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Thugs in Blue

THE BEAT GOES ON … AND ON
Once Again, Police Pummel a Plan for Reform

Last Wednesday, an enormous mob surged out of control, menaced citizens, pushed through police lines onto city hall steps, and blocked traffic on Broadway and the Brooklyn Bridge. But uniformed cops stood by, smiling—for the maraud­ers were fellow cops, thousands of them. Yelling profanities and racist slurs, they rocked and dented cars; some kicked a New York Times reporter in the stomach, others chanted “asshole, asshole” at a be­wildered photographer and at stalled driv­ers who talked with journalists. One such driver, Virginia Santana, was near tears at the blockade; she was trying to get her kid to the hospital for chemotherapy. Vicky Cohen, standing beside her car, was en­raged. “All they care about is them­selves,” she said. Two cops, looking like frat pranksters, shimmied up the bridge exit sign to suspend a banner declaring: “Support US in Blue not the ACLU.”

Over on Murray Street, Rudy Giuliani addressed another police crowd. “The New York Police Department is the very finest in the United States,” he declared, then went after David Dinkins for being anti-police. He criticized the idea of creat­ing an all-civilian complaint review board. “In the words of my good friend, Guy Molinari, BULLSHIT.” The crowd roared.

Next was introduced Molinari’s daugh­ter Susan, a congresswoman from Staten Island, a big police booster, and a single woman. “Homo,” yelled one cop.

Over at city hall, chief David Scott had tried to urge the cops to clear out, since they had no permit to be there. He was met by a sea of flying middle fingers. “Retire! Retire!” chanted the crowd, many of whom were openly drinking alcohol.

This week, New York City launched yet another effort to bridge the precipitous gap between police and public with a proposal for a new, fully independent Civilian Com­plaint Review Board. Police replied with a Bronx cheer, turning out for one of their largest protests in years. Doubtless tons of time, money, and ink will be devoted to the slugfest, and it’ll be tough to beat the pow­erful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which has already launched a radio blitz targeting the mayor.

The argument for an all-civilian CCRB is politically sexy; it sounds like a good anti­dote to reams of stories of police abuse. But a closer look suggests the proposal on the table is well-meaning but inadequate—for instance, it still leaves the police commis­sioner with the power to decide what, if any, discipline out-of-control cops should get.

Indeed, some reformers doubt that this is even the right battle to wage. Brutality ex­perts warn that the most efficient and fair ex-post-facto investigations of errant cops won’t remedy a more deep-seated problem. To do that requires a fundamental recali­brating of the police department: how it chooses officers, trains them, and what it tells them about their responsibility to the public.

Best solution or not, the CCRB proposal got new life after policeman Michael O’Keefe killed Jose Garcia in Washington Heights last July. Although a grand jury cleared O’Keefe and concluded he acted in self-defense, Garcia’s death galvanized the Latino community, which often finds itself on the business end of a nightstick. But it’s not just minorities who feel the police oper­ate with impunity—as Jeffrey Wassen and Jeffrey Bergida found out.

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CHELSEA: THE JEWS

It was 1:50 a.m. on December 20, 1989, when Jeffrey Wassen’s car hit a taxi near 23rd Street and 8th Avenue; he and his passenger, Jeffrey Bergida, suffered head injuries. Police officers Steven Cruz and Timothy Vandenberg arrived on the scene and asked Wassen if he’d been drinking. Wassen replied that he wanted the advice of Bergida, his friend and lawyer.

That’s when the officers got nasty, ac­cording to a sworn deposition from Dean Burney, the emergency medical technician on the scene. Besides arresting Bergida for interference, they disparaged “Jew law­yers” (Bergida wore a chai) and repeatedly declared, “Maybe Hitler was right after all.” They also taunted: “I don’t think much of Jewish men, but I like Jewish women, they take it up the ass real good,” and “This is what happens when Jews have too much money and they don’t know what to do with it.” They called the two men “fag” and “Jew fag.” Later, when Bergida’s head had been bandaged, officers joked that with the red hospital markings, Ber­gida looked like a character from the TV series Alien Nation.

That episode was kids’ stuff compared with the pain of a fellow in Washington Square Park who was bitten in the testicles by a police dog. Or when cops doused an accused fare beater, Fernando Huerta, with ammonia—then held a lit match close to his head.

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JUST ANOTHER STATISTIC

No one would dispute that policing is a stressful, dangerous profession or that good cops deserve esteem. But with the power, the gun, and the nightstick goes a heavy responsibility which is too often shunted, and when it comes to malevolent, dis­turbed, or violent cops. New York City has a case of terminal denial. Virtually no poli­tician or powerful figure will publicly acknowledge what many privately maintain: that police brutality and abuse in New York City are much more than a blip on an otherwise placid screen.

“The police are given incredible leeway to do whatever they want when faced with a street encounter,” says Legal Aid attorney Scott Ciment. “There is absolutely no gov­ernment oversight to rein in police abuse.” For Ciment and his colleagues, brutality is common as potholes.

Nobody actually knows how many people are threatened, insulted, intimidated, or groundlessly whacked by cops every day. That’s because the system designed to track brutality is hobbled by fear, disillusion­ment, and the self-interest of the data col­lectors. Oddly, in a field in which statistics are churned out like buttermilk, the NYPD won’t release figures for the number of offi­cers disciplined for brutality, the number dismissed, or even which precinct has the most repeat offenders.

All we have to go on are the figures recorded by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is staffed entirely by Police Department employees: From January to June of this year, 1854 complaints were filed, surpassing the number filed during that time last year, 1557. Since 1987, the numbers have generally declined, which the New York Civil Liberties Union says does not necessarily mean there’s less police abuse; just that fewer people are filing complaints.

James Fyfe, a noted criminologist and former NYC cop, says no matter how thoroughly most citizens’ complaints are in­vestigated, the majority are fated to be found unsubstantiated. The reason: They come down to swearing contests between cops and citizens. Of all complaints received in New York, only 3 percent are substantiated, far lower than other cities.

As Koch did before him, Dinkins down­plays the possibility of a systemic problem; Lee Brown, by many standards a progres­sive cop, did too. However, with more offi­cers than any other city, New York is unique: Even if 90 percent of the local cops did not engage in misconduct, that would still leave a staggering 3000 abusive cops. That group alone would constitute one of the largest police forces in America. And specialists say 10 percent is a conservative guess.

Polls may be a more accurate measure of the scope of the problem: In 1991, Gallup found that 43 percent of New Yorkers think the police department uses too much force, a big jump from the 29 percent who said so in 1989. Even the tepid CCRB, in a 1990 report, worried: “If the willingness to resort to unwarranted violence demonstrat­ed at Tompkins Square … is a reflection of the altitudes of the members of the police service, there is reason for concern about what is occurring when police supervisors, journalists, and other citizens are not present.”

Public attitudes sometimes exacerbate the problem. “A lot of people in this city believe cops should be able to kick a little ass,” says Dan Johnston, an attorney and ex-CCRB member. “I believe it’s very harmful to the city and to public safety for the police to treat people in a way [that] they lose respect for the law. But many believe the way to police is by fear.”

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QUEENS: THE POLE 

“Why they attacked these kids I don’t know,” says Joseph Karpinski, whose son spent his 18th birthday being beaten by city police. Karpinski makes an interesting ag­grieved party, since he’s a retired NYC cop.

On the night of February 22, 1989, Abi­gail Mullins happened to glance out her window as she waited for her daughter to come home. Just then, she saw a small group of teens standing in front of her house. One reached to light a cigarette for another, and missed. Both friends fell. Their companions were reaching to pull them out of this Keystone Kops predica­ment when a sedan squealed around the corner, nearly hitting the youths. Then, says Mullins, the car’s two occupants attacked the youths. Immediately, a different car ar­rived from the opposite direction, and its occupants, too, ran over and began beating the group. Mullins didn’t realize the at­tackers were police—in fact she thought she was witnessing a mugging—and called 911.

One of the four, a young woman, screamed, and an officer grabbed her, an­other grabbed her boyfriend, a third grabbed Chris Karpinski, and a fourth knocked down Steve Devaney. The young woman says she and her boyfriend spotted a shield around one man’s neck, and, real­izing they were police, stopped struggling. The officers warned them away—”get outta here”—and concentrated on Karpinski and Devaney. Another witness says that after the plainclothes officers had pummeled Karpinski, they threw him on a car, and he rolled over unconscious. While his body lay on the ground, the witness says, a uni­formed cop arrived and started kicking him. They also smacked the youths with their flashlights and radios. Chris lost one tooth; two to three others were cracked, and his face was seriously lacerated above his eye. He now suffers from severe jaw problems. (His father took snapshots; the offi­cial photos, according to the family, disappeared.)

The incident set off a domino chain of litigation; ultimately, criminal charges against Karpinski were thrown out and civ­il suits on both sides dropped. As for the CCRB, it decided there was no evidence to warrant disciplining the officers. Yet, since a judge decided Karpinski hadn’t prompted the attack by assaulting cops, as police al­leged, who was responsible for his injuries seen in the photographs?

In suing the cops, the Karpinskis were hardly alone. A report by Comptroller Eliz­abeth Holtzman shows that in 1991, 659 people filed civil actions against the cops for misconduct, a 25 percent increase from four years earlier. During that time, the city paid out $44 million to victims of police brutality.

Faced now with mounting demand that something be done, the city council last Thursday began discussing a bill to grant independence to the NYPD-controlled Ci­vilian Complaint Review Board, in hopes it will more aggressively investigate police abuses. An angry Mayor Dinkins, still reel­ing from the cop “Mutiny” the day before, reasserted his strong support for Intro 549, sponsored by Ronnie Eldridge, Virginia Fields, and Victor Robles, along with 15 cosponsors, and endorsed by 17 communi­ty boards.

Although revamping the CCRB to give it real power would be a step toward restoring some public confidence, it won’t even begin to address the underlying issues. Councilmember Sal Albanese of Brooklyn who, perhaps more than any other council mem­ber, knows police issues, calls it “a red herring. It doesn’t address the real issues.” The department, he feels, must require that cops be city residents, do better training, and upgrade detection systems to get rid of bad cops early on.

“The screening mechanism is not good enough, there are some white cops who never came into contact with the minority commu­nity before enlisting,” Albanese says.

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THE BOYS DOWN AT THE PBA

Nobody is more attentive to the police bru­tality debate—and no one takes it more personally—than the PBA, which stands ready to battle any reform.

“I want to welcome you to Fort Scape­goat,” PBA president Phil Caruso told a crowd of cops demonstrating in Brooklyn against “unfair treatment of police offi­cers.” Caruso is the Mary Matalin of police reps—always on the offensive for his mem­bers. Caruso groused: “There’s a pattern emerging in this city where the police offi­cers are getting scapegoated and the crimi­nals are getting royal treatment.”

Not so, says Dan Johnston, the ex-­CCRBer. Reviewing complaints was like listening to a broken record: Time and again, police had overreacted when a citi­zen challenged their authority. Johnston re­calls: “They would allow things to escalate instead of trying to keep the peace.”

That habitual overreaction may be in part because officers are so disconnected from the city and people they guard. After the Tompkins Square melee in 1988 in which police pummeled scores, Police Commissioner Ben Ward complained that many of the demonstrators at Tompkins Square were from outside the city—but so were the police. In fact, 40 percent of NYC cops live outside the city, and many others live in “cop neighborhoods” in Staten Is­land and other outer boroughs, often with­drawing into all-cop social lives that only emphasize the “us-versus-them” mentality.

PBA spokesman Joseph Mancini dis­agrees: “Most cops still live in the city. Even those who live outside the city were born here. Once they started earning decent incomes and raising families, they decided they wanted to be in a suburban setting. It doesn’t make them less committed to the city.”

But it’s indisputable that city cops suffer culture shock when they go from their ho­mogenous communities into unfamiliar ter­ritory. Fyfe, the former NYPD officer, grew up in “lily white” Bay Ridge, then found himself plopped into downtown Brooklyn, with its heavy concentration of blacks and Latinos. Fyfe might as well have been in Kathmandu. He learned how to deal with these cultures, but too late: “For a Hispanic man, looking an authority figure in the eye is a sign of disrespect,” he says. “For an Anglo, it’s the opposite. So I’d get angry at a Puerto Rican guy who didn’t look me in the eye, and start yelling at him.” And, too often, from small misunderstandings come larger consequences.

For cops, racial and ethnic strife begin at home—right inside the precinct house. The heads of the black and Latino officers’ asso­ciations say that intolerance permeates the department. “If you expect police to be equitable with people on the street, you won’t get it until they treat their own ranks properly,” says Detective Walter Alicea, head of the Hispanic Officers Association of the NYPD.

Detective Robert Rivers Jr., president of the Guardians Association, the black offi­cers’ group, has had his own brushes with the issue, outside of work. Once when off duty, he tried to speak with a uniformed officer. “I called out and he immediately reached for his gun. What did he see? A bald-headed black man.”

Margaret Fung of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund says her group has seen a large increase in abusive cops. Language is a key difficulty—many Asian immigrants can’t understand police orders and few offi­cers speak their languages. And though Asians make up 7 percent of the city’s population, they make up less than 1 percent of the police force.

Cyril Nishimoto of Japanese American Social Services was pleased when the Mid­town South precinct invited him to come in and offer some “Sensitivity Training.” But Nishimoto says he came away feeling angry because officers ignored his presentation, actually turning their backs on him as he spoke.

