RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – The acting police chief and three officers in a small resort town on Fire Island were indicted Tuesday in the beating of a vacationer who had been picked up for littering.
The victim was beaten so severely he suffered severe internal injuries, including a ruptured bladder that required 10 days in a hospital, Assistant District Attorney Bob Biancavilla said.
Acting Chief George Hesse pleaded not guilty Tuesday to first-degree assault, gang assault and unlawful imprisonment in the August 2005 beating of tourist Samuel Gilberd, a software executive from New York City.
"It was a police department gone wild," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told a news conference afterward. "There was no control at all."
They "acted as thugs in police uniforms," he said.
Hesse attorney William Keahon said the indictment "means nothing."
"The presumption is my client is innocent," he said.
Hesse posted $100,000 bail.
The three other defendants were charged with unlawful imprisonment, reckless endangerment and hindering prosecution. Officers Paul Carollo, Arnold Hardman, and William Emburey are accused of filing a false report about the incident and failing to get prompt medical attention for the victim. Each posted $10,000 bail.
All four defendants, who displayed no visible emotion, were ordered to return to court April 20.
Emburey's lawyer, John Ray, said the incident occurred on his client's first night on the job. He said Emburey had nothing to do with the allegations and was charged only because the it occurred on his shift.
A week after the alleged beating, Gilberd was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, allegations the district attorney subsequently dismissed. Gilberd has filed a $22 million federal lawsuit against the village and its police.
Ocean Beach is a popular tourist destination whose population swells from 138 year-round residents to more than 6,000 summer renters and day-trippers. The village is nicknamed the "Land of No" because of odd ordinances such as a ban on eating cookies on public walkways.
Ocean Beach Mayor Joseph Loeffler declined to comment.
The Ocean Beach police department, which has 2 full-time members and 24 part-time members, had been the subject of a county grand jury probe since December.
Last week, five former police officers claimed they were wrongfully fired by Hesse, who they said associated with a drug dealer, had sex in department headquarters and covered up cases of brutality. In an interview with Newsday, Hesse would not say why he fired the five officers.
Doug Wigdor, a former prosecutor who is representing the five officers in a wrongful-termination lawsuit, claimed Hesse was "running the police department like a fraternity house."
Village and police officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks millions in damages — an exact amount will be determined at trial — and the restoration of their jobs.
At the time, the officers said they were targeted by the acting chief over fears they were cooperating with the Suffolk County inquiry into corruption in the department. Their lawyer said they were cooperating now that they had been fired.