‘Police beating’ trial involving Riverhead cop begins in Central Islip

PANORAMIO PHOTO | The federal courthouse in Central Islip.

The Riverhead Police officer who’s being sued in federal court for allegedly beating a drug suspect in 2007 took the stand in Central Islip on Monday, where he said the suspect struck him first.

Veteran town officer Peter Troyan said the suspect, William Robinson, threw a knee into the officer’s groin just moments before the officer was caught on videotape apparently tossing the handcuffed prisoner into a wall and punching him.

Mr. Robinson also struck the officer in the knee while telling him to “get the f— off me” during an ordeal that began in Town Justice Court, which shares a building with the police station, Mr. Troyan testified.

Mr. Robinson was then led from the courtroom through a hallway and into the building’s main lobby, where the events captured on film occurred.

During cross examination, Mr. Robinson’s lawyer asked Mr. Troyan if slamming his client into the wall was appropriate.

“I’m trained to bring them down to the ground. That’s how I took him,” Mr. Troyan replied.

The video, released to Newsday by Mr. Robinson’s lawyer in September, depicts Mr. Troyan, town police officer Jeffrey Hamilton, a Suffolk sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Robinson entering the lobby together through a set a double doors. Mr. Troyan is shown tossing Mr. Robinson into the wall, throwing him to the ground and punching him. The officers then pick Mr. Robinson up and it appears Mr. Troyan kicks or knees the suspect.

Mr. Troyan — who was never criminally charged in the case — was suspended without pay for eight months following the incident and stripped of his service weapon. He’s facing a $500,000 civil rights lawsuit in connection with the incident, which happened hours after Mr. Robinson was arrested on a drug charge and driving violation and arraigned in Justice Court, according to federal court records.

The Feb. 7, 2007 surveillance footage played before a jury of five women and three men in Judge E. Thomas Boyle’s courtroom at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Monday, the first day of the trial.

Mr. Troyan’s attorney, Scott Middleton of Bohemia, argued in his opening statement that things got out of hand in Judge Allen Smith’s courtroom that day in 2007, and Mr. Troyan was just doing his duty to protect those in the court. But Mr. Robinson’s attorney, Brian Dratch of New Jersey, countered in his opening statement that Mr. Troyan “used excessive force, which violated [his] client’s constitutional rights.”

Mr. Troyan, Judge Smith, Mr. Robinson and the assistant district attorney who was assigned to Riverhead Town at the time, Robert Connelly, all took the stand Monday and gave their account of that day’s events.

Mr. Robinson, who had been arrested the morning of the 2007 court appearance, was crying and pleading with Judge Smith to help him enter a drug rehab facility due to an addiction, according to the witness testimony Monday. The judge then told him that he would try to get him into a program when space became available and set bail at $1,000.

Mr. Robinson was tearful again Monday as he recalled the day’s events from the stand. Dressed in a white button-down shirt, tan pants and wearing his hair in braids with a neatly trimmed goatee, Mr. Robinson recalled what he had told the judge.

“I said, ‘How come other people get programs and I got to go to jail?'” Mr. Robinson testified.

According to the witness accounts, Mr. Robinson became increasingly irate during his 2007 court appearance and told Mr. Hamilton, who was handling him during the proceeding, to “get the f— off me,” all four witnesses recounted.

“I think he was on drugs,” Mr. Troyan said Monday from the stand.

Judge Smith said during his testimony that he had asked Mr. Troyan if he should press a “panic button” in the town courtroom, which would have called all available officers in the building to the courtroom, but Mr. Troyan said it wasn’t necessary.

Mr. Robinson, who was handcuffed throughout the ordeal, was then brought outside the courtroom to a holding area, the witnesses recalled. Judge Smith and Mr. Connelly both said they heard a scuffle in the area and the judge sent Mr. Troyan, who was the only court officer on duty at the time, to investigate the situation. That’s when the authorities took Mr. Robinson into the police station and the incident occurred.

“He was creating a disturbance in that courtroom,” Mr. Middleton said.

Mr. Middleton also tried to downplay the extent of Mr. Robinson’s injuries, though Mr. Robinson, who is incarcerated at the Riverview Correctional Facility in upstate New York, said he continues to suffer headaches and emotional distress to this day.

“To say [the injuries] were insignificant is an understatement,” Mr. Middleton said.

Mr. Middleton also noted before the trial that Riverhead Town would not indemnify Mr. Troyan for any compensatory damages, meaning the town would not pay the lawsuit settlement if the court rules in Mr. Robinson’s favor.

The trial will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.