An internal investigation on Long Island involving review of dash camera footage has disproved a Black woman’s claim that she was assaulted by police in the aftermath of a recent shooting, officials said Friday.
“The evidence gathered in this investigation reveals that the allegation that officers physically assaulted this individual for no reason is false,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced, according to Newsday.
“The evidence, in fact, indicated these officers acted in the best interests of this victim,” Bellone, a Democrat, told reporters at the county government offices in Hauppauge.
The announcement came after Cindy M. O’Pharrow filed a notice of claim against Suffolk County and its police department, alleging that officers injured her arm while forcibly removing her an ambulance following a June 27 shooting at a Dix Hills graduation party.
Her attorney, Frederick K. Brewington, held a press conference of his own July 7 announcing the claim, which also alleged officers cursed at O'Pharrow, refused to provide their names and shined flashlights into her cell phone when she tried to take photos and video of police at the scene.
“This attorney got in front of multiple cameras and said these officers used force against someone for no reason,” Bellone said Friday. “The attorney then actually held up pictures of these officers and was accusing them of abusing their power … that they abused their authority, that they physically assaulted a woman for no reason. That is what was said. … None of that is true.”
Less than two minutes of dash camera footage played for reporters Friday showed a 20-year-old West Babylon man who had been shot in the stomach being loaded into the ambulance.
Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said the video shows O'Pharrow growing “agitated” and “waving her finger” at EMS personnel before climbing into the ambulance.
“She wouldn't get off and the fire department wouldn't leave with her in there,” Cameron said.
A man, who authorities identified as the shooting victim's cousin, is seen standing outside the ambulance repeatedly saying, “Just get out so they can leave.”
Two officers are then seen lifting O'Pharrow up by the arms and out of the ambulance. Cameron said the officers “took great care to put her carefully down on the ground so she would not be injured.”
“She was delaying transport of a critically injured person, but I do believe she was well-intentioned,” Cameron said.
He said officers used “great restraint” and would have been justified in arresting O'Pharrow. Arguing that traumatic incidents can sometimes cloud judgement, Cameron described O'Pharrow, who is president of a police youth mentoring program called Cops N’ Kids Long Island, as a “very wonderful person” who was trying to help in the wake of the shooting.
Officials Friday also announced a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooting suspect, who still has not been identified by authorities. The victim has since been released from the hospital, Newsday reported.
“From Mr. Bellone's statements, it is clear that he has decided for the police department that the charges are unsubstantiated, making the case that so many people in the public have made,” Brewington said in an emailed statement to the newspaper Friday.
“Suffolk internal affairs hasn't even interviewed Mrs. O'Pharrow, yet and they are making a determination,” the civil rights attorney said. “What kind of police work is that? Clearly, no civilian even stands a chance in pursuing justice. Clearly, there is no denial that force was used on Mrs. O'Pharrow.”
Cameron said investigators repeatedly reached out to O'Pharrow but were unable to schedule an interview. Bellone said showing the dash camera video Friday was important because the public nature of the allegations threatened to “undermine public confidence” in the police department.
Brewington is also the attorney handling a $35 million federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the Suffolk County Police Department last week.
In the separate matter, Det. Sgt. Tulio Serrata, a 23-year veteran of the force, is claiming that his promotions were blocked five times because of his Dominican heritage and the department later retaliated against him for speaking up by transferring him to a different precinct with fewer opportunities for overtime pay, WCBS-TV reported.
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