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A Long Island man impersonating a police officer abducted two teenage girls then drove one to a park where he sexually assaulted her, officials said this week.
On Feb. 3, Donald Cristiano Jr. spotted two teens while he was driving his SUV on Herbert Avenue in Lindenhurst at around 3:35 p.m., according to an arrest report obtained by Oxygen.com. He identified himself as a police officer who was investigating “gang” activity, Suffolk Police said. Cristiano allegedly warned the young girls it wasn’t safe to be in the area and volunteered to give them a ride to the local library, where they were headed at the time.
At the library, Cristiano ordered the 16-year-old girl out of his Nissan Xterra. He then drove the 14-year-old to a nearby park "against her will," then “grabbed” her waist, and made “inappropriate comments,” according to police. The teenager was able to fight off the man’s advances and managed to escape, then flagged down a homeowner who tipped off law enforcement.
“She was able to grab the door handle and kick the door open while fighting him off,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart told reporters on Thursday. “Her courageousness ensured her safety and allowed us to take this perpetrator off the streets.”
Cristano was arrested while leaving his Bay Shore home on Feb. 4. He was charged with two counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, criminal impersonation, and luring a child.
“My heart sank because this is every parent's nightmare,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
Cristiano was arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on Friday. He pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at $500,000 cash, and he's due back in court on Feb. 9, according to prosecutors.
His defense attorney, John Powers, blasted the charges against his client, describing them as “salacious.”
“We’re going to vigorously defend Donald Cristiano Jr. on these allegations,” Powers told Oxygen.com on Friday. “My investigation is hours-old and I’m not at liberty to say guilty or innocent... I’m asking that everybody that’s heard anything about this case reserve judge and afford him his right to the presumption of innocence.”
Anyone who may have seen Cristiano on Feb. 3 is asked to contact Suffolk County Police Department detectives at 631-854-8152.
“The number one thing is you have to tell your kids is never get into a car with anybody,” Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Oxygen.com. “There are predators out there who are looking for an opportunity and fortunately, this one ended pretty well — but they all don’t end that well.
Giacalone, a retired New York City police sergeant, said there are a number of tell-tale signs — and actions individuals can take — to immediately confirm whether someone asserting themselves as a police officer is legitimate.
The first thing one should do is observe the make and model of the individual’s vehicle, he said.
“Police officers aren’t going to be driving around in a Nissan,” Giacalone said, referencing the white SUV Cristiano was driving.
An unmarked vehicle, he explained, is a possible red flag.
“Just dial 911 and say, ‘I just got stopped by someone who says they’re a police officer, they’re in an unmarked car, can you send a marked police car?’” Giacalone advised.
A police officer will typically radio dispatch during a possible arrest or police stop, he added. but asking to see a badge isn’t necessarily a fool-proof way to verify a law enforcement officer’s authenticity, he added.
“Badges are everywhere — you can buy them on eBay,” Giacalone said. “The badge itself means absolutely nothing because you can buy them in any store. If you insist on seeing something, ask to see an identification card — all police officers have to carry an ID."
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