A Long Island police officer who was recorded punching and kicking a man during a traffic stop was acquitted of all charges Friday.
Nassau County Police Officer Vincent LoGiudice repeatedly struck motorist Kyle Howell while trying to arrest him, in a confrontation captured on a security camera. Prosecutors said the officer used excessive force after Howell tried to empty a bag of marijuana hidden in his glove compartment.
But judge Patricia Harrington said in announcing her verdict that the video didn't tell the whole story of the encounter.
"While there's no doubt that Kyle Howell suffered an injury, the people have failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and that the actions of the defendant were not justified," she said.
Howell's supporters rose from their seats in the courtroom as the verdict was announced, put their hands in the air and shouted, "No justice" as they exited.
The verdict followed a nonjury trial that concluded Nov. 24.
Defense attorney William Petrillo, who had said during the trial that Howell's sudden reach for the glove compartment made the officer fear for his safety, ushered LoGiudice out of the courtroom with his hand over his client's shoulder. LoGiudice would not comment on the ruling.
"There can be no question that this verdict was the correct verdict," Petrillo said.
Howell's attorney, Amy Marion, criticized the verdict.
"Justice can never be served in this country as long as prosecutions like this are permitted," Marion said. "We continue our request for a federal investigation and prosecution."
Howell has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming he suffered a broken nose and jaw and injuries to his eye.
LoGiudice would have faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of felony assault and one year in prison if convicted of misdemeanor assault.
He was charged after the video footage was obtained by Howell's lawyers.
The district attorney's office later dropped all charges against Howell, who prosecutors have conceded has an arrest record as an adult for petty larceny and several arrests as a juvenile.
Howell's parents have said their son, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling and police brutality. LoGiudice is white.
"We are disappointed," Kyle's mother, Joan Howell, said after the verdict. "You all saw the video. The video doesn't lie."
LoGiudice and his partner arrested Howell on assault, resisting arrest and drug charges after he allegedly refused to comply with officers' instructions to provide identification. Police said they were forced to physically restrain Howell because he tried to dump out a bag of marijuana hidden in his glove compartment.
The video, which obscures the view of Howell inside the vehicle, shows LoGuidice and another officer speaking with him briefly. At one point, LoGuidice is seen walking behind the car, pivoting and returning to the passenger-side door. Both officers are then seen punching and kicking Howell inside the vehicle. No charges were filed against LoGuidice's partner, Basil Gomez.
LoGiudice testified at the trial that he was trained to "exceed their level of force" if someone was resisting arrest. He said Howell, whom he had known from previous encounters in the neighborhood, was fighting back while officers attempted to restrain him.
"When I start to strike him, he's swinging at me with his right hand," LoGiudice said. He said Howell's left hand was under the passenger seat and he was ignoring orders to show his hands.
"I'm thinking he's grabbing a gun," he added.
LoGiudice said prior encounters with Howell included a car stop when he found a BB gun under Howell's seat and another in which Howell told him he'd been arrested for robberies in the past.