New York Daily News

2 L.I. cops probed in kick of thief

A virtual celebratio­n on 25th anniversar­y

- BY THOMAS TRACY

A pair of Long Island cops were suspended without pay and could face criminal charges after they were caught on a fellow officer’s body camera kicking a handcuffed car thief after a chase and crash, officials said.

Four additional cops, including a supervisor, were placed on modified assignment for not stopping the cops from kicking Christophe­r Cruz, 30.

“The matter is now in the hands of the district attorney’s office and I can confirm there is a criminal investigat­ion,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference Tuesday night, announcing the officers’ suspension­s. “I watched that video earlier today. What I saw was disturbing, unacceptab­le and something that cannot be condoned.”

Suffolk County Police Commission­er Geraldine Hart said Cruz stole a Jeep from a Port Jefferson Station home about 11:40 p.m. on Feb. 23.

Officers in an unmarked police cruiser spotted the Jeep entering a parking lot a few minutes later, sparking a breakneck pursuit.

During the chase, Cruz collided with the unmarked car as well as a marked squad car arriving at the scene — injuring two cops — before slamming the Jeep into a snowbank.

“What happened next was captured on an officer’s body-worn camera,” Hart said. “While Cruz was standing up and handcuffed, a 6th Precinct police officer pushed the arrestee forward from behind and kicked the back of his leg. The officer who initially pushed Cruz and one other officer kicked Cruz multiple times while he was on the ground.”

Cruz was taken to an area hospital, where he declined medical attention.

“The actions of these two officers are concerning and what is equally unacceptab­le is the number of officers who did not intervene, which is a direct violation of our rules and procedures,” Hart said.

Cruz was charged with grand larceny, assault, criminal mischief and resisting arrest. He’s currently out of jail on supervised release.

Noel Di Gerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Associatio­n, told Newsday he was “troubled by any rush to judgment when talking about an individual who stole a motor vehicle and used it as a weapon to crash into two police cars.”

A judge has once again upheld the murder conviction of a Brooklyn man who tried to have his case tossed because he claimed he was forced into a confession, the Daily News has learned.

Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Raymond Rodriguez was the second jurist to deny Nelson Cruz, 40, a retrial. Rodriguez backed the ruling of his former colleague, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice ShawnDya Simpson (photo), from August 2019.

Cruz’s lawyers tried to get Simpson’s decision scrapped because she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and was forced to retire in October 2020. Rodriguez didn’t buy it. “Justice Simpson critically

analyzed the evidence presented at the hearing and was able to apply the facts to the law and appropriat­ely determined that the defendant did not meet his burden as to actual innocence and newly discovered evidence,” Rodriguez wrote in his decision. “A review of the record clearly establishe­s Justice Simpson was aware and cognizant throughout the hearing. Furthermor­e, Justice Simpson’s rulings and applicatio­n of the law were logical and supported by the evidence.”

Cruz was convicted of fatally shooting Trevor Vieira after an argument outside a deli on Pitkin Ave. in Brownsvill­e on March 28, 1998. Vieira also had a gun, which he fired as he fell to the ground. Cruz claims that he’s innocent of the crime.

In his hearing before Simpson, Cruz’s lawyers alleged his admission to the murder was coerced by disgraced NYPD Detectives Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil. Though the signed confession was suppressed at Cruz’s 1999 trial, he was convicted on a single witness’ identifica­tion, the defense said.

“We agree with the judge’s decision,” said Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

The group Families and Friends of the Wrongfully Convicted said they planned to file a complaint against Rodriguez.

When “Rent” opened at the Nederlande­r Theatre on Broadway 25 years ago next month, the likes of Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were all clamoring for tickets. David Geffen coughed up a million bucks just for the chance to make the cast recording. Whitney Houston wanted to work with Jonathan Larson’s profoundly emotional score.

And every slumming New Yorker with cash wanted the chance to share the orchestra with the edgy “Rent-heads” from the East Village, the hipster kids who’d stand in line all day to snag $20 front-row tickets for “No Day But Today.”

Broadway had never seen such a marriage of commerce and cool. And, in 1996, it had no idea how prescient this form of chic radicalism would turn out to be. In one of the great ironies of its era, “Rent,” the ultimate anti-gentrifica­tion musical, actually contribute­d to the very phenomenon it was fighting against.

To its Gen X fan base, there were no “Seasons of Love” worth having in the suburbs, no diverse community of friends to be forged in the shadow of their parents’ restrictiv­e desires. Downtown Manhattan was the epicenter.

You might say “Rent,” which would run on Broadway for a dozen years and eventually bring its seasons of love to half the world, was just too brilliant a work for its own social good.

But on Tuesday night at a virtual benefit for the New York

Theatre Workshop, an oral and performati­ve history of a different “Rent” flowed front and center on thousands of laptops across the world. This event, available though Saturday, heralded the artistic purity of the show that had started on E. Fourth St.

The one that was a real attempt to reflect the neighborho­od beyond that theater’s walls. The one that was willed into being by Larson and a gifted original cast. The one that bespoke of a young composer’s genius and his lust for a realized success that he never got to experience in life.

Larson had begun this odyssey by taking surely the most famous bicycle ride in Broadway history, dropping off the script and score to his musical version of “La Boheme” on a desk at The New York Theatre Workshop.

And for him, it ended when the 35-year-old died on the morning of Jan. 26, 1996, the day of the first Off-Broadway preview performanc­e of “Rent.” Larson fell in his own kitchen due to an aortic dissection, which doctors previously had misdiagnos­ed as either influenza or stress.

Larson was not the first brilliant talent to die young, or even when a show was on the cusp of opening — the same fate befell Lorraine Hansberry, to name just one — but that didn’t mitigate the loss.

Oh, what Jonathan Larson surely would have written since!

On Tuesday, many of those present 25 years ago, including the director Michael Greif — a discipline­d theatrical structural­ist who turned out to be the perfect foil for Larson’s wet emotionali­sm — and Larson’s sister, Julie, were there to recall the shock of that day.

They recounted their determinat­ion that, as night fell, the theater would be filled with his whimsy, his soaring ballads and his choral declaratio­ns of radical solidarity, even in the face of subjugatio­n and the ravages of AIDS.

Larson was of the generation that was rejecting property, monetarism and, well, the acquisitio­n of useless stuff. He wrote songs of experience, of families formed of friends, of a determinat­ion to love without judgment. Perhaps more than any other composer in a single moment, he found an entirely new audience and charted the future course of Broadway, and maybe even New York itself.

He just couldn’t know that in the moment.

But his friends charted the way forward.

Tuesday’s emotional celebratio­n featured rare cassette demos of Larson singing “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Boheme,” as well as the show’s dusty original props and grainy film and photos of the composer’s young life, being as that was the only life he had to live.

And there were, of course, performanc­es from the likes of Idina Menzel and Adam Rapp, to name just two of the careers and lives that “Rent” changed for good. At one point, the screen filled with little Zoom boxes of hundreds of “Rent” performers from New York, and from all over the world.

But far more of those changed lives were just watching at home.

 ?? JESSE WARD/NEW YORK DAIY NEWS ??
JESSE WARD/NEW YORK DAIY NEWS
 ??  ?? The original cast of the groundbrea­king musical “Rent” created by Jonathan Larson (below left) performs in 1996. The hit show drew celebs like Tom Cruise and then-wife Nicole Kidman (below r.).
The original cast of the groundbrea­king musical “Rent” created by Jonathan Larson (below left) performs in 1996. The hit show drew celebs like Tom Cruise and then-wife Nicole Kidman (below r.).
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