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Queens DA launches probe in alleged brutality arrests

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Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has begun an investigation into allegations of police brutality on a Laurelton street corner when 15 men and women were arrested in June, a spokesman for his office said.

The district attorney's probe focuses on the events that occurred at about 9:15 p.m. on June 11 at the intersection of Merrick Boulevard and 220th Street.

Community activists contend the arrests were baseless and maintain the police officers beat, kicked and maced the 15 men and women who were apprehended.

"We are conducting an investigation of the facts and circumstances of that evening," said Patrick Clark, Brown's spokesman. "There are allegations of excessive force that are being looked into."

Clark said "no conclusions have been drawn."

At a Saturday meeting at the African American Benevolent Society with about 50 concerned southeast Queens residents, Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) said the Civilian Complaint Review Board was also looking into the case.

"We have found that there is enough to these allegations that we need to take this to a higher stage," Sanders said.

A police spokesman said the NYPD's Department of Internal Affairs was investigating the incident and thus could not discuss it.

The arrests occurred just two days after three people were murdered in their home in Cambria Heights, located about a mile away from the scene of the arrests.

A police source told the Timesledger in June that one person arrested near the intersection of Merrick Boulevard and 220th Street on the night of June 11 was questioned in connection with the triple murder, but that person was not charged.

"I personally suspect the police in their zeal to solve that problem may have been compounding another problem," Sanders said.

The people who were arrested said they were celebrating a birthday at a house in Laurelton when police came to break up the party.

The 15 friends left the house and walked to the intersection of Merrick Boulevard and 220th Street at about 9:15 p.m., where they stopped and watched a man not part of the group vomit, they said.

"We were doing nothing," said Vashonda Edwards, 29, one of those arrested, said at Saturday's meeting. "We were all just having a good time celebrating my brother's birthday."

Suddenly the police descended on the group, some of those who were arrested said.

Cherelle Still, 25, said a police officer "literally picked me up by my arms and just slammed me to the ground.

"I don't know how my face didn't get messed up," she said.

Others were bruised and maced, Still said. She said she saw one of her friends with a bloody face.

The group was held in a police van before being driven to the 105th Precinct, Still said. Two members of the group who were minors were released, and the remaining 13 were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration, Sanders said.

Clark said the charges against the 13 were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, meaning they will be dropped as long as the 13 are not arrested again in the near future.

Since the incident, the police have dropped the disorderly conduct charges, said the group's attorney, Nyreedawn Simpson.

Simpson, who called her clients "The Merrick 15," said she was looking into filing a civil suit against the Police Department.

"They were falsely arrested, imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted," she said.

Leroy Gadsden, third vice president of the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP and a former police officer, told the people who attended Saturday's meeting that despite the accusations they needed to continue to respect the police.

But Gadsden did not mince words in describing the arrests.

"This is plain old-fashioned racial discrimination under the guise of a badge," he said.

Clark said the district attorney's investigation "is in response to concerns that were expressed to the district attorney by the NAACP officials."

At the Saturday meeting, Dupree Youngblood of Laurelton said many of his neighbors were often quick to call in complaints to the Police Department about him and his friends.

Youngblood said youth in the neighborhood needed more places to hang out during the evenings.

"If there was just one youth center, violence would go down," he said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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