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Homeless Services sergeant not guilty of 2017 beating at Bellevue Shelter

2019-08-29

Authorities say a Department of Homeless Services sergeant was captured on video stomping on homeless man's head.

A Department of Homeless services sergeant was acquitted Thursday of brutally stomping and kicking a mentally ill man who flipped out at the Bellevue Shelter in 2017.

Cordell Fitts, 34, had faced charges of deprivation of rights through excessive force and filing a false report. He did not respond to a reporter’s questions as he walked out of the courthouse, seemingly in a daze.

His attorney, Federal Defender Julia Gatto, had argued during the three-day trial that Fitts was caught in a dangerous confrontation with the disturbed homeless man in March 2017 obsessed with provoking a fight with authorities.

Prosecutors, she said, were being “a Monday morning quarterback.”

“Cordell Fitts had a very hard job,” Gatto said in closing remarks in Manhattan Federal Court.

“On that day, Mr. Fitts had to make split-second decisions in real time.”

The jury only needed around three hours to reach the verdict.

Fitts took the stand in his own defense and emphasized that the homeless man had punched and bitten him. Video footage showed that a pocket knife fell out of the man’s pocket during the melee. Gatto emphasized that the man had refused an HIV test when he was taken to the hospital after the beating, raising the stakes for Fitts.

Cordell Fitts, a sergeant for the city’s Department of Homeless Services, was acquitted Thursday of brutally stomping and kicking a mentally ill man who flipped out at the Bellevue Shelter in 2017.
Cordell Fitts, a sergeant for the city’s Department of Homeless Services, was acquitted Thursday of brutally stomping and kicking a mentally ill man who flipped out at the Bellevue Shelter in 2017. (Stephen Brown/New York Daily)

The victim did not testify during the trial. Prosecutors had argued that 11 of the punches and kicks were excessive. They said that some of Fitts’s colleagues had tried to protect the homeless man as the beating escalated.

Medical reports on the victim’s treatment showed he’d suffered a “diagonal abrasion” on his face that was “superficial.”

Gatto described the injury as “a scratch” and emphasized in closing remarks that the victim had returned to the shelter from the hospital before Fitts finished his shift.

Gatto did not know if Fitts hoped to return to his old job. He resigned in 2018. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.