Hate Crime Trial: The Last Ride

Home Brooklyn Life Hate Crime Trial: The Last Ride

By Nate Rawlings

Officer Daniel Ludeman squatted in the back of the ambulance as is sped toward Elmhurst Hospital. Next to him, paramedics monitored Jose Sucuzhanay’s vital signs, making sure he was still breathing and that his heart did not stop beating.

Blood was still coming out of Sucuzhanay’s head. Paramedics tried to staunch it without further damaging his broken skull. He was stripped to the waist; the paramedics had cut his shirt off before loading him into the ambulance and left his bloody garment with policemen at the crime scene on Bushwick Avenue.

When they arrived at the emergency room, doctors and nurses cut away the rest of Sucuzhanay’s clothes and turned them over to Ludeman. He placed them in a bag and logged the contents — pants, underwear and the rest of the clothing a man would wear on a bitter cold night. He was sure, he would testify later, that the one thing not present was a gun.

An hour earlier that night, Kuson Nelson drove down Bushwick Avenue. He was returning from a friend’s house where he had watched a fight on T.V. As he neared Kossuth Place, he passed two Hispanic men, walking arm in arm, “hugging and just playing around.”

Nelson parked his car just before the intersection, taking care to see that he didn’t block the fire hydrant. He walked into the vestibule of his apartment building when he heard the fight break out. The two Hispanic men who only moments earlier had been walking jovially were now in an argument next to a burgundy SUV with two men.

Now, testifying in court 16 months after that night, Nelson told Assistant District Attorney Josh Hanshaft that he heard more than he saw. Nelson saw one of the men from the SUV, Hakim Scott, swing a bottle, but then something blocked his view. He heard the bottle break, but didn’t see what it was Scott hit. Standing in the entrance to his building, Nelson saw Scott’s friend Keith Phoenix take a baseball bat out of the back of the car. He saw him swing the bat twice, but he couldn’t see what Phoenix hit. He only knew that what he heard was “like the sound of a bat hitting bone.”

The only thing Kuson Nelson knew for sure was that he lived in a bad neighborhood. He turned and walked into his apartment, and he didn’t call police. He didn’t want to get involved.

Less than half an hour later, Nelson walked back out of his apartment to take out the garbage. An ambulance and police cars were on the street where he had seen the burgundy SUV.

A detective in a coat and tie walked up to Nelson and asked him if he had seen anything. While he was telling his story, paramedics strapped Sucuzhanay to the gurney and loaded him into the back of the ambulance. Before they closed the doors, Ludeman hopped into the vehicle for the ride to the hospital.

In the trial of the two men who attacked Jose Sucuzhanay, which enters its second week at Brooklyn’s Supreme Court, Daniel Ludeman is so important to the prosecution’s case that he has had to testify twice. The first time he explained that he had been patrolling the neighborhood with his partner when they received the dispatch: a 911 caller had reported that a black man was beating a Hispanic man with a baseball bat.

Ludeman arrived and found Jose’s brother, Romel, who had also been attacked, but survived unharmed, in a state of shock. “He was out of it,” Ludeman testified on the first day of the trial. When paramedics stabilized Jose, Ludeman rode with them to the hospital.

On the third day of the trial, prosecutors showed the video of police interviewed Phoenix when he was arrested in February 2009. Phoenix admitted that he had taken his bat from the back of the SUV, but that he only swung it when he “saw [Jose] reach into his waistband, like he was going for his gun,” Phoenix said to detectives in the video. “So I went for my weapon.”

Phoenix said twice that it looked like Jose Sucuzhanay was reaching for a gun in his waistband, so he swung the bat a total of six times. He hit Sucuzhanay four times in the torso, and twice in the head. The last two blows came when Sucuzhanay was on the sidewalk. Finally, Sucuzhanay no longer tried to get up and Phoenix stopped swinging.

On the fourth day of the trial, prosecutors called Ludeman back to testify again. This time, his stay on the stand was much shorter. Hanshaft asked him if he saw a gun anywhere on the ground at the crime scene.

“No I did not.”

When the paramedics cut off Sucuzhanay’s bloody shirt, was there a gun inside the shirt?

“No sir.”

When hospital personnel cut off the rest of Sucuzhanay’s bloody clothes and gave them to Ludeman, was there a gun on Sucuzhanay or in any of his clothes?

“No sir.”

Phoenix’s defense attorney, Phillip J. Smallman, asked Ludeman if he had ever received reports of guns on his normal patrols around the 83rd Precinct.

“Yes sir.”

Did every report of a gun involve the actual presence of a weapon?

“No sir.”

Smallman had no further questions.

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