Mistaken identity police brutality?

February 4, 2009 6:13:20 PM PST
A Long Island man claims police beat him up because they thought he was running away from the law. But he wasn't, not by a long shot. The alleged victim was apparently not only at the wrong place at the wrong time, but also, the wrong man.

He claims that Garden City police officers thought he was a suspect trying to allude them, and they proceeded to brutally beat him.

The Investigators' Sarah Wallace has the exclusive report.

We get many allegations of police bruality, but this one has something many others don't - a solid eyewitness and cellphone video the alleged victim took of himself and the scene.

As for Garden City police officials, a spokesman said, "They don't want to talk to you."

"Yo, I was just a victim of police brutality," James Minter said in the cell phone video. "I was working with my boss, that's my witness. You see my face."

The 24-year-old Minter had the foresight to turn his cellphone on himself and take video just moments after he claims he was assaulted by two Garden City police officers while he was working in a boatyard in Far Rockaway.

"This eye was damaged, because it was bloody, you know," he said. "A big scab...This eye was fat and black and blue."

A week after the alleged assault, Minter's eyes are still bloodshot.

"I had scabs all over," he said. "I get massive headaches all the time now."

Minter's video captures police in plain clothes milling around and a helicopter above. They'd apparently been chasing a suspect who crashed his car into the front gate of the boatyard.

Lewis Tacktill, Minter's boss, says he was across the boatyard and saw everything, including the fleeing suspect.

Sarah: "What was he wearing?"
Tacktill: "He was wearing a red shirt, and my friend was wearing a black shirt. It was kind of obvious. Red and black, two distinctive colors."

Minter: "And I was wearing this black hoody, and they told me the guy they wanted was wearing a red shirt."
Sarah: "And you're saying your ID was in your pocket?"
Minter: "Yep. Right in my pocket. Just like it is now."

Tacktill: "They said are you armed, he said no. He went down to his knees, and dropped down, and then they cuffed him and started hitting him."

"So I said I'm not armed," Minter said. "He cuffed me, and then the one on the right hit me with his pistol.

"I saw them," Tacktill said. "They hit him with a gun and then they pulled his hood over his head, and then a guy stomped his head like he was putting out a cigarette butt."

"I was grinded on, my face hit with a gun, punched in my face and then my hoody pulled over my face," Minter said.

Sarah: "And he wasn't resisting?"
Tacktill: "No, he wasn't resisting at all."

Sarah: "You weren't resisting?"
Minter: "Nope, I had no reason to. I was screaming for my boss, 'Lou! Lou!'"

"I said, 'That's our guy that works here at the boatyard,'" Tacktill said. "And after that, they stopped."

Minter, who says he has no criminal record and wasn't charged with anything, claims he stood swollen and bloodied at the front of the yard for about half an hour before one of the officers took off the handcuffs.

"Then they just said, 'Oh, we apologize,'" Tacktill said.

Sarah: "So they just came back and the officer said? Minter: "'I'm sorry, we was looking for somebody that was really dangerous.'"

He says he walked across the street to Peninsula Hospital, where he told staff he'd been hit be a gun in the face and, while waiting to be treated, claims he was approached by one of the Garden City officers who tried to discourage him from filing a brutality complaint.

Minter: "They said if you got parking ticket or you got felonies or any kind of thing like that they could do for me, they would do for me."
Sarah: "If you didn't pursue this?"
Minter: "Yes."

Garden City police officials failed to respond to numerous phone calls, so we went to headquarters.

We were told the commissioner and other officials didn't want to speak with us. Later, the lieutenant acknowledged that there was an investiation, but said the department would make no comment.

"I understand a mistake," Minter said. "But if I'm cuffed and I'm cooperating, why beat me up? That makes it a bigger mistake."

If Garden City police are investigating, that's news to both Minter and Tacktill, who say no one from the department has contacted them. Minter has now reached out to the Nassau County District Attorney's office to file a complaint.