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SUFFOLK, N.Y. -- Kenny Lazo's family hasn't seen his body yet in the Suffolk (N.Y.) medical examiner's office, but they do have a photograph from there that leaves them with anger and frustration.
The 24-year-old Bay Shore man, who died while in the custody of Suffolk police during the weekend, was photographed after his death by the medical examiner so his family could identify him, relatives said. The picture shows one side of Lazo's face, which looks swollen, and cuts on the right temple.
Lazo's mother and several relatives made a plea for answers outside the Suffolk County police headquarters in Yaphank yesterday.
A mother's pleas
Carrying photographs of her son with his child, and the Bible he'd received as a gift on his 15th birthday, Patricia Gonzalez sobbed loudly.
"Oh, my son!" she cried. "I want justice! Justice!"
According to police, Lazo had been caught selling drugs, and put up a violent struggle when they tried to arrest him Saturday evening. They said they finally subdued him by hitting him with flashlights.
But as police revealed details of Lazo's death, his family said no matter what drugs he had, police had used excessive force.
"What happened to mace?" asked his girlfriend, Juana Emily Cabrera, 20. "What happened to pepper spray? That was a brutal death. He did not need to die."
Dep. Insp. Robert Oswald, commanding officer of the Major Crimes Bureau, said police responded to a complaint around 8:15 p.m. on Saturday of drug dealing from a Cadillac on the north side of Sunrise Highway in West Islip. Two detectives from the Third Precinct's Neighborhood Enforcement Special Operations Team saw a car fitting that description leaving a parking lot and followed it.
Oswald said the detectives saw Lazo meet up with a westbound vehicle and a "clearly visible transaction occurred between the two."
The detectives called for a uniform officer to pull Lazo over on the Southern State Parkway. The father of a 5-year-old son pulled over at the intersection with Bay Shore Road, turned off his car and got out.
According to Oswald, when one detective approached Lazo, he suddenly elbowed him and took off. The uniformed officer ran after him and tackled him.
But Lazo got up and ran away, Oswald said. The detective and a uniformed sergeant joined the officer "and a violent struggle ensued," Oswald said.
Lazo tried to grab the officer's gun and officers used their flashlights "to control him," Oswald said. "They struck him around his body, and I don't have any further details on that."
The struggle moved closer toward the roadway, and two motorists called 911 to report that officers were struggling with someone, Oswald said. They were eventually able to handcuff him and take him to the Third Precinct.
Some crack was found on Lazo at the scene, police said, and when he walked into the precinct, a substance they say was powder cocaine fell off him. In total, police said they found 24 grams (just under 1 ounce) of drugs and $2,400 in cash.
Suspect lost consciousness
Lazo went into an interrogation room, where he asked for and received two glasses of water. Oswald said a supervising sergeant who came into the room called an ambulance for Lazo. Before it arrived, however, Lazo lost consciousness. Police began CPR, and he was taken to Southside Hospital, where he died.
Oswald said Lazo passed out 30 minutes after arriving at the precinct. About 20 minutes passed between the time the sergeant left the room and Lazo was taken to the hospital.
Lazo had previous convictions for harassment, disorderly conduct, unlawful possession of marijuana, criminal possession of a controlled substance, attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance, and several vehicle and traffic offenses.
Cabrera said the family believes police used excessive force, and they want to know why he wasn't taken to the hospital sooner.
She said Lazo had just recently bought his son a soccer outfit, and matching cleats and shorts for himself so the two could practice together.
"And now he's not going to be able to do that," she said. "He was a good kid. He didn't deserve this."