behavior came to light after officials reviewed a recording from another responding officer’s body camera.
“While Cruz was standing up and handcuffed, a 6th Precinct police officer pushed the arrestee forward from behind and kicked the back of his leg,” Hart described. “The officer who initially pushed Cruz and one other officer kicked Cruz multiple times while he was on the ground.”
Hart called the inaction of other officers “unacceptable” and said the “number of officers who did not intervene is a direct violation of our rules and procedures.”
She called the actions against the officers “swift” and said the investigation would continue and could involve other police officers.
The police made a formal referral to Sini (D), who was a former police commissioner, and had pledged to clean up the county’s law enforcement agency amid a scandal engulfing the former DA.
Hart recognized that the public would express outrage at the video.
“People will be rightfully angry and disappointed and I can tell you that I am, too,” Hart said. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Hart added that the incident should serve as a message to the rank and file that “we must be better. I expect our officers to act with respect and restraint. If you witness misconduct by a fellow officer, you are obligated to stop it.”
Hart assured the public that the matter is “being taken very seriously.”
Bellone, meanwhile, who also called the video “disturbing,” underscored the review the county was conducting of police policy.
These types of reviews are occurring throughout the country, particularly after several high-profile incidents of police actions caught on video. The death of Minnesota resident George Floyd at the hands of police officers now charged with his murder, triggered numerous protests throughout the country.
Bellone said the video of the Cruz arrest is a “stark example of why those [body cameras] are so vital and important. I can tell you that I will not move forward and present a police reform plan that does not include body cameras for the police department.”