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MIDTOWN: THE ITALIAN

According to the CCRB, the most common complaints—40 percent of those regis­tered—concern excessive force, with “dis­courtesy” second at 30 percent. The re­maining complaints are classified as “abuse of authority” (20 percent of grievances), and “ethnic slurs” (5 percent to 8 percent).

Depending on how you look at it, Greg­ory Garguilo drove into at least two and maybe three of these categories as he head­ed home from his job as a parking atten­dant on March 28 of this year.

It was 1 a.m and Garguilo, 28, was sitting at a light on Tenth Avenue, his car pointed north, he recalls. Another sedan, crawling along 59th Street, turned south on Tenth. Then, suddenly, it screeched a U and roared up behind the bewildered Garguilo. Mysterious men came running at his car, one with a gun drawn, yelling “get the fuck out of the car.” Garguilo recalls. The terri­fied Garguilo immediately complied. The men, who still had not identified them­selves, demanded, “Where the fuck did you steal the car?” “Asshole” and “fuck” he says, were part of every sentence. “They were very angry. I kept saying I was the owner. The one holding the gun said if I opened my mouth again he was going to bash it in.”

Garguilo says the plainclothes cops false­ly accused him of running a red light, and he mentioned so in the complaint he filed at the police station. Yet when a revised version of his report was mailed back to him, his claim had been deleted. Garguilo, a clean-cut, serious young man who drives into Manhattan every day from his home in Tappan (where many cops live), can only guess why the police even stopped him. “The cops had a hunch,” he says with a shrug, “and their adrenaline gets going.”

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SPARRING PARTNERS

When citizens complain about cops, PBA lawyers know how to counter. Legal Aid attorney Scott Ciment says when a citizen is charged with assaulting a police officer, its a good bet in many cases that police are covering up their own abuses. “Often as­sault will be the only charge,” Ciment says. “Why were they arrested in the first place? Not that many people go around assaulting cops.” Indeed, many people who have brought civil brutality suits say that when they filed a complaint, the police filed a cross suit, alleging assault. Attorneys famil­iar with such cases say the strategy is com­mon to defuse the original suit, hoping both parties will agree to drop charges.

Sometimes, cops move to protect them­selves well before anyone’s day in court. Another Legal Aid attorney, David Roun­tree, was at the Transit District 3 precinct last year, inside the subway station at 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, waiting for a lineup. An officer brought in a hand­cuffed suspect with a badly bloodied face. Rountree alleges that the desk sergeant, who appeared to know the suspect, re­marked to him that he “must have fallen down the stairs.” The officers present chuckled. After they’d locked him up, the arresting officer came out, and, according to Rountree, the sergeant said, “What do you think you’re doing? I don’t think we can send that guy downtown looking like that.” Then, the EMS arrived and stitched him up.

On a separate occasion, Rountree repre­sented a man who’d been arrested with one or two vials of crack and a small amount of marijuana—misdemeanors—in Times Square. At his arraignment, the man—who had no prior arrests, lived with his parents and worked in a music instrument store—sported a classic shiner. When the judge inquired where it came from, Rountree ex­plained that his client had been thrown to the ground by a rookie officer and kicked in the face with a boot. The D.A. then inter­jected, in an on-the-record comment, that he had been prepared to charge the defen­dant with a noncriminal violation, but based on these allegations of police brutal­ity, he would not make that offer.

Ciment says the D.A. will interview someone who makes allegations of police brutality, but can turn those statements against the defendant at his trial. Further­more, he says that even if defendants are acquitted, confirming that they were indeed victims of brutality, the D.A. will frequent­ly drop all interest in the brutality charge.

Most people won’t sue. If they do any­thing, they will seek redress from the CCRB. But brutality cases slip through like fine grains in a large-bore sieve. Even in the coarsest, most publicized cases, the com­plainants are rarely satisfied. For the enor­mous number of people who feel they’ve been unjustly insulted, humiliated, slurred, intimidated, terrorized, beaten, etc., the bottom line is low indeed: almost no cop is ever meted “serious justice” when citizens charge them with abuse. (The police depart­ment’s Internal Affairs Division simply doesn’t deal with most abuse situations.) “Even when officers are found guilty of using excessive force,” Newsday found in 1991, “the penalty many receive is a one­-week suspension—the same punishment given to an officer who accepts two free doughnuts from a restaurant, wears a turtle­neck while in uniform, or is discourteous to a supervisor.”

Even in well-publicized, outrageous cases like Judith Regan’s, getting justice is not easy. In 1990, Regan, a pregnant Simon & Schuster editor, told officers to stop taunt­ing her cab driver. She was yanked from the vehicle, thrown against the side, hand­cuffed and taken to a police station. There, she was held—still manacled tightly—for five hours and barraged with threats and lewd and anti-Semitic remarks. Cops asked Regan, an Irish-Italian Catholic, what her name was. “Judith,” she replied. No, said a cop, “Jew bitch.” The rough treatment threatened Regan’s pregnancy; she suffered internal bleeding.

“The CCRB, which is one of the biggest jokes in the world, cleared them of any wrongdoing,” she recalls. The D.A.’s office wasn’t much better. “They have to get along with the police. It’s all political. They issued a press release saying basically that they did not have enough evidence to pros­ecute me so they were dropping the charges, implying that I must have done something wrong. The D.A. didn’t want to help me, they wanted me to go away.”

“I was a very bad example: a mother, in a nice outfit, in a nice job. They couldn’t call me a menace, or a drug addict.” Regan says she was harassed afterwards for a long time; a retired officer even called her husband, thinking he was an ex-husband, digging for dirt.

Regan sued, and the city recently paid her a six-figure amount in settlement. How­ever, not a single officer was publicly disciplined.

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CCRB: CIVILIAN COMPLAINT REJECTION BOARD?

Judith Regan’s “joke,” the Civilian Com­plaint Review Board, is made up of six civilians appointed by the mayor, and six NYPD civilian staffers. A majority of its investigators are uniformed cops. William Kuntz, a CCRB appointed member from 1987 until he resigned five months ago, found the coziness troubling. For example, he didn’t much like the board relying on legal opinions from NYPD attorneys, or its deference to the department.

The Tompkins Square report shows the rift between civilian and police members of the CCRB. “You should have seen the Tompkins Square report before I got my hands on it,” says Kuntz, now a Wall Street lawyer. “If I and some other civilian mem­bers of the board hadn’t been as forceful in putting out that what happened in Tomp­kins Square Park was disgraceful, it would have been very different.”

The most devastating evidence of CCRB’s failure came in a 1990 report on the Tompkins Square “Incident,” issued by the New York Civil Liberties Union. NYCLU reviewed the cases of several bystanders who were shown on videotape be­ing bludgeoned by police: fewer than one dozen were charged. but not one was convicted.

Of 143 allegations of abuse and brutality in the park. CCRB substantiated 29, but was unable to identify the cops involved. One reason: the NYPD refuses to take pro­file shots of its officers. After the Tompkins Square report came out, the CCRB recom­mended that the department snap full fron­tal, left and right profile shots of all officers. The NYPD, however, rejected the advice, arguing that the shots would essen­tially treat cops like criminals. (Another proposal, that I.D. numbers be painted on riot helmets, was accepted.)

Worse, though the board recommends, the police commissioner chooses the pun­ishment. Of 143 allegations, only one offi­cer received internal discipline by the de­partment of more than 30 days suspension. To boot, on that rare occasion when the CCRB dared whimper, the cops simply ignored it: Commissioner Ward let her off with a one-year suspension, instead of fir­ing her, as the board recommended. The board’s sleuths themselves leave something to be desired when it comes to investigating their buddies’ behavior. One Legal Aid at­torney recalls an interview between CCRB investigators and her client: “They sounded more like they were grilling a suspect than taking a report.”

Johnston, a former CCRB commissioner and ex-Des Moines district attorney now in private practice in Manhattan, agrees there’s a problem: “There’s nothing about being a street police officer that qualifies anyone to be an investigator.”

Under mounting pressure, the review board has begun to make wheezy, but slightly discernible adjustments. Only two months ago did it publish a brochure in Spanish. And members are for the first time starting to emerge from their cocoon to attend community board meetings.

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LIFE IN THE BLUE BUBBLE

Nothing moves a cop into high gear like a Code 1013 call, Officer Needs Assistance. But mutual support extends to what many call the Blue Wall of Silence, the unwilling­ness to rat on a fellow officer. Some equate it to the Mafia’s omerta, a blood oath.

Based on his trial experiences, attorney Meyerson breaks the bulk of officers into three groups: Those who don’t see what they see, others who tell a half-truth, and still others who outright lie about what they see. “Any police officer’s word is no more intrinsically credible than anybody else’s word,” says Meyerson. “Police officers will lie as readily as anybody else.”

“Coupled with the 10 percent of cops [who may be regularly abusive], you have an excruciatingly difficult problem that can’t be resolved by the most progressive police commissioner,” says Meyerson.

Cops are encouraged to see themselves as different from everyone else. “Because of the aura assigned to police officers by American society, officers have trouble un­derstanding police work is a job, not a way to spend an entire life,” says Guy Seymour, chief psychologist for the city of Atlanta, which is noted for its progressive policing. Seymour, an expert on police behavior, says cops often have trouble separating the rest of their existence from their work.

”People say, ‘I’m a police officer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,'” notes Sey­mour. “But that’s not true, it’s just that society sees them that way. If we could get police to look at their work more dispas­sionately, the way a good carpenter looks at his handiwork, I think we’d have a lot few­er problems.”

Anger and aggression, which build when cops feel they’re not accorded all the re­spect they deserve, spill over from their work to their personal lives, spawning a pattern of divorce and domestic violence.

“It comes from being accustomed to having people do what you say, and living your life so that you always want to be in control,” Seymour says.

Interestingly, much of the aggression takes place after a suspect has been sub­dued, suggesting that cops are not trained to deal with the adrenaline rush that comes from the chase. Andrew Vachss, who had broad experience with police as chief of a maximum security institution for violent youth and as a probation officer, cites the Rodney King case, in which King was im­mobilized before cops beat him. Vachss says that whenever cops have a confronta­tion involving physical injury to either par­ty, cops are always treated for ‘trauma.’ “That’s an attempt to decompress them.”

Seymour believes police need to learn how to be negotiators and mediators—the opposite of the police academy, where the emphasis is on getting and maintaining control at all costs.

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PBA: POLICE BREASTBEATERS ALLIANCE?

Besides better training, Seymour says police need closer supervision—by bosses who are not their buddies. Supervisors and line cops are both members of the PBA, which vocif­erously opposes independent controls. PBA successfully waged a fear campaign in 1966 that transformed the newly created CCRB from an all-civilian to an all-cop board. David Garth, the consultant who co-chaired the pro-civilian side, recalls the onslaught.

“We had everybody from the entire es­tablishment, but it didn’t make much dif­ference,” he says. “We got killed.”

Attorney Meyerson, who handles police abuse cases, blames outfits like the PBA, and its head, Phil Caruso, for an ostrich act that debilitates New York. “The greatest disservice Caruso does is to his member­ship, because Phil Caruso should be talking about the investment of great deals of mon­ey into psych services in this department, into new recruitment structures, into early intervention and warning systems.”

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ROLE MODELS, NOT ROBOCOP

Solutions and reforms worth trying are in no short supply. To broaden the fairly nar­row, white, working-class base of the NYPD, Adam Walinsky, who served on the state’s Commission of Investigation, pro­poses funding college educations for those willing to commit to four years service as a cop. The goal: a more representative slice of the population, including people who don’t intend to stay on the force forever, and therefore view the job differently.

Alicea of the Hispanic officers associa­tion calls for more aggressive recruitment among Hispanics from within city limits and notes that the so-called recruitment unit has just one Latino doing outreach.

Since the late ’60s, when NYPD was a leader in developing risk management and stress reduction, the city has lagged badly. It might look to Atlanta’s computerized ‘early warning’ system, which ties in dispa­rate sources of information within the po­lice department—internal affairs records, personnel information and field perfor­mance reviews—to warn of officers headed for trouble.

As for diligently tracking complaints, Johnston believes the city ought to be de­veloping a comprehensive career path for civilian investigators that would cover all city agencies, not the limited number the current Department of Investigation over­sees. And he advocates using undercover monitors to help identify abusive officers.

That’s just a slice of the advice pie. But nothing changes unless it comes from on high. “Ultimately,” says Johnston, “the question is: Do you have the right chief, the right commissioner, the right mayor? If people feel the police are out of control, they must let the mayor know that’s going to be an issue in the election.” ❖

Research: Renuka Parthasarathi 

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Cops Who Kill

You take the M train to Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn to reach the Bushwick-Hylan Housing Project where Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis lived until they were shot to death by police from the 83rd pre­cinct early on the morning of Saturday, October 18.

From the el platform you can see the Bushwick-Hylan Houses almost immediately across the street, Borinquen Houses to the left, the Thompkins projects behind them. On a fair day, the sun reflects off the sheet metal that covers the windows of row upon row of abandoned tene­ment houses; there is little else.

It is not a pretty place to live and it is not an easy place to survive, but within the ugly scheme of things Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble did all right. Lewis, 24, was the more successful of the two. He had finished night school at Eastern District in Brooklyn, was trained in construction work by Bronx-based Black Eco­nomic Survival, landed a con­struction job on Bushwick Av­enue, and went to work every day. Several years ago his father gave him a 1976 red two-door LTD — the car he was killed in. Ricky Lewis had no criminal record. In fact, everyone in the Bushwick-­Hylan Houses called Lewis “Civ,” short for “Civilize,” because that’s how he was, that was the effect he had on the people around him.

