2016-12-09 / Front Page

Police brutality, racism alleged against GCPD, suit threatened

BY RIKKI N. MASSAND

In incident on Wednesday, November 30, at the Western Beef Supermarket in Mineola, Garden City Police were accused of using excessive force against a black suspect during a situation that was ultimately determined to be mistaken identity.

The incident brought advocates for the “Black Lives Matter” campaign to protest in Garden City during a protest on December 4th.

Ronald Lanier, a retired Nassau County Sheriff’s Department corrections officer and a U.S. Army veteran, alleged that Garden City Police officers beat him and threw him to the ground while he was shopping at the Mineola store.

In a press conference on December 2nd, Lanier said he felt he had been “stripped of my service, stripped of my humanity, stripped of my dignity.” He added that he was cursed, abused and “treated like a slave.” Plans for lawsuits against both the Village of Garden City and the Garden City Police were announced last Friday.

Lanier’s attorney in the case is a man he has known long, Frederick K. Brewington, who is also the attorney for the plaintiffs in the MHANY housing discrimination federal lawsuit against the village, which has been successful in the federal courts. In addition, Brewington also represents a 25-year-old Caucasian plaintiff who filed federal lawsuits against both the Village of Garden City and the Garden City Police Department alleging police brutality and wrongful arrest.

On December 2 at a press conference at his law office, Brewington told 1010 WINS radio “the fact that he (Lanier) happened to be a black male in the store does not make him a culprit, it does not make him a suspect.” He says Garden City Police acted on a vague description of a suspected shoplifter from Lord & Taylor on Franklin Avenue and gave chase to the Western Beef, simply to “round up black people.”

In an interview on Tuesday, December 6, Brewington told The Garden City News his client Lanier was grabbed from the neck from behind, thrown to the ground and beaten by GCPD on November 30.

“Whether or not Mr. Lanier was the person the officers were looking for or not, those actions do not constitute appropriate policing – unless you feel that is appropriate policing for black people,” he said.

Referencing the federal MHANY housing discrimination case, Brewington said the backdrop of racism involving the Village of Garden City sets up the need for dialogues at the local level in line with the national conversation.

“Clearly we know that there’s an issue with how the housing is and how the government in Garden City acted in manipulating their zoning ordinances. Indeed a Federal Judge (Arthur D. Spatt) made his determination as did the Appellate Court that they intentionally discriminated against individuals. I don’t want to draw parallels there but we do see actions here in this case (Lanier’s) where Garden City officers have acted in a way where it’s fairly clear that there was some – whether implicit or other bias – that led him to think that the African-American man in front of him was the African-American man they were looking for. What that actually translates into is above my authority to figure out, but what I do see is that the actions taken here against Mr. Lanier, even after he showed he was a corrections officer, shows a complete lack of respect and a complete lack of sensitivity to serious questions that involve race. If the Police Department and Village of Garden City can’t really see that, then that’s a problem and that is where the whole thing grows unnecessarily. I see some systemic issues because for some reason, the two officers decided on those actions,” Brewington said on December 6.

According to Brewington, the statements Lanier has made on feeling like a slave correspond to psychological damage from the incident which the case will explore as it moves forward. Brewington says “how Lanier feels now matters” to the case and to the community here, as the general public hearing that view “may not feel comfortable or they may not like it” but at this critical point in America, at least part of conversations should be encouraged.

“The residents of Garden City, in their living rooms and in front of their fireplaces or at the dinner table, need to make that part of their discussion because when another human being feels that way someone has to take some ownership of it. Somebody treated him that way, even when he showed officers his credentials as law enforcement. He was treated like that not because of who he is and what he has done, as Lanier is a military veteran having served the country and worked at Ground Zero right after 9/11. If he’s treated like that, that is not how we should be treating each other no matter what our color our skin is,” Brewington said this week.

He also tells the News the case of his 25-year-old Caucasian client is now in the early stages of a federal court process.

Village is silent pending investigation

Reached for comment on Wednesday, December 7, Garden City Mayor Nicholas Episcopia said on the advice of village counsel he was limited and could not comment directly on Lanier’s incident because it is pending litigation.

“On the advice of counsel I have been saying nothing on the case. It is being investigated by the district attorney’s office. There are vastly more compliments by residents on our police department on the work they do daily, as first responders and the like, than any complaints about any sort of improper actions of the police. I have been around a long time and there are always, always compliments for the GCPD’s courtesy and professionalism over the course of the years. Not any different remarks that said they did something that was improper,” the mayor said.

Episcopia previously served as the Board of Trustees’ designated police commissioner, a role now filled by Trustee Stephen Makrinos, and he has firsthand knowledge of Garden City Police protocols.

“I know most senior police officers here personally for the longest time – Inspector Michael Doyle, Detective Richard Pedone, Commissioner Jackson obviously and before him Commissioner Ernest Cipullo. I think we have a great police department, they do a great job. This year we will have somewhere in the vicinity of 9,000 traffic violations – speeding, improper turns, red lights. That’s a lot of tickets and GCPD is out there all the time trying to enforce traffic regulations,” Mayor Episcopia said.

December 4 rally a peaceful protest

A protest march drawing dozens took place on the streets of Garden City last Sunday, December 4, starting at the Western Beef supermarket in Mineola and down to Garden City Police headquarters at Village Hall, 351 Stewart Avenue. K.C. Alvey, a 2008 GCHS graduate, attended the rally, as did community organizer Tammie Williams, who ran for Town of Hempstead Council in 2015 and Democratic district leader for the 22nd Assembly, attended the rally on December 4. Each posted photographs of last Sunday’s rally online.

Mayor Episcopia was told details of the march by Police Commissioner Kenneth Jackson, and he says it wasn’t reported to have caused any disturbance or hindrance to vehicle traffic, commerce at local and large retail businesses along Franklin Avenue, or other pedestrians.

“People have the right to orderly protests or doing what they’d like to do, as long as it’s orderly,” the mayor said.

Brewington said the December 4 event was a successful show of unity against the police brutality epidemic.

“It was outstanding given the fact it came together rather quickly, and it came up through natural inertia. It wasn’t super-planned but people came forward because of outrage they had in their hearts. They wanted to make sure they did something and did it in the right way. People took to the streets the way all our ancestors did and not just black ancestors but white ancestors too,” he said.

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