Family Blames Police for Killing of Hostage

BROOKLYN (CN) — The family of a Long Island woman fatally shot in the head by a policeman during a hostage situation fired back with a lawsuit against the Nassau County Police Department, claiming it tried to cover up its officers’ constitutional violations.
     Andrea and Jessica Rebello — 21-year-old twins attending Hofstra University at the time — and John Kourtesis were held hostage by convicted felon Dalton Smith on May 17, 2013 in Uniondale, N.Y.
     Unaware they were confronting a hostage situation, officers and named defendants Joseph Avanzato, Nikolas Budimilic, Michael Leone and Marlon Sanders rolled up after getting a 5-second tip: “I have a guy in my house with a gun. He is holding my friends at gunpoint,” according to the May 16 federal complaint.
     Jessica managed to escape and tried to tell officers what was happening inside, but her words fell on deaf ears, she says in the 69-page lawsuit.
     Officer Budimilic spotted Smith at the top of the stairs, using Andrea as a “human shield” with his arm around her neck while trying to escape out the back.
     Budimilic and Smith squared off, and Budimlic fired at least eight shots, the lawsuit states.
     The second or third sets of shots killed Andrea Rebello, her family says.
     Smith, a 30-year-old from Hempstead, was hit twice and died.
     Officers did nothing to help the woman after she was hit, and stepped over her body to help their fellow officer. Budimlic lifted the woman off her assailant and leaned her onto the bottom of the stairs, her parents and sister say.
     The officer then “immediately began to scream hysterically over the airwaves” that he needed help, then reversed course and told his colleagues to stay off the air “in an attempt to keep all information about the shooting” under wraps, the family says.
     That’s when the cover-up began, the Rebellos say. They claim no investigation was ever conducted against the officer, and the NCPD was “selective and self-serving” when it did little to look into the matter.
     The department declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon.
     Budimlic initially told police that Smith had shot the woman. Another officer then began throwing boxes and other debris “spoliating the crime scene,” according to the complaint.
     That officer ripped Smith’s bloody backpack off his body and threw it out the back door against the back fence of the house, commingling blood samples to ruin a crime scene investigation, the parents say.
     They say Smith’s body was dragged to the back door and propped up. The two surviving hostages were forced to sign witness statements that all but exonerated the shooter without being allowed to read them, the family says.
     Officers were not compassionate to the surviving twin. “At no point was any effort made … to comfort or provide access to treatment for the trauma [she] had experienced,” the lawsuit states. She was treated like a criminal, her family says, held in a cop car for hours and not allowed to call her parents or see them during questioning at the precinct.
     After several hours of questioning, she sister was released to her parents, Nella and Fernando Rebello.
     Cops showed up at the Rebellos’ house the next day to tell them their daughter had been killed by an officer.
     The family says Budimlic had been involved in two previous shootings, “one of which he described as a gun battle.” He remains on the force, plaintiffs note.
     Hostage procedures are clearly written in the Nassau County Police Department’s manual, the lawsuit states, but “each and every act of the defendants present at the scene … violated this policy, and no efforts to deescalate the incident were attempted by any police officer at the scene.”
     Nassau County was tapped by the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 to serve as a “public safety answering point — an advance 911 center that can receive emergency calls from wireless phones,” the lawsuit against a slew of officers and detectives claims.
     New York State pumped $3.4 million into Nassau County between 2008 and 2012 to help make wireless 911 calls possible and to train operators on how to deal with hostage situations.
     “Said monies were never provided for said training, however, and were used for purposes other than what was required by the department of Homeland Security,” the parents claim.
     Two weeks before Andrea was killed, the Union for the Police Communication Operation Operators filed court papers to force Nassau County to provide training to deal with hostage situations. The union followed up with a federal lawsuit in June 2014.
     “Had the police communications operators been properly trained they would have been able to give better information to the police officers and supervisors in the field who in turn would have implemented better and more appropriate procedures for addressing hostage situations,” the lawsuit states.
     “The police communication operators were not properly trained and therefore did not access or disseminate to the officers in the field … the standard operating procedure for hostage situations.”
     In fact, the department was even warned by the caller: “Don’t go there. He will shoot them,” according to the complaint.
     But dispatchers categorized the call as a “robbery in progress” and not a hostage situation, plaintiffs claim.
     The family seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations and supervisory liability.
     They are represented by David A. Roth with Roth & Roth in New York City, and Byron Lassin in Elmhurst.

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