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Kenny Gamble, 18, dropped out of Eastern District high school in 1979, some­thing that is not surprising for black kids in New York City, particularly in poverty-­level communities like Bushwick. What was surprising was that in the fall of 1980 Kenny Gamble dropped back in, intent on graduating. Apparently school was going better for Kenny. In October he brought some school work home to show his moth­er; his grade was 88.

Kenny had been arrested twice, once at 16 for allegedly loitering in the lobby of his aunt’s apartment building at the Thomp­kins project and again at 17 as the result of a scuffle in the subway station at De­lancey Street. At the time of his murder, Kenny Gamble was on three years proba­tion on the second charge.

On Sunday, October 18, The New York Times ran an article headlined, “2 Dead, 2 Hurt, 3 Arrested After Shootout in Brooklyn.” According to the Times story, which carried no byline and quoted only police sources, plainclothes detectives Joseph Esposito and Fred Falcone were driving past The Garage, a social club on Cedar and Evergreen streets, when they heard shots and stopped to investigate. Officers Falcone and Esposito approached a group of young men outside the club, who fired at them with a shotgun. The officers returned fire and the men jumped into a car and sped away, with the officers in pursuit. They were soon joined by two other cops in a patrol car, Michael Cohen and Gaspar Cardi. According to the Times the chase ended 12 blocks later on the corner of Bushwick and McKibbin ave­nues, where the car was forced to a stop and more shots were exchanged. When the shooting stopped, Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis were dead. Of the four other occupants of the car, two, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thompson, were wounded, Thompson critically. Miraculously, two others who were in the car, Jackie Thomp­son and Kevin Young, escaped unharmed.

According to the survivors of the shootout on Bushwick and McKibbin and eyewitnesses to the incident, however, something very different than what the police and The New York Times say hap­pened occurred on the morning of October 18.

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Late on the night of Friday, October 17, Ricky Lewis gave 18-year-old Gary Jones a ride to the Bushwick Garage social club on Evergreen Street, about 12 blocks from the Bushwick-Hylan Houses where both lived. Gary was on his way to pick up his 14-year-old sister, Jackie “Black” Thompson was already at the club, having arrived early with his older brother, Lemuel. Also at the club, a recycled garage used as a disco on weekends, were Kevin Young and Kenny Gamble. All six lived in the Bushwick-Hylan projects and knew each other. All were unarmed.

“I was sittin’ outside in Ricky’s car and some guy came out of the club and pulled a gun on another guy,” said Jackie Thompson. He swung at him with the gun, the guy ran and he started chasin’ him and shootin’.”

When the shooting started, everyone in or near the club panicked. Some tried to get back inside, others ran for cover near the building or down the street. In the melee, Kevin Young injured his leg and Lemuel Thompson was shot as he ran to the car. Ricky Lewis offered to take Thompson and Young to Greenpoint Hos­pital. It wasn’t until the car began to pull away that Jackie Thompson and the oth­ers realized that other gunmen had also been firing. They were later identified as plainclothes cops. “They didn’t say any­thing,” says Jackie. “I didn’t even know they were shootin’ at the car until they shot out the back window.” As Ricky Lew­is prepared to pull off, Jackie Thompson, Kevin Young, and Lemuel Thompson were in the back seat. Gary Jones and Kenny Gamble, the last to get in, sat in front. At that moment, the two gunmen ran around the corner and reappeared moments later in an unmarked car. At no time, say Gary, Jackie, and other wit­nesses, did the plainclothesmen identify themselves as cops.

“We went up Evergreen and made a left on Myrtle,” says Jackie, “and they was still shootin’ at us, at the driver’s side. Their driver would pull up beside us and the other guy — he had half his body out the window — was shootin’ at Ricky’s side.”

The six young men crouched down, trying to avoid the bullets hitting the car. Lemuel Thompson, already wounded, curled into a ball in the back seat, along with his brother Jackie and Kevin Young. As the two cars sped up Myrtle, other marked patrol cars joined the chase.

“There was an unmarked car and at least two police cars on Myrtle and more cars were comin’,” says Gary Jones. “There had to be at least nine or 10 cops. See, nobody knew they [the two men in the unmarked car] were police, they didn’t say anything, they just came out and started shootin’.”

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“After we got up Myrtle and made a right on Bushwick,” continues Jackie, “another car bumped us off on Bushwick and McKibbin and we hit the johnnypump and stopped, but the cops kept firing.” Ricky Lewis’s car had come to a stop in front of the RC Supermarket at Bushwick and McKibbin, across the street from P.S. 147, the elementary school all six had attended.

“Before Civ crashed he said get down and everybody got down. Lemuel was saying, ‘Don’t get out of the car.’ The cops got out of their cars and kept firin’. I don’t know how many shots were fired because I kept my head down; I just heard a lot of shots.”

“I could hear them still shootin’ at the car,” recalls Gary Jones.”Half my body was still in the car — my legs were stuck —  and the upper half of my body was layin’ out on the sidewalk. That’s when I got hit.

“I was layin’ on the sidewalk and I looked up and saw the police comin’. They was runnin’ and firin’ away at the car. I just seen a big clump of smoke, I could see the fire jumping out the barrels, oh, man. They was stepping through the smoke and kept on firing. I didn’t expect to live. I thought they were killing everybody in the car.

“The police laughed and said, ‘They all dead,’ ” remembers Gary Jones. “I was bleedin’ from the head and one cop said, ‘This one’s dead’ and stepped on my face and then started draggin’ me out of the car. Hey, after the car bumped us I was gonna get out and put my hands up, but they was shootin’ so bad, even after I got hit in the front seat.”

Gary Jones and Jackie Thompson esti­mate that after the car hit the john­nypump and stopped the cops continued to fire at the car for at least 30 seconds, maybe a minute and a half. This was when Ricky Lewis’s head was blown open in the driver’s seat. Lemuel Thompson thinks he was hit at least once, maybe twice, in addition to the wound near his spine that he had received outside the social club. And Kenny Gamble had disappeared.

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Gloria Yournet, who lives with her husband and three daughters across from the RC Supermarket in the Borinquen Houses, saw what happened to Gamble.

Sometime around 12:30 on the morning of the shooting, Gloria’s girlfriend, sitting in her living room window smoking a cigarette, called her to “come, look out here,” gesturing out the window. “All of a sudden there was a red car coming down Bushwick,” says Gloria Yournet, hugging her arms around her as if she is cold. “There was a squad car behind the red one and an unmarked car next to it. As they were approaching McKibbin, the squad car drove onto the sidewalk by the school and the unmarked car continued to chase the red car. By that time there was a second squad car behind the red car. As the red car approached Bushwick and McKibbin, one guy jumped out with his hands up in the air. All of a sudden the cops started shooting at him, and he fell. Around five cops jumped on him, hand­cuffed him, then started kicking him all over.”

A neighbor of Gloria Yournet also saw what happened to Kenny Gamble. “I woke up around 12:40 and saw a whole lot of cops beating up on one dude,” says the woman, who was afraid of what the police might do if her name were used. Like Gloria Yournet, her apartment in the Borinquen Houses faces Bushwick and McKibbin. “There were more than 10 of them. They picked him up and hit him against the car and the ground, then they threw him in the car.” She stares out the window as if she can still see it happening. “I guess he was beaten on his head or something. They was kicking, punching, beating him with nightsticks. I heard a lot of people screaming.”

Cary Ann Stewart has lived in Bushwick-Hylan Houses for 21 years. She and her husband, who works for the Tran­sit Authority, have raised 11 children there, including eight sons. She is a tall, brown skinned, fast talking woman, still attractive after bearing so many children. As we talk, she moves around the stove and sink in the kitchen, a cigarette dangl­ing from her mouth, casually making lunch or coffee or giving instructions in an off-hand way to the children who come and go, kissing her husband a warm good­bye as he leaves for work. On the morning of October 18, Mrs. Stewart was looking out the window of her first floor apartment facing Bushwick Avenue. Earlier that evening, she had an argument with her 15-year-old son because she had refused to give him money to go to the Garage. From her window she saw a car speed past, going up Bushwick toward Greenpoint Hospital, followed by a police car. As the police car passed Moore Street, another police car appeared from the opposite direction.

“Then all I could hear was shooting, 25 or 30 shots. Police cars started coming from every direction, then there was more shooting.”

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Because Mrs. Stewart is the sort of woman who gets involved, because she has lived in the community for 21 years and knows just about everyone, and because she has sons and was afraid maybe one of them was in trouble, she pulled on her raincoat and slippers and walked down to Bushwick and McKibbin to see what was going on.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s Ricky Lewis’s car.’ I saw three boys laying on the ground, hands cuffed behind them, laying on their stomachs. I walked over and looked at each one of them, Kevin Young, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thomp­son, and I said to the police, ‘You got the nerve to have handcuffs on him [Lemuel] and he’s shot.’ And the way he was shot­ — the bullet had ripped away his clothes, you could see the hole in him.” She shakes her head rapidly.

“The cop said, ‘Lady, get away from here, you don’t know him.’ I said. ‘What do you mean? These are our boys! What have you done to our children?’ The cop said, ‘This is my fuckin’ job, I did what I had to.’

“There was blood everywhere. The seat of the car had been torn out and there was even blood under it,” she says in disbelief. “You could see the way the car was shot up that a lot of shots had been fired. The way it looked, that cop must have pulled out his gun right then and there and shot into that car.

“They were fine boys, beautiful chil­dren,” says Mrs. Stewart of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble. “I don’t have any­thing bad to say about any of those young fellows.”

For the police of the 83rd Precinct who were involved in the shooting, Mrs. Stew­art and many others in Bushwick have nothing but a building rage. “They don’t go cruising around in now white neighbor­hoods, standing and waiting for something to happen, so why was they up there [at the club] anyway, that’s what I want to know?” she asks. “They were out looking for trouble, going into black neighbor­hoods and doing this nonsense. These boys were like mine, I seen them grow up, that’s what makes me so angry about the whole thing.”‘

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The events of the night of October 18 still haunt the people who witnessed them. For Gloria Yournet there is a recurring dream. “I dream about it almost every night,” she says bitterly, hugging her three small daughters to her as she looks down at the junction of Bushwick and McKib­bin. “Sometimes it’s my brother who jumps out of the car with his hands up, sometimes my husband or someone else I know, And then the cops just kill him, BANG, BANG, BANG!”

For Yournet’s neighbor down the hall, the horror is that of not believing her own eyes. “I seen dudes being messed with, you know, beat up by cops before,” she says, “but never anything like that. It was like something on TV, like it wasn’t real.” But this time it was and she knows it. Nothing can erase the image of 10 cops beating an already wounded Kenny Gamble to his death.

By the time the shooting stopped on Bushwick and McKibbin, Ricky Lewis, Lemuel Thompson, and Kenny Gamble were at least critically wounded. Lewis may already have been dead. Gamble, who eyewitnesses say jumped out of the car with his hands up in surrender, was beaten for several minutes and then thrown into the back of the unmarked police car, which then drove off. Police have yet to explain why the car made a U­-turn and took Kenny Gamble to Wycoff Hospital, a 15-minute ride, when Green­point, the neighborhood hospital, was only six blocks away. (Gamble was pronounced dead at four o’clock the morning of Octo­ber 18.) This remains one of the many peculiarities of the case.

Gary Jones, Kevin Young, Lemuel Thompson, and Jackie Thompson, the four men who survived the fusillade, insist that no one in the car had a shotgun or weapon of any kind. This is supported by eyewitnesses, who say they saw no guns or gunfire coming either from Lewis’s car or any of the men in the car at any time. “The people in the car didn’t have no weapons whatsoever,” Gloria Yournet says angrily. “The detective who went through the car didn’t find anything. Then all of a sudden he held up a shotgun, but the way he did it was funny because it didn’t come out of the red car. I know that because before he went into the red car he had the shotgun in his hand.” Drawing a breath, Yournet shakes her head in disgust, “he went to the back seat of the unmarked car and came out with a shotgun, then he went to the trunk and came out with something like a suitcase. He put the gun in there and he brought the suitcase to a blue-and-white police car that was park­ing and put it in the car. What they did with it after that I do not know,” she says.

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According to Gary Jones, Kevin Young, and Jackie Thompson, following the shooting they were taken to the 83rd Pre­cinct and held for nearly 24 hours. During this period they were threatened with ar­rest on a variety of charges, including assault with intent to kill a police officer, reckless driving, and resisting arrest. In actuality, none of the three was charged with anything, either that day or subse­quently.

The only person charged with any crime who was in Ricky Lewis’s car the night of October 18 is Lemuel Thompson, who was critically wounded during the police attack. On October 20, while still in the hospital, Thompson was charged with the murder in Queens last August 21 of Yat Yeung Lam during an attempted robbery of a Chinese restaurant. (A grand jury recently began hearing evidence in the case.) Thompson, his friends, and his fam­ily insist that he is not guilty of this crime. They say that the police are trying to justify killing Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble by saying they were in pursuit of a murderer. Like Jackie, Lemuel’s younger brother says, “The police didn’t know nothing about nobody in Queens until a day after they shot my brother up.”

