In an otherwise quiet courtroom on Thursday afternoon, October 16, the attorney for a Springs man accused of screaming obscenities, harassing police officers and resisting arrest told a drastically different side of the story of his altercation with police.
“He was tortured,” attorney Joseph Giannini repeatedly said of his client, a local builder, during the jury trial. Mr. Giannini, who is a Vietnam War veteran, said his client’s treatment by police reminded him of things he’d seen in the war. “I want you to end this nightmare and let this man go back to his life,” he said.
William Cuthbert, 57, was arrested by East Hampton Town Police on January 23 following a minor car accident on the corner of Accabonac Road and Abraham’s Path in Springs. The arrest stemmed from an argument with police that quickly turned physical, according to three police officers who testified during the trial.
Mr. Cuthbert had been charged with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest. He was found guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest on Thursday, but he has not yet been sentenced.
According to police, Mr. Cuthbert refused to move his vehicle from the road after the accident until police arrived, and screamed obscenities at the people in cars behind him. When police arrived on scene, they too asked Mr. Cuthbert to move his truck. While he was walking back to his vehicle, police said, he slammed his elbow into the side of a patrol car mirror and told police officers he hoped their families “get cancer and die.”
When they attempted to arrest Mr. Cuthbert for disorderly conduct, police said, he tried to prevent them from cuffing him, first flailing and then thrashing around on the hood of the police car once in handcuffs. During his ride to police headquarters in Wainscott, Mr. Cuthbert continued to yell obscenities at the officer who was driving, calling him “a f—–g pig,” officers said during the trial.
But Mr. Cuthbert’s recollection of the “frigid” January day told the story of “police brutality” and “excessive force.” He said the incident left him with injuries that lasted well into the summer.
Leaning back in his chair as he testified, Mr. Cuthbert described the day as having started with a peaceful morning spent looking at the ocean, a cup of coffee in hand. He was returning to Springs and planned a trip to Riverhead later in the day to cash in some recyclables.
But on his way to Springs, Mr. Cuthbert said his van was hit by a vehicle driven by a woman who lost control of her car on the icy road. After the accident, Mr. Cuthbert said, he got out of the vehicle to inform the drivers stuck behind him that the police were on their way, and he would get his van out of the road shortly.
They arrived, and he said he was walking back to his van to move it out, as the officers had requested, when a police car drove extremely close to him, hitting his arm with the side mirror. Mr. Cuthbert said an officer proceeded to place him under arrest because he “didn’t like my attitude.”
In the midst of testifying, Mr. Cuthbert stopped himself, seeming annoyed, and asked Justice Steven Tekulsky if there was a reason why the court officer was “smiling” and “making faces,” saying it was “distracting.” Justice Tekulsky told Mr. Cuthbert that the officer was not doing any of those things. Mr. Cuthbert continued his testimony.
Mr. Cuthbert said the handcuffs were so tight that his hands “started swelling, while my nerves [were] being cut and severed” and his fingers started to go numb. “I fainted,” he said, crying loudly. “I saw white and when I woke up, I found myself on the ground.”
Mr. Cuthbert said he had called out for help because he was in extreme pain. None of the police officers who testified said he had any recollection of Mr. Cuthbert asking for the cuffs to be loosened or stating that he was in pain.
“I pled with Officer [Barry] Johnson the moment he came over to show him what [Office Frank] Trotta had done to me,” Mr. Cuthbert said of an officer who arrived on the scene after the arrest. “I’ve never been in pain like that before,” he said. “I lost feeling in my hands for weeks.”
After the jury rendered its decision, Mr. Giannini said his client had not had a fair trial. “I’m very disappointed,” the attorney said in a phone interview on Friday. “I believe he’s innocent, and this incident has had a terrible effect on him.”
Mr. Cuthbert will be sentenced on December 4 in East Hampton Town Justice Court.