Suspect dies on police custody

April 14, 2008 2:07:01 PM PDT
Police officers trying to apprehend a drug suspect, who later died in custody, hit the man with their flashlights after he tried to lunge for an officer's pistol while resisting arrest, a high-ranking police official said Monday. The results of an autopsy were still pending in the death of Kenny Lazo, a 24-year-old North Bay Shore man who died Saturday night following his arrest on suspicion of dealing drugs in his Long Island community. His distraught family gathered Monday outside police headquarters to demand answers.

Police said Lazo had crack cocaine and powdered cocaine and $2,400 in cash when he was stopped by police at about 8:15 p.m. Saturday near the Southern State Parkway in North Bay Shore.

Deputy Inspector Robert Oswald, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Major Crimes Bureau, said that when a plainclothes detective approached Lazo, the suspect tried to hit the officer with his elbow and then ran away. A uniformed officer chased down Lazo and stopped him with what police described as "a footbal-like tackle."

Lazo, police said, then got up and kept running before finally being caught. The skirmish prompted two passing motorists to call 911 to report officers "were struggling and needed help," Oswald said.

He said officers used their flashlights and "struck him around his body" during their attempt to place him in handcuffs.

"They were being used to control him as he was reaching for the officer's gun, as the struggle got more violent and closer to the roadway," Oswald said of the flashlights.

After being taken to the Third Precinct, Lazo was placed in an interview room and asked for two glasses of water, which he received, Oswald said. A detective sergeant who entered the interview room to question Lazo determined that the suspect required medical attention and left to call for an ambulance; Oswald said it was not clear what symptoms Lazo showed that caused the sergeant concern.

Moments later, Lazo was unconscious. After police officers trained as EMTs began CPR, Lazo was taken by ambulance to Southside Hospital, where he died.

Oswald said Lazo did not appear to have any injuries after the arrest.

"There was nothing apparently overtly wrong at that time," he said. "Things must have went south awful quickly."

Oswald said Lazo had five arrests for drugs, assault, DWI and "things like that" dating to 2000.

Lazo's mother, Patricia Gonzalez, and several family members spoke out following the police press conference.

"They kill him, they kill him, they kill my son," Gonzalez sobbed as she gripped a Bible. Others held photographs of the young man.

"We want answers, we want justice, we want to know what happened," added Juana Cabrera, who said she was Lazo's girlfriend.