Since the arrest of Lemuel Thompson, who recently was released from Rikers Island on $25,000 bail, and the release of Jones, Young, and Jackie Thompson, the police have been silent concerning the events on Bushwick and McKibbin. Re­peated calls to the 83rd Precinct fail to elicit answers to the most basic questions: Are there any charges against anyone ex­cept Lemuel Thompson? Where are the guns the youths allegedly fired at the police officers? What happened to the shotgun that, according to the police and The New York Times, was supposedly found at the Garage after the shooting but which Gloria Yournet says she saw a plainclothes police officer take from his car on Bushwick and McKibbin? Where are Kenny Gamble’s clothes and personal effects?

All calls to the 83rd are referred to the public information office at the NYPD and all calls there are referred to the office of Brooklyn D.A., Eugene Gold. There, Rhonda Nager, director of public information, ends all inquiries by saying, “The D.A.’s office is unable to discuss a pending investigation. I can tell you it [the investigation] involves all aspects of the incident, including wrongdoing on the part of anybody,” says Nager. When reminded of the dismal record in the city of New York and nationally involving criminal prosecution of white police officers, Nager acknowledges, with a note of apology, “There are cases in which we have ob­tained indictments and prosecuted cases and the jury has acquitted. It is not always within the power of the prosecution to do what’s right.” Nager concedes that resi­dents of black and Hispanic communities “have some legitimate complaints.”

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Twenty-four-year-old Vernon Lawrence lives in the Bushwick-Hylan Houses, grew up with Ricky Lewis, knew the five young men in the car. Lawrence is a suc­cess story in Bushwick. He graduated from Baruch College with a degree in account­ing and hopes to continue on to business school. Like Ricky Lewis, he has a good job, a nice car, goes to work every day. Lawrence and Lewis were partners, “like brothers,” is what the people who knew them say, and maybe it was only chance or luck that Vernon wasn’t in the car with Ricky on October 18.

“My mother woke me up, she was screaming, ‘I heard Ricky was shot!’ I went downstairs and saw an ambulance pulling off. There must have been 30 police cars. When I got there the police were congratulating themselves: ‘Good shooting,’ singing, ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ and laughing,” says Lawrence, “They told one lady, ‘You don’t care about these niggers, why don’t you get out of here?’ They didn’t know everybody out there knew them. People kept telling them, ‘Leave the boys alone, why are you kicking them, why are you hurting them?’ The cops’ response was, ‘Suck my white, prick.’ A cop walked up to Gary Jones and said, ‘Goddamn, I thought I blew your head off.’ ”

Since October 18 Lawrence, in addition to working full-time at Upper Harlem Medical Associates, has worked full-time, organizing the community to protest the killing of Ricky and Kenny and the shoot­ing of the two other men. On the Sunday after the killings Lawrence and about 7o others marched in protest to the 83rd Precinct to demand information from the police. The officers at the 83rd responded by throwing eggs on the demonstrators from a second floor window.

While the mood in Bushwick runs the gamut from disbelief to despair to rage, it is characterized by a unity of outrage and a commitment to struggle until some sort of justice is done. Under Lawrence’s lead­ership, community residents have held at least two community-wide meetings a week to discuss the killings, collect evidence, and plan strategy. The strategy focuses on methods to insure that Kenny and Ricky’s killers are brought to justice and to guarantee that in the future com­munity residents are protected from those who are supposed to protect them — the police.

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On December 24, a Brooklyn grand jury, after hearing evidence concerning the events of October 18, indicted Thompson with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer in the first degree and one count of illegal weapons possession — the shotgun police say they recovered at the social club. Still, several critical questions remain unanswered: What about Gloria Yournet’s testimony that the gun did not come from Lewis’s car but from the trunk of the unmarked police car? If, as the indictment alleges, Thompson shot at the plainclothes officers outside the Garage and then dropped the shotgun, why did the police chase the car for 12 blocks, blasting away at a suspect with no weapon? Why didn’t the police officers identify themselves?

After initial reports quoting the police as saying they either “heard shots” or were fired upon by “a group of youths,” the grand jury indicted Lemuel Thompson for these acts. How the D.A. was able to identify Thompson as the one who fired the shots at the club — something the po­lice themselves could not do — also remains a mystery.

The evidence and eyewitness testimony compiled by this writer clearly do not support the indictment of Lemuel Thompson. Instead, the testimony raises serious questions as to the conduct of the four officers from the 83rd Precinct — Esposito, Cohen, Cardi, and Falcone — who were centrally involved in the shooting.

As the case now stands, the police killed Gamble and Lewis allegedly in the chase to capture Lemuel Thompson. Ac­cording to the police version of events, that Ricky and Kenny lost their lives was simply a matter of tough luck; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Community residents have called on the U.S. Attorney to begin a federal in­vestigation. As yet, there has been no response. For now, the people of Bushwick wait, caught between a rock and a hard place as they ask the systems that sanc­tion the police department to investigate the conduct of some of its officers. While their mood is not one of optimism it is also not one of despair — yet. Instead, it is the limbo of waiting and hoping so familiar to black people. “If this were happening in any other ethnic community in the city there would be an outcry by your government of­ficials,” says Vernon Mason, the 34-year-­old graduate of Morehouse College and Columbia Law School who is representing the families of the deceased. “We have heard very little from the mayor when these killings occur, we have not heard any outcry from the local churches except in the black communities across the board. We have not had any response from syn­agogues, rabbis, the Council of Churches, from ministers throughout the city,” con­tinues Mason, who as general counsel to the National Conference of Black Law­yers, an organization of progressive black attorneys, is familiar with these cases. “There has been no response. We have requested that the Justice Department investigate after all these killings, and there has been no response.”

“It might be a surprise to me because it’s my son,” says Kenny Gamble’s moth­er. A school aide for eight years, the last three at Sarah J. Hale High School in Brooklyn, Mrs. Gamble looks almost like a teenager herself. Her husband, Walter, has been a mail carrier with the post office for 11 years. “But it’s just like Luis Baez [killed in August 1979 by Brooklyn police after they were summoned by his mother whom the mentally ill Baez was menacing with a pair of scissors.] Do you mean the police couldn’t just wrestle him down? Just like Elizabeth Magnum, who wanted to stay, in her house. Next thing you know, she’s dead [killed by Brooklyn police in August 1979, after they had been called to her house to assist in carrying out an eviction order]. To this day no cops have come to me to notify me that my child is dead. Because they know they was wrong.” Mr. and Mrs. Gamble were told by a doctor at Wycoff Hospital that their son had “expired,” and that was all. Since Kenny’s death, the Gambles have received three bills from Wycoff Hospital addressed to “The Late Kenneth Gamble.” That is the extent of any official communication.

“What we intend to do is to bring a wrongful death action along with an action charging civil rights violations on behalf of the families of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble,” explains Vernon Mason. “We intend to bring these actions in federal court and we intend to sue the police officers who did the shooting.” Mason and the NCBL are also representing the ten ­apartments were ransacked and who were threatened in predawn raid by FBI agents allegedly searching for the “soul of the Black Liberation Army,” Assata Shakur. Mason plans to file a federal civil rights suit in this case also.

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Whatever the outcome of the suit in behalf of the Lewis and Gamble families, “I think we will see more and more of these types of incidents, not only in New York but all over the country,” says Reverend Calvin O. Butts, executive minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and a political activist.

“My greatest fear is this: Given the election of Ronald Reagan and the kind of attitude in the city with his coming into the presidency, groups like the Ku Klux Klan or groups similar to them, like the New York Police Department, will feel, more so than ever before, that it is open season on black folks. I believe in non­violence,” Reverend Butts says with a soft smile. “But the question is, who is the violence being brought against? We must defend ourselves, because the police are not protecting us, they’re shooting us.”

Long before genocide becomes official policy it is an attitude that manifests itself in seemingly random violence toward members of a specific racial, cultural, or political group. Incidents of violence against black people in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. When the police department — which is supposed to stop these crimes — is in fact implicated in them, genocide as official policy against black Americans cannot be far behind.

Peter Funches, Nicholas Benilla, Em­ery Robinson, Louis Rodriguez, Elizabeth Magnum, James McRee, Herbert John­son, Darryl Walker, John Davis Jr., Wil­liam Harper, Curtis Garvey, Jay Parker, Abdul Hadi, Sonny Evans, Edwin Quin­ones, Michael Furse, Luis Baez, and now Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble are just a few of those who have been killed by police in New York City since June 1979. Almost all were males, all were black or Hispanic, all were shot under highly questionable circumstances. No police officer has been convicted for any one of these murders. ❖

Many thanks to Dave Walker of the Black United Front’s Police Brutality In­vestigation Unit, without whom this arti­cle could not have been written. 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Larry Davis Show: Rambo Rocks the House

Davis and I were sitting in the visitor’s area of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. The MCC is a large fortress filled with orange paint, thick Plexiglas partitions, and steel doors that constantly buzz, click, and whine like robots in heat. Davis had entered the visitor’s area through one of those doors, shackled along the wrists, waist, and ankles, a postmodern Kunte Kinte in federal prison browns. He was trailed by five male guards, one of whom held a video camera to record his departure from the holding area. Even in the joint, Larry Davis is a star.

“Sometimes,” Davis said quite seriously, “it’s good to pay attention to movies, because you get what’s really happening.” Before the movie ended on November 19th, what was really happening in the apartment overwhelmed what was playing on the TV screen: Davis, who was wanted for the slayings of four suspected South Bronx crack dealers, faced down almost 30 cops in one of the wildest shootouts in New York history. It was all over by nine, in time for the 11 o’clock newscasts to begin to make Larry Davis an outlaw celebrity. It was the night he became the talk of the town: a muscular young black man bursts his way out of a small apartment seiged by a 27-member team of armed police officers, wounding all of them in the process. It was the night he became an urban legend, a black Billy the Kid, an adolescent gunslinger outshoots an army of cops and lives to tell about it. It was the night Larry Davis became a star.

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In the weeks after Davis shot the six cops, faked out the costly, nationwide manhunt for 17 days, and held a major portion of the NYPD to a standoff in the Twin Parks Houses near Fordham Road, huge black-and-white mug shot-like photos of a starry-eyed, baby-faced killer adorned the front pages of the tabloids under headlines like “They Won’t Take Me Alive” and the local news anchors excitedly invoked his name at the top of every show. He was all the talk between assistant D.A.’s and reporters during court recesses, between rap DJs and MCs during songs at the Latin Quarter, between old Jewish women and their doormen on the Upper East Side. Did Larry Davis shoot and kill dopeboys and take off crack spots? Did he really decide (as a cop testified) that it was too crowded in his van one afternoon, and casually order a flunky to kill a man sitting in an orange Toyota for the extra room? Did he really cook a Chihuahua and eat it?

I started getting phone calls from friends who couldn’t stop talking about the B-boy renegade from the South Bronx. “That kid used to rock the fresh jams in the summertime in the P.S. 145 schoolyard,” one buddy remembered. Another told me that, in addition to playing cops and robbers, Davis had stroked the keyboards on “Goldie’s Hot Tracks,” a hip hop show on Manhattan Cable. I was told that Davis also sang, danced, and virtually, “turned the show out.”

Some of Davis’s acquaintances later told me he used to watch a videotape of that show over and over in his bedroom — a space that was packed with drum machines and keyboards and doubled as an eight-track recording studio — with “that look” on his face, a sly grin and a faraway, star-struck expression. Family members say it’s the look he had playing drums for the choir of the Rapture Preparation Church on Crotona Avenue in the Bronx. It’s the look of an impressionable young kid who sees his name in lights on the marquee of a hit movie with a long line, or his face 70 feet high inside the darkened theater, with the crowd screaming out his name.

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But instead of the customary head-in-the-jacket running crouch of the arrested criminal, Davis kept his head high, his face visible to the TV cameras, as he was hustled through the courtyard. Just before the cops carried him off, he made his now-famous declaration: “It’s a good thing to sell drugs. The cops gave me the guns.”

To would be revolutionaries, Larry Davis was Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas come to life, a South Bronx native son, a mindless killer spawned by white racism, poverty, and hopelessness. To black nationalists, Davis became a figurehead, an explosive life-sized model that defined the movement’s heartbeat: the oppressed striking back at the oppressors. To old lefties, Davis was a throwback to the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers; William Kuntstler, who took over Davis’s case from a Legal Aid lawyer, said to me, “Any black guy that shoots six cops and puts the fear of God in police officers, I think is great.”

After the police killings of Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpurs, and the frustrated rage over the Howard Beach incident and the Tompkins Square Park riot, Davis’s stand against the police served as a metaphorical wheel of justice: whatever goes around, comes around. But much of white New York — and a significant segment of the black population — saw him as a real-life monster too true to be good; a heavily armed creature from the Bronx lagoon.

In all cases, Larry Davis lost his identity to become an ideal that is reviled or revered: Public Enemy and Soul Brother Number One, and nothing more. Mere publicity and hype to justify the ends of each group’s own means. But Davis would never object to being exploited: it soon became apparent that Larry Davis eats hype like some kind of weird food. Not long after he was captured, he began calling newspapers — most notably The City Sun and later New York Newsday — to give his version of his story. “Write this,” he would instruct reporters. If they added details that didn’t please him they would receive phone calls chewing them out. And if here stories didn’t appear, he would refuse to grant them further interviews.

Gradually, a truer portrait of Larry Davis emerged between the lines of the media frenzy. Here was a young kid, a semi-illiterate high school dropout who spent his time chillin’ on street corners but who felt a burning need to be known, to be recognized, to be listened to, to be larger than life. His plans to be a pop star fizzled and his street scrambling produced only a shadowy local celebrity. Then, all of a sudden, he was on the top of every New York City broadcast. What did that do to him? What would it do to anybody? Your heart would pound like a bass drum and your skin would be drenched in cold sweat, knowing you are in the biggest trouble in your life. The rush would play in your mind forever.

