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Ocean Beach cops acquitted of all charges in beating

Ocean beach officers George Hesse, left, and Arnold Hardman shake hands after they are acquitted of all charges. Photo Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan | April 13, 2009

Cheers and applause echoed in a Riverhead courtroom Monday after a jury acquitted two police officers of all remaining charges in the case of a Fire Island tourist who suffered a ruptured bladder in their custody.

Jurors had found the officers not guilty of the top counts of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, along with other charges on Friday. Returning Monday, the jury acquitted the officers of third-degree assault and official misconduct, both misdemeanors.

Upon hearing the final verdict in court, Ocean Beach acting Police Chief George Hesse, 40, of East Islip, turned and grabbed his co-defendant, Arnold Hardman, 53, of St. James, in a tight bear hug.

About a dozen friends and family members - many of whom had attended daily during six weeks of testimony and 10 days of deliberations - shouted "Yes!" and clapped after the verdict was read. Hesse's mother, Rose Spinnato, 58, of Cutchogue, leaned back in her seat, hands over her face, and wept with relief.

Standing beside her in hallway, Hesse said, "We put our faith in the system and the system won."

Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said he was disappointed with the jury's decision and stood by his evidence.

Prosecutors had accused Hesse of punching and stomping a former Manhattan man, Sam Gilberd, 36, on Aug. 28, 2005. The incident began with police issuing Gilberd a littering ticket for smashing a glass outside a bar. At the police station, the defense said Gilberd became belligerent with officers, and both sides acknowledge that Gilberd kicked the building's front door on his way out.

Police pulled Gilberd back inside, where the defense said his bladder - bloated from heavy drinking - burst in a fall. Prosecutors say the injury occurred after Hesse lost his temper and stomped Gilberd twice in the abdomen.

"There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle that didn't fit," said juror Charlie Nitti, 47, of Deer Park. "It was a battle the whole time."

Another juror, a 35-year-old New York City police officer who declined to give his name, said he took no sides while weighing testimony given by Ocean Beach officers who testified against Hardman and Hesse.

"I didn't want to prejudge anybody," he said. "It wasn't easy."

Gilberd had been present for several days of jury deliberations, but he said last week he was returning to Los Angeles because his wife was about to give birth.

Gilberd, who filed a $22-million civil suit against the department after he was injured, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Gilberd's civil lawyer, D. Carl Lustig of Manhattan, said his client was confident he will convince jurors in the still-pending civil suit.

"This case is a long way from being over," Lustig said.

Hardman, a retired New York City police officer, said outside court that he intended to return to his security job at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, but did not know whether he would return to Ocean Beach, where he'd been a part-time employee. Ocean Beach Mayor Joseph Loeffler said Hesse would be removed from administrative leave, which he'd been on for the trial's duration, and take up his badge and gun immediately. "Tomorrow," Loeffler said. "Full duty."

Published: April 13, 2009 | | By ERIK GERMAN


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