MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- The manslaughter charges against a Long Island man accused in the 2012 death of Nassau County Police Officer Joseph Olivieri have been overturned by an appellate court.
James Ryan of Oakdale, who has already served more than two years in state prison, was released on Thursday afternoon.
"I feel like justice was not served by convicting James Ryan of these charges," said Marc Gann, Ryan's attorney. "I do feel this prosecution was an overreach, to say the least."
Ryan was convicted of driving while intoxicated on the Long Island Expressway when the incident happened in October 2012. He sideswiped a car near Exit 35, stopped suddenly and was rear-ended by another car. Ryan's car spun around and came to rest in the HOV lane.
Officer Olivieri responded to the accident scene a few minutes later. After Olivieri spoke with Ryan, he attempted to cross back over the LIE. Witnesses said traffic was moving slowly because of the accident and debris in the roadway. However, SUV driver Francis Belizaire sped through the accident scene, hit Ryan's car, which struck the officer, throwing his body onto Belizaire's SUV. Olivieri was killed.
The appellate court ruled that too much time had passed from the moment Ryan was involved in the initial accident to Olivieri's death -- about seven to 10 minutes -- to make Ryan guilty of manslaughter charges.
In a written decision the court wrote: "This was not one continuous chain-reaction accident that unfolded within a matter of seconds. Rather, a substantial amount of time passed between the accidents involving the defendant's vehicle and the subsequent accident in which the officer was struck by the SUV."
The court also found substantial fault on behalf of Belizaire, citing Belizaire's driving record which includes seven accidents between 1989-2015 and 30 convictions of driving offenses including speeding. Belizaire was granted immunity for testifying during the trial.
The court wrote: "The driver of the SUV that struck the officer failed to pay attention to conditions on the roadway, including the presence of multiple stopped vehicles and debris on the road and approached the accident scene at a speed in excess of the speed at which other vehicles were traveling."
Brendan Brosh, a spokesperson for the Nassau District Attorney said, "We are disappointed by the court's decision and are reviewing our appellate options."
The Olivieri family declined to speak with the media. James McDermott, with the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, spoke on behalf of the family. He said, "They're very disappointed and they're numb, we're all numb. We were hoping for a better decision than this."
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