Larry Davis didn’t have to use his imagination. The newspapers he read every day replayed the images: the courtyard crowds, the mayor, the police commissioner, the cameras, the lights, the cheers and jeers, the “The cops gave me the guns.” it was splashed across the front pages and he fell in love with it, tumbled into it, became one with it. With the flick of a camera shutter, Larry Davis became the New Narcissus.

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In the street, the Davis legend is very real; Sunday’s triumphant verdict pumped his image larger than the Superman balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade. The inner city now gazes up at him with a mixture of victimized fear and vigilante pride. It reminds me of a hood from my teen years, who I’ll call “Igor Jackson.” Jackson was the scourge of 148th Street and Eighth Avenue, a wild man fueled by angel dust and barbiturates who killed because it amused him. He was a legend on the streets of Harlem in 1977 because he made more than a few victims — mainly the teenage operatives of heroin kingpin Leroy “Nicky” Barnes — get on their knees and beg for their life, only to see Jackson smirk and savor his response, a cold, dry, “No.”

Like Igor Jackson, Larry Davis personifies a running character in rap music: the cartoonish hood LL Cool J portrays in “I’m Bad” as he taunts cops, buries the faces of musclemen in the sand, and wears a gold nameplate that says, “I Wish You Would.” In a bizarre sense, Davis fulfilled the ultimate goal of any young inner-city black teen who practices rapping over long hours with a microphone and a tape deck: to develop a voice, to make that voice heard beyond the confines of the street corner — as Big Daddy Kane brags in “Set If Off,” “Your vocals go local/on the m-i-c/Mine go a great distance/like A T and T” — and most importantly, to make those listening respect that voice. Davis had accomplished all three and his delivery was loud and bloody.

To those whose only knowledge of rap comes from watching the movie Colors or minicam reports after concert riots, Davis is the final, dreaded proof; the incarnation of the rap ideal, the bloodthirsty, nigger teen with a $3000 gold cable around his stiff neck whose only goal is to put heads in graveyard beds and cold-snatch money like the feds. But to the makers of the music, Davis — who had his own record label for a while, Home Boys Only — is the freakish exception, a flesh-and-blood lyric taken too far.

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In my secret moments, in the midnight of my living room, as the Sony earphones fill my ears with Big Daddy Kane waiting for the fake gangsters, “front artists,” to taunt and step to him so he can destroy them like “Jason” from Friday the 13th. I live vicariously through the sonic violence. It’s a release, a shot of dope that makes my blood race. Kane’s tune “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” gives me foolish courage every time a young sucker-punk busts a series of clips from his Beretta from the crackhouse from across the street. The tune, and maybe even the street-corner bravado of Larry Davis, whisper twisted, suicidal words of encouragement to me: “If you had an Uzi, you could take care of that problem across the street.” But the line is drawn when I remove the headphones — the violence belongs on the vinyl.

But for Larry Davis, the music never stopped. The sound panned from a Bronx schoolyard full of junior high school kids dancing to the music on his two turntables to a small Bronx apartment full of cops collapsing to the beat of bullets tearing through their bodies.

A tour of the South Bronx would convince anybody that Davis’s tale of night-crawling, street-racketeering, and dealing drugs for dirty cops is possible — in fact, if Davis wasn’t doing all he claimed, somebody is definitely is for some cop up there. The Bronx is a very big small town, a mesh of hills, valleys, concrete atolls, and dead ends. The streets are narrow, the city blocks wide, and the tenements, row houses, projects, and co-ops prop each other up. Flashing patrol-car lights provide 24-hour illumination; police and ambulance sirens mingle with hip hop, salsa, reggae, soca, and r&b like the fragmented strains of some strange carny pipe organ. The Bronx is a sprawling, Third World, urban fun house.

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The raggedy cityscape of East 169th Street is a perfect movie set for the type of clandestine meetings with corrupt cops that Davis describes. Fat and grimy Chevy vans dot the quarter-mile stretch of five-story urban wasteland like rusty camels — who knows what’s going on inside? Grant Avenue has so many abandoned pre-war buildings it looks like an estate of haunted houses. You can feel the action you can’t see: the teen scramblers who bring the crackhouse whores here for tag-team sex. who lure the snitches and rival crack czars for no-name murders; the crackheads who burrow into dank basements to get high and talk to Scotty on the Enterprise.

Not surprisingly, Davis gets a vote of confidence from a young kid I saw hawking “jums” — the abbreviated term for jumbos, the larger pieces of crack — on a 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. “The cops were comin’ to kill that kid that night,” he told me, “and Larry wasn’t with that program. He was about to expose their whole joint, and they had to keep him from speakin’ on it. This crack money is crazy large out here, and you know Five-O is getting put on to all the action. Drugs flow so freely in this neighborhood, it’s like they legal. I know — I’m out here every day.”

Davis’s firefight may have set a violent precedent, declaring open season on cops. In recent months the word on the street is that cops — from Officer Ed Byrne in Jamaica, Queens, to Officer Michael Buczek in Washington Heights a few weeks ago — are not superhuman.

Teflon-coated bullets, now available in the inner city, are made to pierce bullet-proof vests. And not everybody agrees who wears the white hats: with the long standing belief that New York cops are racist and the recent corruption in Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct and allegations of police abuse in Queens’s 113th, many in the black and Latino communities are disgusted with New York’s Finest. They feel it’s more likely than not that the South Bronx cops are dirty, that Davis was working for them, and that they came to murder him because of what he knew.

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To say Larry Davis is intense is an understatement. The day I interviewed him in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the guy not only stared me down, he appeared to look right through me, and then discard my bodily contents. It reminded me of somebody chewing all the sugar out of a stick of Juicy Fruit and throwing it in the garbage. Davis gave the impression he regards reporters as nothing more than inquisitive ectoplasm that collect and distribute information.

By Larry Davis is no psycho killer. Davis is more insular than he is callous, more calculating that he is crazy. Prince, another self-invented idiot savant, treated me the same way when I interviewed him in 1980 at the Westbury Hotel after the release of Dirty Mind. There he sat (dressed in a gray trenchcoat, black stockings, and black bikini briefs), calmly reanimating his mythos for me: how his mother was white and his father was black, how he was the servant of both the LORD GOD Almighty and “the Other,” how all of his songs were autobiographical, even the incestuous “Sister.” When I pressed him for details, he slyly told me, “the clues are all you need to know.” As he continued his presentation, I began to laugh. The expression on his face changed from surprise to indignation to a self-realization that finally caused him to join in the laughter.

Like Prince, Davis spun me a yarn. He told me how he worked for the cops taking off crack spots, and then sold the drugs. He told me how he woke up one fine day in the Bronx and it was revealed to him that he was wrong, how “through the mercy of Allah, I realized I was brain dead, and I was going to tell the world I was wrong to work for those drug-selling policemen,” and how the cops came to hunt him down at his sister’s apartment to silence his Redemption Song. When I remarked to him that this was the same rap he gave The City Sun’s Peter Noel, and Newsday’s Len Levitt, Davis began to lose his patience. When I asked him to elaborate on the details — especially his whereabouts during his 17-day flight from the authorities — he told me pointedly, “Homeboy, you gonna have to wait for the movie.”

After giving me that look, he and I laughed. But the joke only served as another smoke screen: the interview was over and the real Larry Davis remained in the shadows. Looking at his expressionless face, I realized that was the way he wanted it. All I saw was a blankness that defied filling in. Is he Adam Abdul Hakeem — an Islamic name which means “lifeblood, servant of the wise” — the young, studious, and natty Muslim convert who sits quietly while others accuse him of mayhem and murder, and then sobs softly when vindicated?

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Or is he the frenzied madman who slashed at the Department of Corrections from the inside for 367 days — allegedly assaulting guards, spitting and throwing urine at them — eventually forcing a transfer to the higher security MCC, the federal facility in lower Manhattan?

According to those close to him, Davis is more like Prince than Charles Manson. Once acquaintance told me, “Larry is a musician. That guy knows sound. He’s written 200 great songs, he’s a singer — he sounds like that old guy, Billy Paul — keyboard player, arranger, producer, everything. He had a studio in his house. I couldn’t understand the sound he got from his room, from just an eight-track channel mixing board — it sounded like a 24 or 36-track recording studio.” The man speaks the truth. Davis’s bittersweet, Philly soul ballads “Silly Love” and “Loving You Is So Beautiful” could very well score on the music charts. His hard rocking hip hop tunes, like “I Ain’t No Popeye” and “Vultures of the Subculture,” melodic and rhythmically complex songs written almost three years ago, still seem far more advanced than most of the music on current radio. So is he a disillusioned auteur who turned to wild-style glamour when he failed to land a contract with a major label?

With Davis, like Prince, there are precious few times you are able to find the chink in the calculated persona, to see the true, naked person living behind the costumed exterior. It took me a few months of interviews with Davis before the moment came along. About three weeks before the acquittal in the first trial, he started bugging me for some portraits Voice photographer Joe Rodriguez took during the MCC interview. Since Rodriguez was busy with another project, I couldn’t get the photos. During the recesses, or even when court was in session, Davis would turn around and mouth to me, “Where are the pictures?” outlining a frame in the air with his fingers. All of the spectators looked at me, wondering, “Who is this guy and why is he so important to Larry Davis?” Embarrassed, all I could do was shrug my shoulders. Davis would wave his hand at me disgustedly.

Our Tom and Jerry routine went on for almost two weeks. Finally, during a lunch break, I coughed up the goods. As I handed the white envelope to his co-counsel, Lynne Stewart, Davis grinned. “Yo, man, come and see me,” he said in a stage whisper. “Let’s talk.” Davis smiled so wide, I thought his face was going to break. He took the pictures out and studied them. One by one. I had seen the pictures: four 8x10s, stark black and white close-ups of a young black man in an orange box with no escape hatch. Davis’s smile faded slowly and he stiffened, as if he was unable to move.

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Larry Davis was born May 28, 1966, the youngest of Al and Mary Davis’s 15 children. The couple drove up from Perry, Georgia in 1952 and settled into a weather-beaten white row house on Woodycrest Avenue in the southwest Bronx, a working-class neighborhood with clean, narrow streets and well-kept playgrounds. “Larry was a big and playful baby,” says Betty Patron, his oldest sister. “He was born big, a baby with big muscles.” Al Davis — who died a few months ago — supported his growing family working as a plumber, while Mary took care of the home and children.

Al Davis moved out around 1976; some say he left because of the pressures of raising such a large family (it would later grow to include more than 42 grandchildren). Davis, with a note of sadness in his voice, told me the two of them have stayed in contact. When I asked Davis if his father visits him in prison, he eyes fell, and he looked less like a slick new jack who shoots cops than a sad adolescent who is waiting for someone to come and take him home. “No. I don’t call him,” he replied. “My father would visit if I call him. I don’t call him, because it’s not not his position. Me being a man, I gotta face what has to come, or what won’t. I don’t feel that’s his position.”

Larry was 10 when his father left. Mary struggled on without Al, opening a thrift shop near the house and taking in foster kids, runaways, and homeless children. As her elder sons turned to crime (all four of Larry’s older brothers eventually served time for charges ranging from theft to assault), Mary Davis became increasingly devoted in the Rapture Preparation Church in the Bronx. Larry, who often went with her, had sung with the church choir since he was seven. By the time he was 10, he was also playing drums and piano for the group.

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But after graduating from fifth grade at P.S. 73, the bad times began to roll. He went to J.H.S. 145 where “he was not a good student,” according to principal Bernard Krasnow. “He didn’t come very often. When he did attend he was usually in trouble. He was quite an aggressive young man.” After a teacher found Davis with a weapon — officials can’t remember if it was a knife or a gun — the 12-year-old was transferred to J.H.S. 147. But “he was only here a couple of days,” recalls principal Calvin Hart. Later, Davis was transferred to P.S. 58, a special education high school in Manhattan. At 14 years of age, he disappeared from the school system altogether.

By 18, Davis had supplemented the weapons charge at J.H.S. 145 with arrests for resisting arrests, possession of a hypodermic needle, and harassment. His harshest fine was $60, which he paid; he never served more than 24 days in jail.

Despite its problems, the Davis family remained close and large-hearted. Charlie Addo, a 39-year-old Ghanian musician and part-time cab driver who boarded at the Davis house for a year (until just after the shootout), remembers Mary Davis as a kind woman who occasionally shared her private pain with him. “She used to tell me, ‘It would be a mess without me. They’d kill themselves without me.’ Sometimes she falls apart because she goes through so much. But she’s very strong.”

Addo’s fondest moments of the Davis house were the times he and Larry watched videos in the Davis bedroom. “Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop was one of Larry’s favorites,” says Addo, “because he liked to laugh. He also liked watching Rambo.

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Davis claims he discussed the deal a few days later with his buddy Rick Burgos. The two were close; Davis was the bossy older sibling, and Burgos was the loyal sidekick. Davis even bragged about Burgos’s fidelity to a confederate on a wiretap during his time on the run: “Yo, Rick will do 30 years before he talks.” Burgos had idolized Davis since hearing him kick bass tempo on Run-D.M.C. records in the playground of P.S. 145. Like Davis, Burgos — a short, scrappy kid with squinty, Humphrey Bogart eyes — came from a large family and started fighting the law at an early age. At 14, Burgos was arrested for spraying grafitti on the D train, and was sentenced to clean Crotona Park every other weekend for six weeks. In August 1986, he was accused of robbing and shooting a man at the White Castle on Webster Avenue.

