A Long Island, New York, man who said he was severely beaten by police and jailed for months on false charges was cleared of wrongdoing in court last week and is a free man once again.
"It's truly a holiday miracle," Willian Guillen's lawyer, Karen Bobley, told The Huffington Post.
On Dec. 22, Nassau County District Court Judge Sharon Gianelli found Guillen, 33, not guilty on all charges -- misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest as well as harassing a police officer -- brought against him by the Nassau County District Attorney's office. Guillen originally faced felony charges, but those had been reduced before trial.
"The law does not require the police to always be right," Gianelli said in delivering her verdict, but it does require them to "be reasonable."
Nassau County police had alleged that Guillen engaged in a drug transaction on March 23 with Neptali Robles, a fellow chef at the Peruvian restaurant Millenium Chicken in Hicksville, New York. Officers, who had been staking out the restaurant over complaints of drug-related incidents, said they saw Guillen throw a plastic bag of cocaine into the street as he ran from them. But surveillance video from outside the restaurant does not show the alleged drug deal, and no cocaine was recovered from the scene.
Guillen -- who Bobley said has no criminal history -- has maintained his innocence throughout. He said that when he and Robles finished work around midnight, they walked to a nearby restaurant for takeout food. While they waited for their order of pupusas, he said they stopped to say hello to a friend at another restaurant and dashed into a convenience store for an errand.
According to Guillen, that's when two men came running and yelling from a dark street corner about a block away. Guillen, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, has worked as a chef in the U.S. for more than a decade, but he understands little English. Thinking he was about to be robbed, he said he ran back toward the restaurant where he had ordered his food, hollering to another group of men outside to call the police.
The men coming from the street corner, as well as those in front of the restaurant, were members of an undercover unit of the Nassau County Police Department. According to a complaint that Bobley filed with the Justice Department, the FBI and several assistant U.S. attorneys -- as well as President Barack Obama and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman -- the officers tackled Guillen, handcuffed him and beat him. They dragged him across the pavement and repeatedly stomped his head, according to the complaint.
Guillen's ordeal did not end there, according to Bobley. In her complaint seeking a federal investigation of police conduct in the case, she said that Guillen was taken to a police holding facility, where officers allegedly forced Guillen to undress and then beat him again. The officers laughed at Guillen, called him names and tried to kick him in his genitals as he lay on the floor, the complaint says. They stomped his thigh so forcefully that the bone was exposed, according to the complaint.
Guillen was hospitalized for days with multiple broken ribs, bruises, abrasions and swelling all over his body. Toxicology tests were negative for all substances, including alcohol.
Meanwhile, Robles had been released on bail the day after his arrest, and the charges against him were eventually dismissed.
Guillen was later transferred to the Nassau County Correctional Center, where he has been jailed for nearly nine months awaiting possible deportation.
But he was able to walk out of that jail cell just hours after the judge's ruling.
"There is no further threat of deportation," Bobley said to HuffPost. She said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents "came to the jail right after the verdict and did not hold him. He was asked only if he has an immigration lawyer, and when he said yes, they told him he could go home."
Bobley said that HuffPost's original story on Guillen "helped set a lot of this in motion."
Though Guillen has now been found not guilty, his lawyer still hopes the Justice Department will investigate Guillen’s beating, as it did recently in the case of a man beaten by police in Santa Ana, California.
If Guillen were to be certified as a material witness in such a federal investigation, he could be eligible for a U visa, a special status granted to immigrants who are victims of a crime and cooperating with law enforcement. Bobley said that a U visa is already in the works for Guillen, but that it can take up to a year for approval.
The Nassau County Police Department declined to comment about the judge's ruling or the incident. A spokesperson from the Nassau County District Attorney's office said that the case has been sealed and that the office cannot discuss it further.