Riverhead, N.Y. A grand jury charged the acting chief and three others in what a prosecutor called a rampaging police force Tuesday with the severe beating of a tourist accused of littering.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota promised that the indictments were the first phase of an investigation into police in Ocean Beach, a popular summer vacation village known for enforcing minor and quirky ordinances.
"It was a police department gone wild. There was no control at all," Spota said.
Acting Chief George Hesse, 38, is charged with first-degree assault, gang assault and unlawful imprisonment in the August 2005 altercation with Samuel Gilberd.
A bouncer at a bar across the street from the police department accused Gilberd, a software executive visiting from New York City, of littering and took him over to be cited. The officers dragged him into a room and kicked him in the stomach, said D. Carl Lustig III, the lawyer representing Gilberd in his federal lawsuit seeking millions from the village and the department.
Gilberd, 34, suffered severe internal injuries, including a ruptured bladder that required 10 days in a hospital, Assistant District Attorney Bob Biancavilla said. Gilberd still visits a urologist and is undergoing psychiatric care, Lustig said.
The officers "acted as thugs in police uniforms," Spota said.
Charges and allegations
Hesse's lawyer, William Keahon, contended Gilberd was intoxicated and suggested he hurt himself in a fall.
"This is about a fellow that was drunk, on drugs, injured himself and now wants to sue," Keahon contended.
Lustig did not dispute that his client had been drinking, but said medical reports showed his client had no drugs in his system.
Part-time officers Paul Carollo, 46, Arnold Hardman, 51, and William Emburey, 42, are charged with a variety of crimes including unlawful imprisonment, reckless endangerment and hindering prosecution.
Hesse posted $100,000 bail; the others posted $10,000 each.
All four defendants displayed no emotion as they pleaded not guilty.
Emburey's lawyer, John Ray, said the confrontation occurred on his client's first night on the job. He said Emburey had nothing to do with the allegations and was charged only because it happened on his shift.
Hardman and Emburey had retired after serving 20 years on the New York City force. Carollo is a state court officer in Nassau County.
A week after the altercation, Gilberd was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, allegations the district attorney subsequently dismissed.
Mayor Joseph Loeffler declined to comment.
'Land of No'
The population of Ocean Beach, on Fire Island just east of New York City, swells from 138 year-round residents to more than 6,000 summer renters and day-trippers. Visitors walk with ubiquitous red wagons or ride bicycles around the town, where cars are all but banned, police patrol in golf carts and summer rentals can start at about $10,000 a month.
The village is nicknamed the "Land of No" because of odd ordinances such as its one-time ban on eating cookies on public walkways. It was also the setting for last summer's ABC reality show "One Ocean View" about the island's singles scene.
The police department, which has two full-time members and 24 part-time members, had been the subject of a county grand jury probe since December.
Last week, five former police officers claimed they were wrongfully fired by Hesse, whom they accused of misconduct and mismanagement. In an interview with Newsday, Hesse would not say why he fired the five officers.
Doug Wigdor, a former prosecutor representing the five officers in a wrongful termination lawsuit, claimed Hesse was "running the police department like a fraternity house."
Village and police officials have declined to comment on that federal lawsuit, in which the officers seek millions in damages and the restoration of their jobs.