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Judge Denounces 'Lawless' Beating by Police at Rally
By JAMES BARRON Publi shed: October 01, 1991

A Criminal Court judge in Manhattan declared in a decision yesterday that th e police beat an Act Up demonstrator without provocation in February and then did not tell the truth about the incident. The judge also criticized a Manhattan prosecutor, saying that he badgered the demonstrator over the phone several months after the incident. The judge also said the assistant district attorney gave evasive answers about the call when asked about later it in court and wrongly implied at a court hearing that he did not have the demonstrator's medical records. The judge, Justice Edgar G. Walker, based his decision on witnesses' testimon y and videotapes submitted as evidence by the demonstrator, Christopher Hennelly, 28 years old. Justice Walker said the tapes showed "lawless behavior of those sworn to uphold the law," adding that the only "violent, tumultuous and threatening behavior," as alleged in the complaint a gainst the demonstrator, "was on the part of the police." Justice Walker made the ruling as he dismissed assault and disorderly conduct charges the police had filed against Mr. Hennelly, who was an Act Up marshal at the demonstration outside the Midtown North police precinct on West 42d Street on Feb. 11. Act Up, a protest group on behalf of people with AIDS, was rallying against what its members said was police brutality at an earlier demonstration. The videotapes came from two freelance photographers.


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The judge said he did not base his decision entirely on the tapes, but he said they showed officers beating Mr. Hennelly. The Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said last night that the decision would be appealed. "We think the judge is completely wrong," he said. The chief of the trial division in Mr. Morgenthau's office, Nancy Ryan, defended the assistant district attorney, saying he had tried to find witnesses and evidence to back up Mr. Hennelly's claims, but that other people at the demonstration had refused to cooperate. She also took issue with Judge Walker's reliance on the tapes. "I don't see on the videotape anything like what he describes," she said. A police spokesman, Sgt. Edward Burns, said it had not been decided whether to take any disciplinary action against the officers named in Judge Walker's decision. Matt Foreman, the executive director of the New Y ork City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, welcomed the decision. "It's truly a disgrace that it took nearly eight months and two full days of hearings for the truth to come out," Mr. Foreman said. "Christopher Hennelly was assaulted -- he didn't assault anyone." In his 19-page opinion, Justice Walker said the beating had left Mr. Hennelly with a concussion, neck injuries and "a lifetime of pain punctuated by epileptic seizures." Justice Walker said that until the police moved in, "the videotapes show a basically peaceful demonstration, although the rhetoric was at times inflammatory." Mr. Hennelly, he wrote, was wearing a red arm band, signifying that he was a marshal.
"Without any apparent provocation," the judge wrote, the police charged the crowd of demonstrators. 'Taking a Two-Handed Swing' "A police officer can clearly be seen turning the defendant around and then taking a two-handed swing with his club directly at the spot on the defendant's head where the defendant's arrest photograph shows a bruise," the judge wrote. "The defendant thereupon falls to the ground. Although he is then surrounded by police officers, at least one officer appears to be clubbing the defendant while he is on the ground." The judge continued, "The videotapes make it perfectly clear that the defendant did absolutely nothing before he was clubbed to the ground."

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