On December 3, 2019, Freeport police arrested Akbar Rogers on bench warrants for failure to pay traffic violation fines. He was also wanted for a harassment violation stemming from an incident in which he allegedly pushed a pregnant woman to the ground repeatedly, and for alleged reckless driving and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree related to an incident from November 3, 2019. As a result of the December 3rd arrest, he was also charged with assault in the second degree and resisting arrest.
When I reviewed video of the December 3, 2019 arrest of Akbar Rogers by the Freeport Police Department, I was deeply troubled by what I saw and heard and directed my Public Corruption Bureau to begin an immediate investigation into the use of force used by the Freeport Police officers. At that time, the Mayor of Freeport also requested that we conduct an independent investigation.
Our Public Corruption Bureau investigated the facts and circumstances that led to the arrest and the manner in which it was effected, interviewing the involved officers, a witness and Mr. Rogers. Additionally, to aid in our analysis and to assure public confidence in our findings, an independent, nationally recognized police use of force expert, Dr. Philip Hayden, was retained to review the incident.
Dr. Hayden found that the force used was consistent with the officers’ training, and departmental policies making criminal charges against the officers unsustainable. Nonetheless, the abusive language depicted in video of the incident, with an officer responding to Mr. Rogers’ assertion that he could not breathe with “f*ck you,” and calling him a “piece of shit” is reprehensible and warrants discipline.
I have listened as thousands of our neighbors have marched in the street against racism and police misconduct, and there is discord between law enforcement training and use of force policies and the expectations of the communities we serve. While the force used against Akbar Rogers was lawful and consistent with officer training, public outrage over this case—and many others that have gripped the nation—make clear that the techniques used by police to subdue those who resist them must be examined and calibrated to minimize harm and to build public trust.
I am calling on our state leaders to convene a commission to study police procedures and training regarding the use of force while effectuating an arrest; to listen to the community, academics, and law enforcement experts and collaboratively develop best practices to protect both officers and the public from harm. Transparent, uniform, de-escalation training and use of force guidelines would give New Yorkers the confidence that law enforcement is equipped with the tools, and required by policy, to prevent violent encounters whenever possible, and to minimize harm when they occur.
This case also highlights an opportunity to examine how law enforcement handles warrants for unpaid fines and non-criminal violations, which have too often been the precursor to violent encounters. Akbar Rogers was wanted on warrants for unpaid fines, a non-criminal violation, and traffic misdemeanors, and while officers encouraged him to surrender before his arrest, law enforcement—including my office—must do more to engage with the community to resolve warrants without risks. To that end, my office will be coordinating a warrant-clearing event in the coming months to help those with open summons warrants clear them in a community setting, without arrest. We will also facilitate a meeting between community members and the Freeport Police Department to continue the work they have already begun to improve communication and build confidence.
Today we are moving to dismiss, in the interest of justice, the charges pending against Akbar Rogers stemming from the December 3, 2019 arrest. While an independent expert found the level of force used to be justified by law and policy, Mr. Rogers did not attempt to harm the police and the officer’s injury that formed the basis of the second-degree assault charge was not intentional. While there was probable cause to charge Mr. Rogers with resisting arrest because he dropped between two fences while running from officers, I have concluded based on the totality of the circumstances these charges should not be pursued. This matter has been referred to the Freeport Police Department for departmental disciplinary review.
We will continue to prosecute Mr. Rogers for harassment for allegedly repeatedly pushing a pregnant woman to the floor on October 13, 2019.