A Queens Supreme Court justice who said he was violently assaulted by a New York City police officer said yesterday the attack may well warrant criminal charges—and, in any case, the officer does not belong on the street.
“Frankly, I think this particular person would be dangerous to keep as an officer,” said Justice Thomas Raffaele (See Profile), 69, who said he was attacked and hit in the throat by an officer early Friday morning. “He should not have a gun and should not be in a position to hurt people.”
But the officer, who has not been identified, remains on duty pending an investigation, according to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne. Browne said the incident is being investigated by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
In an interview yesterday, Raffaele said that early on June 1, he and a friend happened on an incident not far from his Jackson Heights home. Raffaele said his elderly parents had just moved to Texas and he had been cleaning out their house.
The judge said that two police officers had a shirtless suspect on the ground, handcuffed, and one of them was ramming his knee into the suspect’s back. A crowd was watching, but no one interfered with the police, Raffaele said.
“The officer with his knee on the back of the suspect kept raising himself up and then pounding his knee back into the guy’s back,” Raffaele said. “The guy on the ground was saying, ‘I beg you, stop. I beg you.’ And the officer just kept doing it, again and again.”
Raffaele said an onlooker who identified herself as a nurse also implored the officer to stop, insisting that he was injuring the man, but he ignored her.
Raffaele said he called 911—not identifying himself as a judge—to summon extra help for the officers and an ambulance for the suspect, who was bleeding. Raffaele said he tried to gently move the crowd back, further away from the incident unfolding on the ground, but as people became more vociferous in their objection to the beating the suspect was enduring, the officer became enraged.
“As people kept criticizing, the officer got angrier and angrier and started to curse at people in the crowd and jumped up and ran toward the crowd and started hitting people,” Raffaele said. “I was the first person he hit. It was a full-force, open-hand blow to the front of my throat. If I hadn’t moved my head back when I was being hit, I think I would have been killed on the spot. That’s how hard I was hit, and I am saying that from the perspective of someone who was trained in the Army on hand-to-hand combat.”
Raffaele said that after catching his breath, he told an officer that he wanted to make a complaint, but was ignored. He said he then asked to speak to the officer in charge and was referred to a sergeant, and at that point identified himself as a judge.
But the sergeant stepped away and spoke to other officers at the scene, Raffaele said. He said the sergeant returned as the officer who had hit him walked away and refused to take a statement.
Raffaele said he then went to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he reported the incident to officers from the 110th Precinct. But, according to the judge, those officers said they could not take his statement because the incident involved an officer from the 115th precinct.
Later, Raffaele said, a sergeant from the 115th Precinct took a statement. He said the Internal Affairs Bureau became involved after Raffaele reported the matter to the Office of Court Administration. Raffaele said Internal Affairs conducted a lengthy interview, and he is confident the bureau is doing a “really serious investigation.”
Raffaele also said he has been contacted by the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The judge said it is “very possible” that criminal charges are warranted, but that decision belongs with the district attorney.
Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for the district attorney, said the office “is looking into the matter, along with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Other than that, we will have no further comment at this time.”
Raffaele said he has always had great respect for the police, and will not allow this incident to shadow his perspective.
“I have always appreciated the risks they are willing to take for me and everybody else,” said Raffaele, who sits in the matrimonial part. “The reality is I know there are a lot of fantastic officers out there and I am not going to allow someone who reacted so wildly to spoil my feelings about the others.”
The New York Times quoted Justice Jeremy Weinstein (See Profile), the administrative judge for civil matters in Queens, as saying that Justice Raffaele is, “I think, universally felt, that he is one of the most soft-spoken, thoughtful, decent human beings around. I think his temperament is admired by certainly his colleagues in the bar and I believe the community that he served.”
Raffaele told the Times that he does not plan to sue “at this point.”
@|John Caher can be contacted at email@example.com.