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Lawyer of Japanese man killed by N.Y. police car alleges evidence cover-up

Kyodo

A lawyer for the family of a Japanese man hit and killed last year by a police car released surveillance camera footage of the incident Wednesday, adding weight to his accusation in court that the New York Police Department intentionally bungled an investigation into the crash and failed to train its officers to drive safely.

Ryo Oyamada, 24, a language student living in New York, was crossing a street a little after midnight on Feb. 21, 2013, when a police cruiser driven by Officer Darren Illardi struck and killed him.

Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who represents the victim’s estate in a wrongful death suit against the City of New York and the officers involved, posted the footage online and said he received it “in highly edited form and have time-stamps that are likely incorrect.”

The almost three-minute video shows the view from two separate surveillance cameras near the crash scene just before the incident, according to the time-stamp. In one of the recordings, a police car allegedly driven by Illardi drives past with its emergency lights off. After it passes outside the camera’s field of vision, the cruiser seems to stop and its flashing lights are suddenly turned on.

The other camera shows a man, assumed to be Oyamada, walking on the sidewalk and through a crosswalk before he passes out of sight. Neither camera directly shows the crash or its aftermath.

“We believe that, at a minimum, these videos cast doubt on the public statements of the New York Police Department to the effect that the vehicle that struck Ryo Oyamada had its emergency lights activated,” Vaccaro said in an email.

Meanwhile, Vaccaro wrote in documents filed in federal court in early August that the NYPD intentionally lost crucial evidence. “A large crowd gathered immediately at the crash scene. NYPD officers dispersed this crowd and failed to gather the name of a single eyewitness,” Vaccaro wrote in a proposed amended complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The documents also accuse officers of failing to measure skid marks left by the car, investigate the driver’s phone records from the time of the crash, and retrieve information from the car’s data recorder before it was erased.

The proposed complaint claims officers had “intent to destroy or suppress evidence concerning Illardi’s culpability” when they failed to gather the evidence. Vaccaro said in a late July hearing that recordings of the NYPD internal affairs investigation capture investigators pressuring the driver’s partner to change his testimony.

In addition, court documents allege “Illardi’s supervisors had reason to know that Illardi was an unreasonably dangerous driver” and that the NYPD has an “apparent policy of allowing officers (several words redacted) to operate vehicles without appropriate supervision, training, and discipline.”

Lawyers for the city were not immediately available to comment on the allegations, but they replied in court documents that such a policy cannot be inferred from one incident.

The lawsuit only alleges police negligence in investigating the crash and gives no factual basis to infer an intentional cover-up, they added.

Vaccaro specializes in suits regarding pedestrian and cyclist deaths and is the third lawyer to represent the plaintiffs since the claim was filed in May 2013.