Michael Tangney, Long Beach’s police commissioner and acting city manager, who was accused of punching a Syosset man in the face during a traffic stop late last year in which the man was charged with running a stop sign, appeared in court for the first time on Dec. 5.
Nassau County Judge Valerie Alexander heard the case in First District Court in Hempstead, where Tangney and the defendant, Kevin Holian, a 64-year-old retired IRS employee, both testified nearly a year after the incident on Beech Street.
Tangney, who was not charged, maintains that Holian drove through the stop sign, at the corner of Beech and Edwards Boulevard, last Dec. 19, while Holian claims he came to a complete stop, and was subsequently punched by Tangney. Holian was issued a ticket for disobeying a stop sign.
The Nassau County district attorney’s office investigated the case for three months before closing it, concluding that there was no evidence to support a criminal prosecution “of any member of the Long Beach Police Department.”
Holian, who was originally set to appear in Long Beach City Court, requested a change of venue after he claimed he could not get a fair trial.
Stacy Mazzara, an attorney from the D.A.’s office, said the trial was not a “proper forum” to discuss whether or not Tangney punched Holian, and that the traffic violation happened before the alleged assault, and therefore any discussion of the assault was irrelevant.
Mazzara added that hearing testimony on the alleged assault would “allow the defense to engage in a fishing expedition,” referring to a notice of claim filed by Holian against the city last spring. Holian intends to sue for damages, with claims ranging from false arrest and imprisonment to assault, battery and excessive use of force. In court documents, he argued that his civil rights were violated, and that he now suffers from anxiety and emotional distress and has racked up legal fees.
Alexander disagreed with Mazzara, and asked about the sequence of events on the day of the incident.
Holian was driving on Beech Street when a man in a silver Lexus SUV — later identified as Tangney — began excessively honking his horn and screaming profanities, Holian’s attorney, Charo Ezdrin, told the court. Holian pulled over at the corner of Beech and Edwards out of fear of being rear-ended, Ezdrin added. He got out of his car, approached Tangney’s vehicle and, Ezdrin said, Tangney threatened to shoot him and told him to get back in his car. Then Tangney got out of his vehicle, came up to Holian’s driver’s-side window, asked him for his license and registration and punched him in the face, Ezdrin said.
Tangney, a 40-year member of the Police Department, has strongly denied the allegations. The incident occurred just hours before the City Council appointed Tangney acting city manager.
Mazzara said that instead of stopping at the stop sign, Holian “proceeded right through the stop sign at about 20 miles per hour without stopping.”
Ezdrin countered that Holian “never went through a stop sign — he was a victim of road rage.”
Tangney testified that he summoned a uniformed Long Beach police officer to issue a traffic ticket to Holian for disobeying a stop sign, and drove away. Holian said he immediately drove to the Nassau County Police Department precinct in Syosset, filed a complaint and was transported to Syosset Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries.
At a news conference last year, Ezdrin presented photos of what she said was the traffic ticket covered in drops of Holian’s blood, as well as photos of Tangney getting out of his vehicle. She presented the photos to Judge Alexander, who asked to see the original ticket.
Ezdrin presented a duplicate, which was signed by a representative of the D.A.’s office. “I’m not personally in possession of the original copy of the ticket issued on that day,” Mazzara said.
Tangney, who has been the city’s police commissioner for seven years, said it was normal for him to carry out traffic stops, and that he does so 40 to 50 times a year.
“Isn’t it a fact that commissioners of Nassau County and other cities and states are known as civilians?” Ezdrin asked.
“The city charter gives me the authority to enforce all motor vehicle laws,” Tangney said, adding that he is a sworn officer with the authority to issue tickets.
“Why would you need to — if you’re a sworn officer . . . need to call for an officer to respond?” Ezdrin asked.
“Because I don’t carry summonses and I don’t take the time to write them out,” Tangney explained, adding that he chooses not to carry a ticket book. “It’s a more efficient use of my time to delegate.”
The district attorney’s office declined to comment after the court session.
“I find it very interesting that the D.A.’s office couldn’t produce the original ticket with the blood stains on it,” Ezdrin said afterward. “It’s completely my belief that Commissioner Tangney, as commissioner of police, is a civilian and does not have the authority to be pulling people over.”
Tangney and Holian are scheduled to appear in court again on Jan. 9, when Alexander is expected to reach a decision on the charge against Holian.