JUAN GONZALEZ. New York Daily News. New York, N.Y.: Jun 18, 1998. pg. 24
Copyright Daily News, L.P. Jun 18, 1998
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For eight days the jury had listened to a parade of witnesses relive the night of the Crown Heights riot nearly seven years ago.
But this time the testimony wasn’t about Lemrick Nelson and Yankel Rosenbaum.
It wasn’t about a mob of blacks attacking a young Jewish student. It was about a mob in blue uniforms attacking a poor Haitian immigrant named Pierre Regis.
Throughout the civil trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court, jurors heard chilling evidence about the actions of a group of cops during and after Regis’ arrest at President St. and Utica Ave. on Aug. 19, 1991.
Two civilian witnesses recounted the gruesome, unprovoked beating Regis got as he was dragged from his car. Jurors were told that Regis bleeding from head to foot was tossed into a cell at the 71st Precinct stationhouse, where he remained for three hours before an ambulance was called. Jurors heard that four crucial police reports on Regis mysteriously vanished and that a log at the stationhouse was altered.
They even heard retired two-star Police Chief Aaron Rosenthal label what fellow cops did to Regis that night “criminal behavior.”
But most important is what the jury never heard. Not a single cop of a half-dozen who testified could explain how Regis sustained the hideous face and head injuries with which he arrived at Kings County Hospital.
His doctors say the injuries have left him with irreparable brain damage and the intelligence of a child.
But the cops all said they had turned their backs or were distracted by other events of the riot that night and did not see what happened to Regis.
Officer James Carfora, who was later assigned the Regis arrest, testified that he was standing on a rooftop, not even near the scene, and that he turned away because someone on the roof tossed a Molotov cocktail at him.
But Regis’ lawyer, Glen Miller, introduced tapes of the NYPD radio transmissions that night. In those transmissions Carfora never mentions a Molotov cocktail attack. Within seconds of Regis’ arrest, however, Carfora can be heard warning from the roof: “Careful, guys. They’ve got cameras around.”
Some of the cops who testified claimed Regis banged his head against his own dashboard when his speeding car stopped suddenly.
But a former police lieutenant who investigated the case for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Robert O’Neill, contradicted those accounts. O’Neill, who inspected Regis’ car the next day, testified there was no evidence inside the car of an injury to Regis.
In his summation yesterday, Miller said, “The police saw a black man in a red sports car, and they assumed he was committing a crime.”
Regis, who was driving home to Rockland County after visiting relatives that night, testified that he got lost, turned onto President St. and panicked when he saw angry residents throwing bottles.
“He was frightened,” Miller told the jury. “He needed one clear- headed, mature police officer to say, ‘Let’s find out what this guy is doing.’ ”
Instead, even the police witnesses testified that Regis was dragged from his car immediately, no questions asked, and that some cops immediately smashed the rear window of his car with their clubs.
Once at the stationhouse, Miller said, the bloodied Regis “was a hot potato . . . no one wanted to be accountable for him.”
A cop who was ordered to take Regis to the 71st Precinct stationhouse by Capt. William Kenney, the ranking officer that night, shoved him into a cell and immediately left. A desk sergeant testified he didn’t notice Regis in the cell for several hours.
Only at 2:50 a.m., an hour after an ambulance was finally called, did the desk sergeant even note in his command log that Regis had been arrested. And even then he noted “arrest was made at 1:05 a.m. EMS present at 1:20,” when Regis was actually arrested at 10:20 p.m.
MICHAEL SONKIN, attorney for the city, told jurors the police acted reasonably given the “chaotic situation” that night.
Late yesterday, the jury of six black women recessed without a decision. Theirs will be the last word on the nightmare of the Crown Heights riot.
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