Criminal charges against L.I. Ducks manager and former Mets second baseman Wally Backman were dismissed today by Riverhead Town Justice Lori Hulse after a four-day nonjury trial.
Hulse announced her verdict at 4 p.m., more than two hours after the conclusion of the trial in Riverhead Justice Court. Hulse also vacated an order of protection that had been entered against Backman in favor of the ex-girlfriend who claimed he roughed her up at her Riverhead home in August. Hulse made no comment about her decision.
“Well, I said from day one that I never touched her or laid a hand on her,” Backman said outside the courthouse after his acquittal. “I’m happy for the team I had to help me. Justice was served,” he said. “I want to especially thank the Ducks and my family for sticking by me,” Backman said.
Backman, 60, was arrested on Aug. 30 on charges of harassment and criminal mischief on accusations by his then-girlfriend, Amanda Byrnes, who claimed that he pushed her against a wall, causing trauma to her chest, twisted her arm and sprained her wrist as he took her cell phone to prevent her from calling police. She accused Backman of being intoxicated.
Byrnes has since filed a personal injury lawsuit against both Backman and the Ducks, claiming the baseball club knew Backman drank alcohol and became intoxicated at the stadium. That case remains pending in State Supreme Court.
“We stood behind Wally Backman because we believed in his innocence and we believe in every person’s right to due process,” L.I. Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said after the acquittal.
“We’re looking forward to opening day on May 1,” Pfaff said.
Backman’s lead attorney Stephen Civardi said the prosecution was a “travesty.” He said his client shouldn’t even have been arrested given the complainant’s background.
“We found out this morning Riverhed Police were called to her residence more than 70 times in the past eight years,” Civardi said. “With that kind of information, the prosecution was a travesty.”
Riverhead Police Officer Timothy Murphy, who arrested Backman, testified over the first two days of the four-day trial. Murphy withstood blistering cross-examination by defense attorney Bill Keahon, who sought to establish that the complainant has a history of making false reports to police.
On cross-examination of the complainant, Civardi established that Byrnes had previously been criminally charged with aggravated harassment for making 41 calls to 911 about an ex-boyfriend. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received three years probation, according to testimony in the trial.
Backman did not take the stand in his defense. The only witness called by the defense was a private investigator who testified to observing Byrnes moving a bookshelf outside her house and into her car without a brace on her allegedly sprained wrist.
Backman said after his acquittal that he felt vindicated.
“I just hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else like that,” Backman said.
Miller Place attorney John Ray, who is representing Byrnes in her civil suit against Backman and the Ducks, said his client’s “history should never have been put on trial.” The civil case will continue, he said, noting that a civil lawsuit has “a very different burden of proof.”
We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.