Police officers cleared in drug suspect's death

November 3, 2008 6:07:09 PM PST
An attorney for the family of a drug suspect who died in police custody after officers beat him with flashlights said Monday he will ask the U.S. attorney's office to investigate after a grand jury refused to return an indictment. Frederick Brewington contended there were "serious questions about the level of interest the district attorney's office had in presenting this case in the first place." A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

Kenny Lazo, 24, died in April after his arrest on suspicion of dealing drugs.

Suffolk County police said Lazo had crack and powdered cocaine and $2,400 in cash when he tried to elude arrest. Officers struck him several times with flashlights while trying to handcuff him.

District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement that evidence presented to the grand jury was comprehensive.

"Great care was taken to present the facts of this case in a clear and deliberate manner, and we will abide by the grand jury's decision," Spota said.

A medical examiner determined that Lazo had a "sudden cardiac death" that followed "exertion associated with prolonged physical altercation with multiple blunt impacts." The autopsy found no evidence of broken bones or damage to internal organs but listed obesity as a contributing cause of death. The 5-foot-6 Lazo weighed 238 pounds, prosecutors said.

Lazo was stopped by police on April 12 after being seen selling drugs in a "hand-to-hand transaction," prosecutors said. He tried to hit a plainclothes officer with his elbow and ran away, and a uniformed officer tackled him, Deputy Inspector Robert Oswald said.

Lazo got up and kept running before finally being caught, police said. Officers used their flashlights and "struck him around his body" while placing him in handcuffs, Oswald said.

"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.

A detective noticed later at a nearby precinct that Lazo required medical attention and called an ambulance. Moments later, Lazo was unconscious. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Prosecutors noted that the police officers who struggled with Lazo waived immunity and testified before the grand jury.

The Lazo family has filed notice it intends to sue Suffolk County and its police department in civil court.

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