When a string of muggings took place in the South P Lot earlier this academic year, the campus was notified. When a student committed suicide last spring, everyone received a text. So why is it that when Brianna Bifone was hit by a police officer and pinned under a cruiser for 30 minutes, the university fell silent?
Bifone was walking down Circle Road almost a year ago, on Feb. 7, 2013, when campus police officer Salvatore Casaccio was responding to a call of a “large group” in the Student Union. Casaccio cut across an entire lane of traffic, jumped the curb and hit Bifone, where she lay pinned under the car in an embankment for about half an hour.
Stony Brook University never publicly released Casaccio’s name, and this is the first time it has appeared in print.
A stretch of Circle Road was blocked off by a swarm of police cars and ambulances, making it impossible for both vehicles and pedestrians to pass. It took about two hours until everything was clear.
Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese spoke to student journalists on site, saying Bifone’s injuries were mild, but she suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision. Bifone subsequently suffered from liver damage and sleep problems, and spent one month in the hospital and time in a wheelchair.
Bifone refused to comment to journalists since the accident happened, but some of her tweets since the accident illustrate her ongoing health struggles.
“It’s getting harder and harder to just keep smiling,” Bifone said on her public Twitter account on Sept. 6, 2013. “So tired of being sick. It’s literally one thing after another with me.”
Since the accident, it was never publicly acknowledged whether officer Casaccio still is employed as a police officer at the university. However, according to Lauren Sheprow, head of media relations at Stony Brook, “the officer involved in the accident, he is no longer employed at Stony Brook University.”
Stony Brook released no official statement to the campus community regarding the Feb. 7 accident. However, during a presentation made to student journalists in October 2013, Assistant Chief of Patrol Eric Olsen said that “in most cases, we release information once the family is notified” when questioned about police practices and procedures.
With no communication from the university, students began to speculate and worry. At the scene, imaginations ran wild and rumors began to spread that it was a shooting and that the girl was dead.
A year later, students still do not have the story straight, while others have not heard about it at all. Kate Dubickas, 22, a marine science major, had heard that Bifone was “crossing the street with headphones in when a cop car with sirens hit her.”
“I definitely noticed that there wasn’t a public apology or any admission of fault on the part of the police,” Jonathon John, 21, an economics major at Stony Brook, said. “It’s obvious mistakes happen, but there are better ways to handle them.”
“People are so sensitive about what they say about police officers because it’s such a ‘heroic’ position,” Dubickas said, “but it doesn’t exempt them from terrible mistakes. I understand the motives behind the university’s cover-up, but it doesn’t justify it or make it at all acceptable.”
“I feel like it’s a breach of community and trust, like they’re trying to cover something up,” Mike Thompson, a senior marine vertebrae biology major at Stony Brook, said. “I do feel like SBU is less like a community because of it, and it isn’t right that we had to find out via the on campus newspaper.”
When asked to comment on why the school was not, and still has not been notified as to what happened that night, Sheprow responded: “There is litigation ongoing; it is University policy not to comment on matters of litigation.”
The case began March 1, 2013, and is pending before Judge Richard Sise. The defendant State of New York is represented by the Officer of the Attorney General of the State of New York. Legal action began on April 8, 2013 and is still ongoing.
“I’m at that point in my recovery where some days are good and some are bad, and the nights usually suck,” Bifone’s Twitter read. “I hate this.”
Bifone retained the Melville law firm of McAndrew, Conboy & Prisco, LLP, who brought a lawsuit on her behalf as plaintiff against the State of New York in the New York Court of Claims. In accordance with state law, legal claims against the state must be instituted only through the Court of Claims.
“She’s not doing too well,” Kevin B. McAndrew, a managing partner at Bifone’s representing law firm, said.