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Rogers to sue Freeport, county for $25M

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Attorneys for Akbar Rogers, 44, the Freeport man who was captured on video being wrestled to the ground, punched and kicked by Freeport police officers during an arrest in December, said at a Feb. 13 news conference that Rogers plans to sue the Freeport Police Department, the village, Nassau County and the county Police Department for $25 million.

According to the notice of claim, the focus of the lawsuit is what Rogers called his false arrest and imprisonment, along with civil rights violations, assault, battery, abuse of process, negligence, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent training, use of excessive force, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.

According to police reports, Rogers had fled police officers who were pursuing him weeks after an incident involving a 35-year-old, who said that Rogers pushed her to the ground several times as they argued about money on Oct. 13. Officers said they ordered Rogers to stop several times before wrestling him to the ground. Video captured by a bystander shows seven white officers on top of Rogers, who is black, with one officer kicking him and another punching him. The video prompted complaints from local African-American leaders that it showed an act of police brutality against a black man.

“He is still suffering from a fractured wrist, which is in a cast, and is a possible candidate for shoulder and back surgery,” said attorney Greg-Patric Martello, who is representing Rogers. “Our belief is that all people should be trusted under the law, not brutalized by those who swore to protect them.”

Both Nassau County and Freeport village officials have said they do not comment on pending litigation.

Martello added that Rogers needs physical therapy to recover. Along with the injuries to his wrist, shoulder and back, the notice of claim states that Rogers suffered not only psychological and emotional injuries, but also damage to his reputation and his ability to earn money. 

Rogers’s case reports, obtained by the Herald, detail his history with Freeport police. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest last Aug. 15, so he may face additional charges of aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle and speeding. Those charges dated back to July 1, 2018, when Freeport police first arrested him. His license had been suspended.

The woman whom Rogers is alleged to have pushed to the ground in October told police that she was six weeks pregnant at the time. She sustained injuries to her hip and wrist, and was experiencing “substantial pain,” according to a Freeport police report.

After he pushed her, Rogers left her home and drove off, according to the woman.

Freeport police spent the following weeks looking for Rogers, until he was spotted driving a white Mercedes-Benz on Nov. 3 with an unknown woman in the front passenger seat. The plainclothes officers turned their lights on and attempted to stop Rogers at West Merrick Road and Church Street. He did not stop, however, and headed south on Church Street before making a right on Smith Street, ignoring the stop sign. He continued west on Smith Street, failing to stop for a red light, according to his case report.

In addition, police said, Rogers was driving recklessly and at an “unreasonable speed.” Because of that “excessive speed,” police called off the pursuit, according to Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy.

When officers spotted Rogers, again, on Dec. 3, he ran off, police said, and the seven pursuing officers eventually tackled him to the ground. The Freeport officers named in Rogers’s claim are Michael Geniale, Michael Kennedy, Vincent Kennedy, Matthew Koutsogiannis, Richard Paulik, Kyle Pistani, Michael Salisbury and Thomas Williams.

Martello said that when the officers were arresting and hitting Rogers, one of them knocked the wind out of him, leaving Rogers gasping for air. Martello alleged that Rogers had told the officers that he could not breathe, but they ignored his plea, linking the incident to the Eric Garner case in New York City, in which Garner was choked by an officer during an arrest and died. 

“We understand the trust we put in our police force,” Martello said. “We need the police, but we need good officers. The vast majority of officers can be counted on, but when you have a group who brutalize a citizen, they need to be held accountable. Bad apples spoil the bunch.”

After the municipalities review the notice of claim, Martello said, his firm would officially file the suit in either state or federal court. Martello also called on Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to investigate the case. A spokesman for the D.A.’s office said the incident was  under review.