Jury Finds Lebron Not guilty

 

Update:

Less than two hours after starting deliberations tonight, a Rockland jury found suspended Spring Valley Police Officer David Lebron not guilty of two counts of sixth-degree conspiracy.

The jury started considering whether the prosecution proved that suspended Spring Valley Police Officer David Lebron tipped off bars to police raids at 6:20 p.m. The verdict came just after 8 p.m., Executive Assistant District Attorney Gary Lee Heavner said.

Lebron, who has testified strongly and confidently in his own defense, argued the police set him up with false charges in retaliation for his civil rights lawsuit against the village and for questioning the department’s use of police officers whom he called non-certified translators for Spanish-speaking suspects and witness. The village has denied the accusations.

Lebron, hired from New York City Police Department off a Spanish-speaking officer list a decade ago, now faces misdemeanor conspiracy counts – which wouldn’t amount to much, if any, jail time if he’s convicted.

Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett dismissed the two felony charges (with the prosecution’s support)  and two other misdemeanor counts. She ruled the prosecution failed to prove Lebron filed false reports and committed acts of official misconduct. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Lebron still faces dismissal from the police force on disciplinary charges brought by the village.

Bartlett ruled the jury should determine if Lebron entered into a conspiracy with bar manager Joseph Houston, though Lebron’s lawyer contended no agreement existed and those charges should be tossed, as well. Houston’s inability to remember specific dates and his criminal record became a major issue for the defense.

Bartlett said today that she will instruct the jury not to consider at act alleged by Houston before September 2004 because that’s when the supposed conspiracy formalized.

The  trial – contentious from the beginning – ended with another explosion today.

Bartlett again chastised Heavner and again raised questions about the integrity of the police investigation and prosecution. She said Heavner misled the court during the trial and wrongly attempted to introduce evidence through improper questions. She restricted testimony of some prosecution witnesses as irrelevant and inflammatory.

Today’s firestorm kicked off  on whether Heavner was within his rights to ask Lebron during his cross-examination on Friday if he was aware the FBI had investigated the officer before he filed his lawsuit and came under scrutiny from his own department. Heavner never raised the issue during the trial or called any witnesses to support his question.

Heavner told the judge today that she inaccurately told the jury that the FBI investigation found nothing. He argued that the FBI – which investigatges federal crimes – referred the case to the Spring Valley police and Lebron opened the door to the issue by contending the criminal charges came in retaliation to his lawsuit

Bartlett said she would not amend any comment she made to the jury. Citing a sidebar conference on Friday, she said the FBI looked into it and took no action. “You didn’t present any evidence before this court about the investigation before that,” Bartlett told Heavner.

She then criticized Heavner for asking Lebron if he failed to show up for a hearing on a rape case. She stopped that questioning, yelling at Heavner for testifying and raising an without any foundation. She noted the defendant was found not guilty of rape and claimed Heavner misled the court at a sidebar conference outside the earshot of the jury.

Bartlett, now angry, then criticized Heavner for telling the court that the police had destroyed daily officer activity logs from 2003 and 2004 – which Lebron sought for his defense. He claimed his hand-written logs would let the jury see what he was doing on the nights he is accused of hanging out in bars watching strippers. At some point, however, a daily log of Officer John Vespucci from 2004 was found with his deposition, leading Bartlett to question the veracity of the prosecution.

Heavner responded to a subpoeana for Lebron’s logs and was told that the logs for Lebron and other officers had been destroyed. He said one box from 2004 was not destroyed – which he just learned.  He wanted to have the police records clerk testify as a rebuttal witness about the process of destroying records, but Bartlett rejected that requested.

Bartlett also didn’t want to hear Police Chief Police Paul Modica explain the time-frame of the federal investigation. She said Heavner had his chance to call Modica when presenting his case before the jury.

“I am done,” Bartlett told Heavner. “You are not getting rebuttal witnesses. Maybe you don’t understand. I’m the judge here and have made my decision.”

Steve Lieberman

Steve Lieberman joined The Journal News as an editor in February 1984 and became a reporter during the spring of 1986. He has covered police, courts and legal issues for more than a decade, after reporting on county, town, village and state governments and general issues. He received more than a dozen state awards for writing and reporting. Born and raised in The Bronx, he has lived in Rockland since 1988.