Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini today announced the indictment of a Suffolk County Police Department (“SCPD”) officer by a Special Grand Jury that was empaneled in part to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Christopher Cruz on Feb. 24, 2021. The Special Grand Jury’s indictment comes after a nine-month Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (“SCDAO”) investigation into the actions of Cruz and multiple SCPD officers on Feb. 23 and 24, 2021 and an extensive grand jury presentation.
Matthew Cameron, 33, of Commack, is charged with Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree, a class A misdemeanor. Cameron has been employed as a Suffolk County Police officer since 2014. He was temporarily suspended in March following the incident.
The Special Grand Jury found reasonable cause to believe that Cameron made a false sworn statement in support of a criminal complaint charging Cruz with Resisting Arrest. This statement was filed with the First District Court of Suffolk County in association with a Resisting Arrest charge that Cameron filed against Cruz. The SCDAO previously dismissed the Resisting Arrest charge against Cruz on June 2, 2021.
Over the course of its investigation, the SCDAO gathered evidence from numerous sources, interviewing 34 witnesses and reviewing hundreds of SCPD documents, including arrest paperwork, notes, and disciplinary records. In addition, the SCDAO obtained and reviewed photographs, videos, and hundreds of additional documents from non-SCPD sources. Investigators obtained and reviewed all 911 calls associated with the event, as well as all car-to-car radio transmissions. SCDAO investigators reviewed SCPD Crime Scene Unit photographs and took photographs themselves. The Suffolk County Crime Laboratory analyzed the event data recorder – also known as the “black box” – of a Jeep that Cruz had stolen on Feb. 23, 2021 and was driving at the time of his apprehension by the SCPD in the early morning of Feb. 24, 2021. SCDAO investigators reviewed surveillance video from a Mobil gas station where the stolen vehicle collided with a police vehicle. SCDAO investigators extensively reviewed body camera video of the arrest scene, which the SCPD previously provided to the public. The SCDAO also examined dash-camera video from a responding police officer, back-seat video of Cruz as the SCPD transported him to St. Charles Hospital, and video footage that a civilian recorded at the scene of the arrest. In the course of its investigation, the SCDAO retained and consulted an independent expert on police use of force who had no prior relationship with the SCDAO or the Suffolk County Police Department.
The investigation revealed that, earlier on Feb. 23, 2021, St. Charles Hospital had released Cruz after detoxification treatment. Cruz then obtained cans of hairspray from a local store. A Port Jefferson Station resident later found several empty hairspray cans and personal property of Cruz in her unlocked car on Oakland Avenue. Down the road from where the empty hairspray cans were discovered, Cruz found an unlocked Jeep Grand Cherokee with its key fob inside. Cruz began driving away in the Jeep.
SCPD officers found Cruz driving the stolen vehicle and pursued him. In the course of Cruz’s flight, his stolen vehicle collided with two police vehicles. One of these collisions occurred as Cruz drove through a Mobil gas station, and the gas station’s surveillance camera recorded the event. The other collision occurred on Canal Road in Coram, where Cruz’s vehicle ultimately got stuck in the snow after driving dangerously close to police officers on foot. SCPD officers broke the Jeep’s window to remove Cruz. SCPD officers handcuffed Cruz while he was on the ground, and an SCPD body camera began recording Cruz after he had been handcuffed and turned onto his back. In the body-camera video, an SCPD officer twice pushed Cruz’s face to the side while Cruz was handcuffed and on the ground. That officer subsequently indicated that he was moving Cruz’s face to avoid being spit on. An officer then brought Cruz to his feet, restraining him by holding the back of Cruz’s coat. While Cruz was standing up, held by the officer, P.O. Cameron moved behind Cruz, kicked Cruz in his right calf, and pushed him in the back. P.O. Cameron’s actions caused Cruz to pitch forward, breaking out of the other SCPD officer’s grasp. Cruz then turned toward the SCPD officer who had been holding him and uttered an obscenity.
After Cruz left the SCPD officer’s grasp, several SCPD officers moved to secure Cruz again. One officer grappled with Cruz and took him to the ground, yelling that “he’s fighting again,” which one officer said that he heard as Cruz “was biting again.” In the body-camera video, an SCPD officer can also be heard yelling “stop resisting.” Seconds later, the officer who had brought Cruz to the ground announced, “All right, all right. It’s done.” The entire incident, from the time that P.O. Cameron kicked Cruz’s calf and pushed him to the time that another officer stated “[i]t’s done,” took approximately 12 seconds, as reflected by the video evidence. Cruz alleged that he was assaulted by police officers throughout the incident and that the kicks caused him substantial pain. The officers all denied assaulting Cruz and asserted that any application of force was intended to subdue and secure Cruz following a dangerous police chase and his resistance to apprehension.
Following the incident, Cruz was arrested and initially charged with Assault in the Second Degree, Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree, and Resisting Arrest, and he was arraigned on Feb. 24, 2021.
As part of its investigation, the SCDAO analyzed the paperwork, filed with the First District Court of Suffolk County, supporting the criminal charges that Cruz initially faced. P.O. Cameron was the affiant on the misdemeanor charge of Resisting Arrest. Based on its review, the Special Grand Jury found reasonable cause to believe that P.O. Cameron’s statement in support of the charge was false.
The SCDAO also investigated whether other police paperwork contained intentional falsehoods, including that of other police officers. The Special Grand Jury did not find reasonable cause that these other officers committed a crime.
Ultimately, the Special Grand Jury returned the above-referenced indictment against P.O. Cameron and no other officer.
On Sept. 29, 2021, Cruz pled guilty to one count of Petit Larceny and was sentenced to time served.
Cameron was arraigned on the indictment today before Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court on Dec. 20 and is being represented by William Petrillo.
If convicted, Cameron faces a maximum sentence of up to 364 days in prison.