Both Davis and Burgos knew that crack was catching on in the Bronx and Manhattan faster than the Asian flu. Whether it’s smoked in a glass pipe or mixed in a joint with reefer — the “woo-woo” or “woolahs” — crack hits are not only highly addictive, exhilarating, demoralizing, and deadly, but also big biz. A seasoned hustler who could sniff out money and opportunity, Burgos told Davis to go with the program and make the “stupid” money.

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Guys from my generation would’ve killed for the illicit carte blanche that Davis and Burgos claimed they enjoyed after they went into the business with the cops. Imagine — that is, if what Davis and Burgos are saying is true — using crackheads to make crack in basehouses throughout the Bronx like mad scientists in abandoned ghetto labs. Imagine breaking the law, with the law enforcers’ blessing. Imagine making piles — “coming off” — and Being Untouchable. Friends say the young “stunts,” the gangster groupies, went crazy over them like rock stars, while the fellas whispered and pointed at them with fear, envy, and admiration. It was almost like a bad joke; they dealt drugs and they couldn’t get arrested.

But the sweet scene turned on October 30, 1986 when the four suspected drug dealers were shot to death at a brickfaced apartment building, 829According to Davis, he had been in Norfolk. Virginia, for about two weeks, intending to buy his mother a house. If this were true — and Davis did come up with an alibi in the form of a Norfolk woman he was friendly with — it would make it impossible to place him at 829 Southern Boulevard on October 30. But after questioning by the prosecution before the first trial, the woman was unsure as to exactly when Davis was in Norfolk. Davis’s lawyers, Kunstler and co-counsel Lynne Stewart, filed a motion stating that the prosecution had intimidated her and placed doubt in her mind, thereby ruling out the possibility of her testifying at the trial.

Davis had additional problems in his first trial, and one was Charlie Conway. Many courtroom observers were surprised that he testified, including Davis. In a wiretapped conversation, Davis is heard explaining the finer points of street silence to Conway’s son, “Little Charlie”; “Your pops don’t talk man, that’s what I like about him. He do not say shit.”

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Big Charlie proved Davis wrong. He denied his willingness to testify was connected to any agreement that would help him out with his parole board (he’s currently serving an armed robbery sentence); instead he told the court, “I am tired. I’ve been involved with crime a lot of years, you know the dates. You went back to like ’65. I am really tired.”

Conway’s underworld weariness had not taken effect when he met Davis in 1984 through his son, Little Charlie, who was a student at J.H.S 145 with Davis. Big Charlie Conway, a former U.S. and merchant marine, testified he taught Davis how to bore out the barrel of a .45, making it difficult to trace. (Davis told me that the police showed him: “I got all my training from the police. They taught me how to bore out a gun.”) Conway also spoke of a meeting with Davis and James “J.J.” Patron on October 31, 1986 — the day after the murders of the four suspected drug dealers. That morning there was a knock on Conway’s apartment door. Conway asked who it was, and a voice replied “Rambo, Rambo” — Davis’s nickname. Conway let Davis and his nephew inside. In this meeting Davis asked the elder Conway if he’d seen Burgos. Conway said he hadn’t. Davis then told him, according to Conway’s testimony, “You all should have come up with us last night because we came off.” Patron then displayed a bracelet to Conway, and Davis said, “We had to pap-pap-pap these four guys.”

“Yeah man, one guy jumped on Larry’s back,” Patron chimed in, according to Conway’s testimony. Patron allegedly added that he shot one of the guys and then took all four men into a room where “Larry took care of them.”

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There were inconsistencies in Conway’s testimony. He seemed confused on names, dates, and places of past crimes. On one occasion, defense attorney asked Conway if he recalled an NYPD badge found in his apartment, and if was given to him by Larry Davis; Conway answered yes to both questions. But under questioning by assistant D.A. Brian Wilson, Conway said it was a security guard badge that Davis had given him in August 1986.

Between the time of the Southern Boulevard murders and the November shootout with police, Davis shuttled from place to place. Aside from various friends, he either stayed with his mother, his girlfriend Melody Fludd — the mother of his daughter Larrima — or his sister Regina Lewis. His lodging at Joe and Regina’s was the source of many arguments for the couple. Joe Lewis, a stocky private sanitation worker, didn’t like the fact that Davis stashed guns, blocks of cocaine in plastic bags, and large sums of money in their tiny apartment at 1231 Fulton Avenue; Lewis feared for the safety of his three young children, Joe Jr., Krystal, and Ravon. After one disagreement in the early fall of 1986, Regina reluctantly asked her baby brother to leave. Lewis soon reconsidered and welcomed Davis back into his home a few weeks before the shootout. Davis returned with the guns, drugs, and money in tow.

In early November, according to Burgos and Davis, the cops gave them 40 kilos of coke to sell to a Columbian dealer. Davis told me he met the Columbian and exchanged the drugs for $1 million in a suitcase. Both say that they kept all the money instead of handing the cops their share. The police “became worried” about Davis, Kunstler asserted later; “One, that he might tell on them, and two, that he took their money.”

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On November 19, 1986, Davis, Melody Fludd, little Larrima, Joe, and Joe Jr. were in the apartment watching a cassette. Although Davis remembers it being Rambo, the Lewises say it was Romancing The Stone (another example of Davis’s self-mythologizing?). Meanwhile, the other children, Krystal and Ravon, were playing in a rear bedroom.

Regina Lewis was on the phone in the front of the apartment when she saw the front doorknob begin to twist. She thought it was probably her prankster sister, Helen Mendoza, who lived next door. Regina got up, went to the door, and opened it just a crack. “Who lives here?” came a voice from the other side of the door. Curious, Joe Lewis got up and went to the door. Through the crack, he could see a brace of police officers with shotguns and flak jackets. They questioned Lewis for a second or two until they spotted Davis on the sofa: Davis saw them about the same time and made his move to the back bedroom.

“Somebody ran,” shouted one of the officers. About 13 cops rushed in, filling the tiny apartment with armed men. According to Regina Lewis’s testimony, no one produced a badge or a search warrant, not even Captain John Ridge, who backed her off iinto the kitchen, and told her to get on the floor. She began to scream. Sergeant Edward Coulter, who was called to testify by Davis’s attorneys, continued Regina’s account, saying, “All I could do was hear her screaming. There was a lot of screaming going on.”

The police hustled Joe Lewis, Melody Fludd, and her daughter out of the apartment. Joe said he wanted to run back and get Krystal and Ravon. “But there was no way to get them,” he recalled. “That’s where they were shooting.”

In the back bedroom, Davis said he pushed Krystal and Ravon under the bed. Davis also said that Detective Thomas McCarren — who William Kunstler maintained at trial was the dirty cops’ assassin — was the first officer he saw. “He ran in the back and asked me, ‘Where’s the money, where’s the money?’,” Davis told me. “I said, ‘I got your money, just don’t hurt my family.’ He was trying to act like Scarface or something. Next thing I know, his gun goes off, and he skinned the top of my head. If I get a close haircut, you can see the scar. So I shot back.”

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Sergeant Edward Coulter testified that he was standing behind McCarren when Davis was desperately rummaging around the room for a gun. “The detective [McCarren] kept yelliing, ‘Police, come out with your hands up.'” Suddenly, McCarren yelled, “Get back, he’s got a gun” and waved his arms desperately, falling backwards into Coulter. Coulter claimed Ravon, Larry Davis’s three-year-old nephew, then walked out of the bathroom. “I can draw you a picture of this kid today,” Coulter said on the stand. “The kid walked out of the bathroom, made a right, and started into the bedroom and as the kid got to the bedroom entrance, I heard an explosion. The guy fired a shot at us. We started to retreat. I … I don’t know if that’s the shot that hit the detective or it was a second shot or a … The gunfire, it was unstopped gunfire, just sounded like the range.” Coulter described shooting wildly through the walls of the bedroom at Davis, whom Coulter says he never saw.

Just as dramatic was the second-trial testimony of Officer Mary Buckley, who was shot in the mouth. On a wiretap recorded during his 17 days on the run, Davis told a friend that after Buckley said, “Freeze, you fuckin’ black nigger, I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ ass away,” she caught a bullet “in her mouth.” (Buckley has denied the slur.) Buckley, who has received more than 135 hours of dental work since the shooting, gave a visceral portrayal of the action. “It was like a knife cutting into my lip,” she told the court. “I realized that I was shot, and I thought I was going to die on some strange floor. I could feel all my veins turning to ice.” Within minutes, however, Buckley said she felt “very peaceful. I started to think of my daughter. She was nine at that time, and I didn’t want to leave her.”

Regina Lewis testified that after the six wounded officers retreated from the apartment, she ran to the bedroom and retrieved Ravon and Krystal from underneath the bed. “I started screaming because I heard the door open,” Regina Lewis told the court. “I thought the police were coming back in. And Larry said, ‘It’s me.’ I said, ‘Please don’t start shooting again.'”

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Davis darted out of the front door of the apartment. Outside, he spotted a few more policemen, and sprayed the hallway with gunfire. The cops scurried. Davis then shot the lock off of his sister Helen’s door and went inside. Looking out a rear window, he spied several cops in the backyard. Davis claims they saw his figure in the window but didn’t realize it was him. Mimicking a woman’s voice, he asked the cops what was happening. They gruffly told the “woman” to get back inside. After the cops left, Davis jumped from the first floor apartment window into the backyard and disappeared into the wilds of the Bronx. (This daring impersonation remains unverified; is it another product of the movie that plays in Davis’s head?)

After slipping in and out of safehouses for more than two weeks, Davis was cornered at 365 East 183rd Street in the Twin Parks West projects in the Fordham section of the Bronx on December 5, 1986. After more than six hours of tense negotiations between Davis and the NYPD — conducted over the phone and shouted through the front door of the apartment where Davis had taken two families hostage — Davis surrendered without incident at 7:30 a.m. He later claimed he gave up because he was concerned for his mother’s safety as well as his own. As a ring of cops led Davis down the building’s wheelchair ramp, he was showered with applause and cheers. Mayor Koch and Commissioner Ward patted each other on the back. The minicam crews raced back to their stations with the grand finale to the greatest show in the Empire State.

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Hunting for a conviction in the first trial (where Davis was charged in the Southern Boulevard murders), assistant district attorneys William Flack and Brian Wilson looked like mako sharks in NBO suits. They had a solid case against Davis; not airtight, but strong. In his summation, Flack likened the case with all of its testimony and physical evidence to “building a house.” He asked the jury not to be distracted by Kunstler and Stewart’s “landscaping and shrubbery” — the political dramatics — but to concentrate on the “house” itself.

With more than 50 witnesses, the prosecution’s case seemed stronger every day. There was the testimony of “Big Charlie” Conway, Addo, and a spacey crackhouse steerer named Roy Gray who claimed that, a few hours after the killings of the four suspected drug dealers, Davis, Burgos, and Patron robbed Gray outside a Washington Heights crackhouse (Burgos is currently serving a two-to-six year stretch at Rikers for this stickup). After Gray called the police and they arrived — and handcuffed Gray in the backseat of their patrol car just in case — the police chased Davis’s crew (driving a stolen car) all the way from 165th and Edgecombe in Manhattan to 167th and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. As Davis and company bailed out and scaled the sloping staircase from Jerome to Anderson Avenue, Gray testified that Davis and his boys fired at the cops. Flack and Wilson had evidence; the shells on the staircase and the fingerprints on the getaway car matched the shell casings and fingerprints taken from the scene of the murders.

Kunstler and Stewart ignored the murder case; their aim was to persuade the jury that corrupt police officers were out to assassinate Larry Davis. Kunstler’s theory was that McCarren, the detective who led the charge into Regina Lewis’s apartment on November 19, was out to “assassinate” Davis because he knew too much about police corruption and drug dealing. The defense team did their best to play to the frustrations and loyalties of the seven blacks and three Latinos on the jury.

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One person who figured heavily into Davis’s defense was his brother-in-law Joe Lewis. Lewis, who testified for the prosecution and later recanted, gave what appeared to be very damaging testimony. He claimed that Davis came to his house a day or two after the October 30 murders and said that he “went to rob some guys, but some static happened.” Lewis said Davis told him that one of the men rushed him and he shot the man. Lewis said Davis explained that the remaining three were shot and killed because Davis “didn’t need no witnesses.” Then the four were stripped of their clothing — one corpse did have socks on — tied up, and tossed into a bathtub full of water.

When I asked Davis what he thought of his brother-in-law’s account, he went off on me. “What’s the use of getting mad at the boy?” Davis asked sharply. “We know what they [the prosecution] is doing to him. The boy’s a punk, he’s scared, they tellin’ him he’s going to jail — he has children. I got a daughter myself. They scarin’ him. But they can’t do that to my family. They ain’t going for it.” And then Davis did something very brash. “Cut the tape off,” he said. Stunned and curious, I complied. “You see that tape recorder, how small it is? if you got a big coat, I want you to go to my mother’s house and interview Joe — but you can’t let him see the recorder. Take a pen and pad, but hide the recorder, switched on, in your coat pocket. He’s been telling people how he was scared, how they made him lie on the witness stand, how he didn’t want to do that, and I want that on tape.” I looked at Davis for a full minute as I let the full shock of his request sink in. Then I told him I couldn’t do that for him.

