July 9, 2010

Cop Acquitted of Assault Despite Violence in Video

‘Pictures Can Mislead’


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Jury made right call.    
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Jury made right call.  

Despite a surveillance video showing him beating an Iraq War veteran to the ground with his retractable metal baton, a Police Officer was acquitted June 30 of assaulting the veteran and lying about it after testimony showed the veteran was cursing the officer, kicking out and threatening to kill him.

“Pictures sometimes can say a thousand words, but they can also mislead,” Stephen C. Worth, attorney for Police Officer David London, said in an interview after the verdict.

‘Doesn’t Tell Whole Story’

“In this case the jury carefully considered all of the evidence presented to them and recognized that a silent video doesn’t tell the whole story,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “Ultimately, they came to the right conclusion and we salute them for their serious consideration in this trial.”

STEPHEN WORTH: ‘Police work not always pretty.’ A video put together from cameras in the lobby of the upper Manhattan housing project where the incident occurred in 2008 shows Officer London grappling with Walter Harvin by the elevators. Mr. Harvin shoves the officer. Officer London tries to stop Mr. Harvin from entering an elevator, then takes out his baton and strikes Mr. Harvin at least 14 times, knocking him to the ground. As he absorbs the blows, Mr. Harvin kicks at the officer from a prone position.

  STEPHEN WORTH: ‘Police work not always pretty.’

After Officer London and his partner handcuff him, he struggles to a sitting position and is hit, it appears, three more times, then kicks at the officers some more. Officer London waves his baton but it’s not clear whether he’s striking Mr. Harvin. When Mr. Harvin sits or lies passively on the floor, he is not hit.

“I was trying to get him to comply, sir,” Officer London testified during cross-examination. “I wanted him to stop fighting, sir.”

Mr. Harvin was treated at a hospital for cuts and bruises. Charges against him were dismissed. He did not appear at the trial, and his whereabouts are unknown. Prosecutors said he showed signs of mental illness after serving in Iraq.

Mr. Worth said he had to make the jury understand the proper context for the video, which had no sound. He said Mr. Harvin was cursing and threatening to kill Officer London.

‘Still a Threat’

Officer London, at 45 a 15-year veteran of the NYPD, testified that the incident began when he asked Mr. Harvin for proof that he lived in the building. Mr. Harvin became irate, cursing him and refusing an order to stop, he said.

Mr. Worth said that even as Mr. Harvin was beaten to the ground he was kicking out at Officer London. The officer testified during the trial, “In my military training, if a person is down on the ground, they’re trained to kick your legs from underneath you, and they’re still a threat.” Officer London is a member of the Air Force Reserve.

Another factor making the officer feel threatened, Mr. Worth said, was Mr. Harvin’s screaming, which apparently was interpreted as a way of drawing a crowd. Having to make an arrest in front of a crowd raises an officer’s tension levels, Mr. Worth said.

Officer London testified that was worried that Mr. Harvin “was trying to draw a crowd, which would have made the situation more dangerous.”

Prosecutors argued that although Officer London’s first few blows may have been justified, the entire beating was excessive force. They said he signed paperwork saying Mr. Harvin punched and kicked him and his partner, which was not supported on the video. The cop testified he did not read the report carefully.

Officer London remains on modified duty and is facing departmental charges.

“We’re happy people are realizing police work doesn’t always look pretty, but that is the nature of the job,” Mr. Worth told The New York Times.

Videos of police action have sometimes been problematic for the Police Department. One of Mr. Worth’s law partners, Stuart London, represented former Police Officer Patrick Pogan at trial this spring on charges that he pushed a bicyclist off his bike at a Critical Mass rally and then reported falsely on what had occurred. Mr. London spun a plausible narrative, but was unable to overcome the impression left on the jury by a popular YouTube video which appeared to show Mr. Pogan shoving the cyclist. Mr. Pogan was acquitted of assault but convicted of filing a false report, and faces sentencing July 14.