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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cop charged for body-slamming woman

Eyewitness News - June 27, 2008

YONKERS (WABC) -- A police officer who body-slammed an unarmed woman and broke her jaw during a medical call to a suburban restaurant last year was arrested by the FBI on Friday and charged with violating her civil rights. Federal prosecutors said Yonkers police officer Wayne Simoes used excessive force when he grabbed the woman by the waist, hoisted her in the air and slammed her, face first, into a tile floor. The takedown, recorded by security cameras, knocked Irma Marquez unconscious and put her in the hospital for four days. At the time, authorities said the officer was trying to keep the woman from interfering with emergency medical technicians summoned to the restaurant to assist her niece, who had been hit in the head with a bottle. Simoes, 38, said little Friday during his arraignment in White Plains. A magistrate released him on bond. His attorney, Andrew Quinn, said Simoes intends to plead not guilty. "I've also seen the video, and I know what it shows. But what the video doesn't show is the operation of Wayne Simoes' mind at the time of this incident," said Quinn. He said the officer didn't intend to violate the woman's rights or "cause any type of injury." Simoes could get years in prison if convicted. The Yonkers Police Department said it had placed the officer on modified duty pending the outcome of the case. The video of the March 3, 2007 incident gives little hint as to what led Simoes to perform such a violent physical move on Marquez, a middle aged home health aide. The tape shows Marquez bending over her prone niece while the EMTs examine her. One officer takes her by the arm and gently pushes her away. She bumps into a second officer as she backs up. Simoes then approaches the woman, shoves her shoulder, and, after she apparently objects to being touched, suddenly grabs her from behind and throws her to the floor.

Three officers standing nearby neither flinch nor move to intervene. Despite the nature of Marquez's injuries, which included a broken jaw and nightmarish bruises over her entire face, law enforcement authorities initially sided with the officer. Marquez was arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration. An internal affairs inquiry cleared Simoes of any wrongdoing. After the Justice Department informed the city that it was investigating, Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone held a news conference to praise the department, saying its officers "do their jobs the right way in full accordance with the law." A Westchester County jury, however, took less than an hour in May to acquit Marquez of the obstruction charge. Weeks later she filed a $11.3 million lawsuit against the police department. After the trial, Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore launched an internal inquiry into how her own office handled the matter. She suggested Friday in a brief written statement that the case was mishandled. "Personnel have been disciplined, operational changes are being made and enhanced training is being put in place," she said. Her office declined further comment and wouldn't say who was disciplined. The police department issued a statement saying its commissioner had directed internal affairs to reopen its investigation. Marquez's lawyer, Gary Certain, praised the FBI and the U.S. attorney for bringing the civil rights charge, and called it "a major step forward in addressing an alarming pattern of misconduct within the Yonkers Police Department." He acknowledged that Marquez had been emotionally distraught during the incident out of concern for her injured niece, but said she hadn't interfered with the EMTs and did nothing to provoke a violent attack.

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