I did interview Lewis, however. He told me that right after Davis’s capture he kept getting calls from the Bronx D.A.’s office; he avoided them until the morning he was picked up by two detectives who drove him to the courthouse where he was interrogated for more than two hours by an assistant D.A. and a detective. According to Lewis, when he denied any knowledge of the murders or the shootout, the assistant D.A. told him, “You do know something. Why are you being stupid?” The detective allegedly added, “You asshole, why mess up your life for this bastard? Everybody here is telling on everybody anyway. We already know everything.” (The prosecution would not comment on the Lewis interview.)

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Says Lewis, “He had me thinking that it was other people that had already told on him, and they had all they needed to pin Larry. Then come to find out they only had me as a witness. They used me as a little sucker. I didn’t think it would be my testimony that would hang my brother-in-law. Larry used to call me and say, ‘Yo, don’t let them do this to me, don’t let them hang me.’ I told him, ‘I just put shit together from the newspapers. They was threatenin’ me so much, I was scared, tears was comin’ out of my eyes at the time.’ Then he told me, ‘Joe, stand up to them. Tell what they did to you, so people could know.’ They tried to use me, and I didn’t dig that. So I told Larry not to worry about it.” On the witness stand, Lewis avoided looking at Davis, his mother-in-law, and his wife.

On Sunday, February 14, Mary Davis called Stanley Cohen, Davis’s Legal Aid lawyer and one of the architects of his defense. After inquiring about his health, she said, “Somebody wants to ask your legal advice.” Joe Lewis took the phone. Cohen called him back and taped his recantation on an answering machine. Judge Fried did not allow the recantation because Lewis took the Fifth when asked whether his previous testimony was untrue. Fried also told the court that “Mr. Cohen did suggest the answers [for Lewis] outright.” But the next day the papers wrote about Fried barring the recantation. It was discussed on WLIB, and there is speculation that the jurors — who were sequestered upstate — got wind of it.

On March 3, 1988, after nine days of deliberation — the longest in Bronx county history — Davis walked on the murder charges. Objectively, the prosecution should have won, but crack and police corruption have filled the minds New Yorkers like sweet smoke spreading through a glass pipe. When it came down to choosing between “dirty” cops, unsympathetic victims, and poor leadership in the county’s judicial system on the one side and, on the other, a kid who may or may not have been lured into police corruption and no-name murders, Larry Davis was the people’s choice.

Mary Davis rocked with her eyes closed, her family fell on her and cried, her Pentecostal sisters raised open palms, on the brink of an unknown language. An older black man in the back of the courtroom shouted, “Alright now! Next, win, Jesse, win.” Stanley Cohen trembled, and then he cried. Lynne Stewart beamed and hugged Kunstler who tried to remain cool, but said, “I’m delirious. This is great, just great.” And he put his arm around Larry Davis, who sobbed into the sleeve of his lawyer’s charcoal gray suit.

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The acquittal in the first trial not only vindicated Davis, but it also bolstered his credibility, confirming the street-level perception that he was telling the truth about working for the cops. It was also the sort of surprise ending that suggested that the second trial (for the attempted first-degree murder of nine police officers, aggravated assault, use of a firearm, and criminal possession of weapons) would deliver even more drama.

After three months of false starts — involving possible racism in jury selection, subsequent empaneling and dismissals, until not one white sat on the jury — Davis II began in late July with the hoopla worthy of a new Martin Scorsese film. For the first couple of weeks, the courtroom was standing room only. As in the last trial, there was a broad cross-section of spectators: radicals, Muslims, Pentecostals — prayer capped women from Mary Davis’s Rapture Preparation Church — detectives, cops, reporters, and the legion of Davis’s family and supporters. I even remember small wagers made between reporters that Davis II would eclipse the hype of the Brawley mystery, which, at that time, was at it’s peak.

For a while, it seemed that it would. First, there was the tearful testimony of some of the wounded officers. Emergency Service sergeant Edward Coulter, who was wounded in the hand and thigh, broke down as he recounted the story of how he and his fellow officers were felled by the flashes of heat and light from Davis’s gun. Kunstler went as far as to show the courtroom a videotape of a police training lecture that depicted a much calmer Coulter describing the same event to fellow Emergency Service officers in a January 1987 meeting. Indeed, Coulter seemed to have a firmer grip on his emotions when I witnessed his testimony back in February. If anything, his steady delivery held the court spellbound, with his claim of Davis shooting first, even with a tot in the line of fire.

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Four of the other five wounded cops followed Coulter to the witness stand (four cops have filed civil suits against the city for negligence). The injured officers include Captain John Ridge who was grazed in the head (and who, according to a Newsday article, had a trace of alcohol on his breath during the post-shootout hospital examination, though he denied on the witness stand that he had been drinking), Officer John O’Hara, who was shot in the eye, and Detective Donald O’Sullivan, grazed in the head and hand. Throughout their testimony, Kunstler maintained the same position he outlined for Newsday on the day of the opening arguments: “You don’t assemble an entire task force with cops from all over the place, including ESU [Emergency Service Unit], get denied a request for a warrant from the DA’s office, and then still make a raid on the house with bulletproof vests, sawed-off shotguns, and 34 men unless you are hellbent on killing him.”

Bolstering the testimony of these and other officers on the scene that night were the daily sea of blue uniforms in the first two rows of the courtroom, including the wheelchair-bound Steven McDonald. McDonald, the officer disabled by a teen gunman in Central Park, was a quiet but powerful cheerleader for the cops. At the beginning of the second trial, he told the Post, “I consider them [the wounded officers] victims, and I’ll continue to be here as long as I am physically up to it.” Kunstler countered that McDonald’s presence was “a trick to win sympathy from the jury. It’s a shameful exploitation. I feel sorry for him.”

Perhaps the trial became too taxing for McDonald, because he didn’t show up in the courtroom for a while. Or maybe he just lost interest. McDonald’s absence was just one indication of the public’s lethargy during the bulk of Davis II. Despite the police parade of witnesses and the visceral testimony describing the melee, empathy had began to wane not only for the cops, but also for Larry Davis. Most people didn’t seem to care anymore; many said it was because the image painted by the cops of Davis using his toddler nephew as a shield in the shootout. Others said that the cop-shoot had been tried already in the murder trial; once you’ve seen the surprise ending, the thrill is gone.

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The disaffection of the general public grew despite the defense’s theatrical presentation. Davis, Kunstler, and Stewart did their best to pump a case that was in danger of becoming a mundane installment of Superior Court up to the level of a Hitchcock thriller. The most unexpected twist came in the October 5 testimony of Davis’s mother. Mary Davis, 65, told the court that on October 31, 1986 — the day after her son and two accomplices allegedly killed four suspected crack dealers at 829 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx — she was visited by four police officers. She testified that one of the officers, Joseph Nealon, said, “You know what you did? You raised a dirty bastard.” He went on to tell her, “You tell him, we’re going to put a f—in’ bullet in his head. You tell Larry we are going to kill him.” She informed the police Civilian Complaint Review of this harassment just in case “anything did happen,” (Nealon received a minor reprimand from the department for pushing and verbally abusing Mary Davis.)

Two weeks later, Kunstler, former Tawana Brawley advisers C. Vernon Mason and Al Sharpton, and other supporters staged a six-hour sit-in Brooklyn Criminal Court (over a judge’s decision in another case) that ended in a mini-riot and a group sleepover in a holding cell. Next, Davis developed a back problem that delayed the trial for a week. Were these carefully orchestrated blows against the system or were they acts of desperation? Well, Davis’s problem may have been genuine; months before he made the complaint, he told me had injured his back in a car accident that happened when he was being transferred from the Bronx Courthouse to the MCC. But there was widespread speculation that Kunstler was stalling because he had run out of ammunition.

Last week, the defense rested, the jury was charged, and deliberations began. as the trial drew to a close, the public revved itself up once more as if, having slept through the dreary exposition of the movie, the audience was waking up just in time for the car chase. Reporters who weeks ago were filling their notebooks with doodles suddenly scrambled to get to the fourth floor courtroom an hour early, because waiting for the verdict was the uptown ticket that’s as hot as Waiting For Godot. And Larry Davis was the hottest topic on the street corner again.

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Like a sequel that tops the original movie, the verdict in Davis II realized its great expectations. On Sunday afternoon, Larry Davis was found not guilty on all of the most serious charges — nine counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault — and found guilty of six counts of weapons possession. The press room on the ground floor of the Bronx County Courthouse swelled with reporters who were stunned into silence; meanwhile, shouts of “Hallelujah!” and revolutionary war cries caromed down the halls on the fourth floor. Soul power was alive and well in the Bronx.

Larry Davis will continue to be a figurehead for factions in New York. To the ruling class, he is society’s nightmare, a horror-film monster who keeps coming back every time you think you’ve put him away for good. Worse, he is not a lone gunman: he is the advance man for an urban earthquake that is rocking society from the bottom, a terrifying state of flux that can no longer be ignored or reversed. But to the powerless, Davis is a resistance fighter, decorated with the blood of the occupational forces and crowned with victories on the enemy’s home turf, the halls of justice that have traditionally been nothing more than corridors of white power. By paralleling Davis with Bernhard Goetz immediately after the verdict, Kunstler has (quite brilliantly) forced Judge Fried into choosing between either imposing a minimal sentence that matches Goetz’s penalty or a heavier one that implies the court is racist. If Davis serves any substantial length of time on the weapons convictions or if he is jailed on upcoming murder charges (he still faces two unrelated counts of murder), his name will be invoked the way Hurricane Carter’s was for years: as the patron saint of black victims.

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The triumph of Davis II has fueled the hunger for the kind of black hero that has been missing since the days of urban riots, Black Panthers, and Malcolm X. While Jesse Jackson has assumed the highest profile of any black leader in America today, there are many who feel his careful mainstreaming leaves a vacuum on the radical side; the rally to Davis’s bloody banner is a return to Malcolm X’s credo, “By any means necessary.” How could a crack dealing strongman be compared to a great visionary? “Hey man,” one Harlem professional told me recently, “remember that Malcolm used to be Detroit Red [a pimp and a drug dealer] before he became El Hajj. Everybody makes mistakes. It all depends on what you learn from them.”

I have heard the analogy between between Larry Davis and Malcolm X made so many times recently, it’s almost beginning to sound like an article of faith. But what the hopeful believers ignore is that Malcolm X was weaned on the black struggle through his father, a Marcus Garvey acolyte: Malcolm X was schooled to be a powerful beacon. As much as I believe God can rewrite any soul, and as much as I want to believe in Davis’s Islamic epiphany in prison, I can’t. I don’t think a true prophet would tell me to wait for the movie. ❖

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Lenny Bruce Tagged on Obscenity, Run Extended at Cafe Here 

Comedian Lenny Bruce and Howard Solomon, manager of the Cafe Au Go Go, 152 Bleecker Street, where Bruce is heading the bill, were arrested and taken to Sixth Precinct headquarters on Charles Street last Friday night. They were booked on charges of giving an “indecent performance.” On arriving at the police station, Solomon was served with a summons from the License Department.

The arrests were made at about 10 p.m. as Bruce was preparing to go on for his only show of the night. When he failed to appear most of the audience asked for their money back and left. Comedian Irwin Corey, who was in the audience, went on in Bruce’s place.

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Bruce and Solomon spent the night in jail and were released after arraignment the next day. Solomon was released in the rec­ognizance of his lawyer. Bruce, who has been arrested on obscenity charges in several cities and has one conviction on ap­peal in Chicago, had to post $1000 bail.

The two were told that the police had taped two of Bruce’s shows, his second show last Wednesday night (which actually began at 12:01 a.m. Thursday) and his first show last Thursday night. They were also told that the tapes had been played for a grand jury, which found that there was sufficient on which to charge them.

Solomon says the police told him that the original complaint about Bruce’s performances had come from the License Department. Acting License Commissioner William Barlow refused to comment on this. Instead he issued the following statement: “In view of the fact that a hearing is scheduled before this office on Thursday, there will be no comment on any phase until a determination has been made. We do not want to prejudice the case in any way by making any comment.”

Solomon had originally planned to operate the Cafe Au Go Go as a cabaret (which would permit dancing as well as entertainment) without liquor. He told The Voice that the License Department had indicated that he would receive a cabaret license and that he had proceeded with the renovation of the basement premises on the assumption that the license would be granted. He said his application had been filed last May, and that in December the License Department told him it would only grant him a coffee house license, which does not permit dancing.

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Bernard O’Connell, then License Commissioner, refused the license on the grounds that if dancing were permitted and no liquor were served, minors could be admitted and that they would go there to dance and then hang around until all hours of the night. Solomon told The Voice, however, that he had made it clear to the License Commissioner that he would “Abide by the letter of the law” governing cabarets and would not allow minors into his cafe unless they were accompanied by adults. He finally opened Cafe Au Go Go as a coffee house on February 7.

Vanguard Okay?

Solomon also pointed out that Bruce had appeared at the Village Vanguard last January and February and that he had given one-night performances to sell-out audiences at the Village Theatre, Second Avenue and Sixth Street, on Thanksgiving Night and the night of March 28. Neither of these establishments received complaints from either the police or the License Department.

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Bruce and Solomon will be tried on April 23 in Criminal Court. Ironically, Bruce’s arrest will serve to extend his run at Cafe Au Go Go, which was originally scheduled for one week and would have ended Sunday night. Since he has to be in town for his trial on the 23rd, he will go on performing at the Au Go Go until that date.

