Judge Christopher Quinn ascended the bench at the Nassau County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. All rose.
“There will be no outbursts,” he told the dozens seated in the packed rows. After a nearly two-week trial to decide whether Rockville Centre Police Officer Anthony Federico criminally assaulted a village resident, Quinn read his verdict, finding Federico not guilty on all counts.
The assault charges stemmed from a May 2016 incident in which Federico was responding to a fight outside a South Park Avenue bar. Prosecutors said Federico had applied undue force when he struck one young man over the head with his Taser. The judge disagreed.
Federico, who sat between defense attorneys William Petrillo and Frank Schroder, turned to Petrillo. The two embraced, with Petrillo’s arm wrapped around the officer. When they separated, Petrillo’s hand continued to pat Federico’s back.
Minutes later, Federico left the courtroom into a sea of cameras, never stopping as he remained silent and stern-faced on his way to a side parking lot, where he disappeared from view.
“This case is a case that never ever should have been presented to a grand jury,” Petrillo said outside the courthouse after the verdict. “…This case literally places police officers and members of the community in danger, because it’s a sad state of affairs when police officers can’t do their job … in fear that a far-reaching prosecution is going to micro-manage every little thing that’s done and then indict them.”
Federico, 37, was indicted last March on charges that he assaulted Kevin Kavanagh, now 27, during a fight on the sidewalk next to Croxley’s Ale House, and that he later falsified police records to cover it up. That fight also involved Kavanagh’s brother, Brendan. Federico pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial began on Jan. 24.
“Every police officer that showed up realized that it could be them and that the district attorney could be going after them,” Rockville Centre Police Commissioner Charles Gennario told reporters, acknowledging the many officers in the crowd. “…I’m extremely pleased.”
Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for the District Attorney's office, wrote in a statement: “We respect the judge’s verdict just as we respected the Grand Jury’s decision to indict after it reviewed the video and evidence. Our office will continue to enforce the law and seek justice without fear or favor.”
Federico was still working for the department, but was on modified duty, working a desk. He waived his right to a jury trial and faced up to seven years in prison if convicted.
“He would say, ‘Boss, I just want to get back to work. I just want my life back,’” Gennario said. “…We’re looking forward to restoring him to full duty.”
Federico was responding to a fight in the middle of South Park Avenue at about 2:40 a.m. on May 8, 2016, during which Kavanagh testified he was “flipped” in the air by an unknown man. Kavanagh said last week that he didn’t remember his encounter with Federico that night, viewing the altercation later on a video taken by Alyson Gallo, a friend of the Kavanaghs. The footage, used as a key source of evidence by both the prosecution and defense, begins with Federico pushing Kavanagh up against a fence next to Croxley’s. Kavanagh puts his arm around the back of Federico’s neck, and Federico then shocks him with a Taser, forcing him to the ground.
Brendan Kavanagh then attempts to kick Federico, who turns and punches, knees and shocks him. When Kevin Kavanagh gets up, Federico pushes him back against the fence and into a corner, where, after another struggle, Federico handcuffs him with the help of other officers who had just arrived. Gallo testified on Day One of the trial that she saw Federico strike Kavanagh in the head, after which blood streamed down his face, but that it was not captured on the video. She said the sight “looked like something out of a horror film,” before crying on the witness stand.
“There wasn’t an ounce of credibility in her,” Petrillo said of Gallo in his closing argument on Monday afternoon. “The only horror show is this testimony. The only horror show is this case.”
He implored Quinn to acquit Federico.
“They haven’t come close to meeting the burden on any of these counts,” he noted, pointing out discrepancies between witnesses’ testimony before and during the trial, including that of Gallo, her friend Danielle Piccoli and Jose Bisono, who claimed to have seen the altercation from outside his supermarket across the street.
“Without asking for mercy,” Petrillo told Quinn, “we’re asking for justice.”
Prosecutor Robert Cavallo, deputy chief of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’s Public Corruption Bureau, replayed Gallo’s video during his closing argument, once again pointing out that no blood was visible on Kavanagh’s face or head until after struggling with Federico.
In the crime report submitted as evidence and obtained by the Herald, Federico wrote, “The male that had been on the floor, Kevin Kavanagh, was bleeding from the head. “The reporting officer,” he continued, referring to himself, “then exited the vehicle and approached Kavanagh … to investigate further.”
Cavallo had said last week that Federico was “clearly making a false statement that [Kevin] was bleeding at a time when he was not bleeding,” and that the officer was “seeking to protect himself … from disciplinary action.”
The prosecutor also read excerpts from the Rockville Centre Police Department’s patrol manual, emphasizing that it states using the minimum amount of force possible. “Where is it written that once you lay a hand on a police officer, all bets are off?” Cavallo said to Quinn on Monday, louder than his normal, more subdued courtroom voice. “It is written nowhere, your honor.”
Last week, the defense called on Dr. Peter Viccellio, professor and vice chairman of emergency medicine at Stony Brook University, who, after seeing surveillance footage of the street fight before Federico arrived, testified that Kavanagh landed on the top of his head, comparing the motion to “diving into an empty pool.”
The doctor added that Kavanagh’s wound, which is described in medical records from that morning as jagged and linear with macerated edges, could have been caused by that fall.
Viccellio, who had no previous knowledge of this case before being called as a medical expert, said that bleeding could be delayed with a blunt-force injury of that nature, testifying that one “may see very little bleeding or a lot of bleeding,” and that the nature of the bleeding is “highly variable with the scalp.”
“I do not see how this would cause the laceration that he had,” Viccellio said when asked to hold the Taser, adding that the weapon was “rather lightweight.”
During the cross-examination, a frustrated Cavallo replayed the surveillance footage of the fight in the street. He said that Kavanagh rotated quickly as he flipped, implying that he never fell on his head with the full weight of his body, which Viccellio had said just minutes earlier.
When Viccellio was asked to hold the Taser again, Cavallo asked, “It’s not a paperback book, right?”
“No, but it’s light,” Viccellio shot back.
Viccellio’s testimony came a day after Dr. Alan Nemeth, a doctor of emergency medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital who treated Kavanagh on the morning of the incident, said that the laceration — which exposed the cranial bone — “would bleed immediately.”
Nemeth’s testimony backed up the prosecution’s theory that blood would be visible on Kavanagh’s head or face in the video if the laceration was suffered during the street fight before Federico arrived.
You can view the video taken by Gallo here: http://bit.ly/2C0A8uM