An Emergency Committee Againt Harassment of Lenny Bruce was formed over the weekend as a result of the arrest. The committee is circulating petitions addressed to Mayor Wagner. The petitions charge “that ‘obscenity’ has become a cudgel against free speech and only encourages intimidation of performers and their public.”

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Rogue Police Union: The PBA’s Bloated Overhead

The PBA’s Bloated Overhead
December 7, 1993

THROUGHOUT THE Watergate scandal, the operative phrase was follow the money, an axiom that also serves the PBA story.

In 1991, the PBA raised more than $7 million in dues from its members, while four distinct but affiliated PBA funds took in many millions more from New York City taxpayers. Although the main pen­sion fund for the NYPD — worth $7.5 bil­lion — is mercifully controlled by the city itself (PBA trustees sit on the board), a smaller annuity fund is maintained to pro­vide additional benefits. The city pays in $2 for each police officer each working day (261 a year). Between total contribu­tions from the city and income on invest­ments, this fund received more than $14 million in 1991. A health and welfare fund for cops on active duty took in an­other $22 million; and a comparable fund for retired cops another $20 million. For 1991 alone, total revenues coming in to the PBA, including $7 million in union dues, came to $63 million. The cop on the beat might well ask, “Where did it all go?”

Much of it went where it should have, into services for PBA members — supple­mental dental and optical coverage, death benefits, legal representation, and the like. In 1991 the PBA paid out to members $26.2 million in direct benefits. But in order to provide these services, the PBA spent $23 million, an overhead that should raise the eyelids of the sleepiest IRS or department of labor official. In fact, when the Voice presented this benefit-to-expense ratio to Bob Kobel, an IRS regional spokesman, he replied: “Given that scenario, I feel certain it would cause us to take a closer look, at least to deter­mine why administration costs are so high.”

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A close look at individual expense items raises even more questions. Of the PBA’s total overhead for 1991, a large bite — $4.5 million — was paid out for legal work, la­bor negotiating, and lobbying. If you add in the $2.7 million paid for the legal repre­sentation for members, the total legal bill comes to more than $7 million. Virtually every penny of that amount went to Ly­saght, Lysaght & Kramer, the law firm that took over the PBA’s account from attorney Richard Hartman. In prior years, comparable amounts had been paid to Hartman’s firm, to cover his fees for legal work and labor negotiating.

A police officer might well ask why over the last 15 years the union has paid so dearly for labor negotiating. Hartman joined the PBA in 1978, when the base salary for police officers was $17,458 — hardly generous. Despite his skills, the base police salary has remained constant with inflation ever since. In today’s dollars, the $17,458 of 1977 would be worth $40,415. After being paid millions in the interven­ing years, Hartman has managed to negoti­ate a base salary of $40,700 — a $300 gain, not counting fringe benefits. That annual raise does not compare favorably to the ever-growing fees the PBA and Phil Caruso were granting Hartman. In 1977, the PBA paid Hartman’s predecessor $141,467 for “labor negotiating.” In 1978, Hartman’s first full year, the PBA paid him $750,000. By 1990, Hartman’s last year as the union’s negotiator of record, the PBA was paying him $165,000 a month, for a grand annual total of $1,980,000, as a labor “consultant.”

Another large bite of the PBA revenue pie — $8 million — was taken in 1991 by insurance companies. Obviously the PBA has to pay heavily for insurance to pro­vide the benefits it must. But does it need to pay as much as it does? And the ques­tion would not even be raised were it not for the fact that the year after Richard Hartman surrendered his law license, and thereby a great deal of income, PBA suddenly discovered that its members needed a new Met Life policy, the $2.2 million commission on which went to a new insurance agent named … Richard Hartman. (By 1991, the Met Life insur­ance business was transferred to the wives of James Lysaght and Peter Kramer, part­ners of the law firm that was already get­ting all the legal fees mentioned above.)

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Instead of enriching cops directly, Caru­so has concentrated the PBA’s efforts on increasing fringe benefits. He argues in the Annual Report for the Annuity Fund: “The doubling of our annual annuity con­tribution by the city, won in our last round of contract talks, was significant, particularly for newer members.” But one is tempted to question both the priorities and the motives of the PBA and its negoti­ators. Unlike salaries, which flow directly from the city to the cops, the “soft” mon­ey flows from the city to the PBA, where it can be siphoned off for the benefit of a handful of friends and associates. The only significant fringe benefit negotiated by Caruso and Hartman that flows direct­ly to police members is the uniform allow­ance, which jumped from $265 in 1977 to $1000 in 1991.

The soft money has permitted the PBA the luxury of a huge overhead. In 1991, for example, the union spent $2.2 million on salaries, $900,000 for printing and publications, $650,000 on delegate ex­penses, and $340,000 for conferences and conventions. Even the relatively smaller expenses raise serious questions. For ex­ample, was the $208,000 fee paid to ac­countants Mendelsohn Kary Bell & Natoli to prepare the PBA’s various 1991 filings much of a bargain? The PBA’s 5500 forms invariably communicate as little as possi­ble. On the PBA’s 1991 filing for the an­nuity fund, for instance, MKBN lumped all assets under the familiar rubric of “other.” Yet a glimpse of the PBA’s annu­al report for the fund in the same year reveals that these assets are all invested in financial instruments for which the IRS provides line items on its 5500 forms: government securities, commercial paper, money market funds.

Indeed, the word “other” often covers some of the largest sums charged against the various PBA accounts. By the Voice’s count, in 1991 the PBA buried $6.6 mil­lion in expenses for its various funds un­der the word “other.” That, of course, would be fine if “other” were explained elsewhere. Conscientious accountants wishing to avoid audits provide supple­mental sheets where such large sums are broken down and detailed. Not so the PBA’s accountants. Two outside CPAs who reviewed PBA returns with the Voice commented that it appeared the union was not concerned about audits, almost as if it thought itself untouchable. They pointed out that several basic accounting rules had been flouted.

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For example, although the PBA submits 5500 forms for each benefit plan it oper­ates, those submissions do not include re­quired Schedule P’s, which must list trust­ees and to which the trustees must affix their signatures by way of accepting liabil­ity. Also missing are Schedule A’s, which show where an organization bought its insurance, how much commission was paid, and the names of brokers. Given the amount that the PBA pays out in insur­ance premiums and the name of the bro­ker who received many of these commis­sions — Richard Hartman — the oversight is strange indeed.

Finally, there is the sheer sloppiness of the filings. The PBA’s 5500 forms for 1991 were prepared on IRS forms from the prior year. In its 1989 annuity fund filing, MKBN reported a transfer of $9.9 million into the fund. It is only when one does the math that it becomes clear that the $9.9 million was transferred out of the fund. (The money went to smaller PBAs, the Superior Officers Council, and the Detectives’ Endowment Association, for reasons that are not altogether clear). In this instance, the difference between in and out is almost $20 million. Calls to the PBA accounting firm to get clarification on this and other matters went unanswered.

The various PBA filings yield a number of other issues and questions as well. In addition to the Legal Services Fund, de­signed to represent police in various mat­ters, including house closings, the PBA maintains a separate legal assistance plan within its Health & Welfare Fund. The city gives the union $75 per police officer each year to fund this service, designed to provide legal representation in civil suits brought against police officers whom the city, for whatever reason, does not want to represent (the funds also cover “pension counseling”). According to the PBA con­tract with the city, “These funds shall be maintained in a separate account and shall not be commingled with the other monies received by the Welfare Fund.”

But is that what happened to the $1.4 million taken in by the welfare fund in 1991 for this purpose? The PBA appears to have paid the entire amount to the Lysaght firm. Perhaps Lysaght has the money tucked safely away in an escrow account, But the public filings of the PBA offer no such assurance, and given the PBA’s “fact pattern” — as it’s put in law­-enforcement parlance — of raided escrow accounts and huge fees to lawyers, the transfer to Lysaght is disturbing. Did rank­-and-file police officers really need $1.4 million worth of legal representation for civil matters and pension counseling dur­ing the year? And if not, what is happen­ing to the accumulating funds? Does the city need to continue to fund this account at this level?

The biggest PBA account is the annuity fund, and the natural question is, how is all this money being invested? It is a question Caruso himself addresses in the annuity’s 199 l annual report to members. “The interest yield on An­nuity Fund investments last year was far from awesome,” he wrote, “but nonetheless strictly in keeping with prevailing rates.” In 1991, the annuity fund earned just under 6 per cent.

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Interests rates are, without question, down among all varieties of pension plans. But 6 per cent or under is not the prevailing rate. And there is a larg­er question about the PBA’s annuity fund that centers on the pattern of investing. With a stream of city reve­nues large enough to cover the antici­pated direct benefits to members, the annuity fund would seem to have very little need for liquidity. Yet over $40 million of its $55 million worth of assets are held in short-term financial instruments, with only $15 million in long-term. Had more long-term invest­ments been made years ago, they would still be yielding 8 per cent or better. Even long-term assets purchased today’s markets could yield as much as 7 per cent. Those numbers suggest that the PBA annuity fund could have fared much better. Com­ments James Hanley, the director of the city’s Office of Labor Relations: “I know other uniformed service heads boast they’re still doing 11 per cent and 12 per cent.” While Hanley’s numbers seem over the top, The New York Times reported this week that more than 80 per cent of U.S. corpora­tions interviewed recently about their pension funds base their decisions on an annual return of better than 8 per cent. Only 2 per cent anticipated inter­est rates below 7 per cent.

Who is really paying attention to these PBA accounts? According to Hanley, it should be Comptroller Eliz­abeth Holtzman’s office. Yet the comptroller’s office has yet to com­plete its only PBA audit during Holtz­man’s tenure, and it is not looking at the annuity fund. Indeed, Holtzman’s office took two months to confum for the Voice that it still had the authority to monitor the PBA following changes in the 1989 city charter.

The good news in reviewing the po­lice union’s public filings is this: be­cause neither the organization nor its accountants seem to have filed the proper Schedule P’s bearing the signa­tures of the trustees, the statute of limitations is thereby waived. The first auditor to have an extensive go at these books — perhaps incoming comp­troller Alan Hevesi — should have a field day. And he can take all the time he wants. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker exposing corruption in the Patrolman's Benevolent Association

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Rogue Police Union: Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine

Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine
December 7, 1988

NASSAU COUNTY abounds in poor role models, and Richard Hartman, a lawyer on the make, found more than his fair share. Take his first two bosses, for instance.

Fresh out of law school, Hartman clerked for Judge Floyd Sarisohn. A few years after Hartman left that job, Sarisohn was removed from office for improperly handling a speeding ticket and for giving a prostitute tips on how to deceive her pro­bation officer. Between 1965 and 1968, Hartman worked for Nassau district attor­ney William Cahn, who would go to jail for padding his expenses and for mail fraud. In 1968 Hartman entered private practice and, like Judge Sarisohn, special­ized in traffic matters. His first partner, Jack Solerwitz, would later, after separat­ing from Hartman, be convicted of steal­ing $5 million from clients.

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Hartman cultivated a reputation for helping influential people beat their raps, often at no charge. “If I had friends who got tickets, I sent them to Richie,” said a former city official in Nassau. “If Richie was your attorney, the cop who handled the ticket didn’t show up to testify.”

Meanwhile, as Hartman became famous for getting things done, lawyer Harold Foner was deciding he had too much to do. Foner represented two police unions, the Nassau and New York City PBAs. In 1969, weighed down by his New York City responsibilities, he resigned his Nas­sau position. As his successor, Foner sug­gested the up-and-comer Hartman, who had strong connections to the county’s Republican machine. Foner was neverthe­less surprised when Hartman consented, since the young man’s practice was yield­ing far more than Foner’s salary, which approximated the pay of a police captain. But Hartman correctly bet that handling police labor relations and legal matters could be spectacularly lucrative.

Police officials had taken note of Hart­man. “He lit up the courtroom,” said Wil­liam Rupp, a former state police officer (and later president of the Metropolitan Police Conference) who helped introduce Hartman to police unions. “I thought he could help us with our plight.” And he did. “Before him,” Rupp said, “we used to go to Albany or City Hall on bended knee and beg.”

Thanks to concessions won by Hart­man, within a few years Long Island cops would take it for granted that they earned more than FBI agents. After the Nassau police, Hartman added the Long Island State Parkway Police, then the Suffolk County police, and soon was the super­-lawyer for practically every cop in every city, town, and village on Long Island and in Westchester. At one point, by Hart­man’s own count, he represented 300 unions, mostly in law enforcement.

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A mystique built up. If you called Hart­man at 3 p.m., he might return the call at 3 a.m. and act like there was nothing unusual about doing so. People said he slept in his car; indeed, he was rumpled, his shirttails always hanging out. “I don’t think he hit his bed three times a week,” recalled Bob Pick, formerly of New York City’s Office of Labor Relations.

The marathon must have taken its toll, because one night in 1973 Hartman’s car jumped a divider, flipped, and landed on another car. Hartman suffered massive in­ternal injuries, and concerned cops mobbed the hospital. After that, Hartman had himself chauffeured around in a Cad­illac limousine. Always in a hurry, going 90 miles an hour, the limo would hit a bump, scattering his papers about the pas­senger compartment. The car got pulled over on numerous occasions, but was nev­er ticketed, unless it was in New Jersey, where troopers didn’t recognize him.

The high-speed legal practice, mean­while, didn’t stop with cops. Hartman vir­tually locked up the Nassau justice system, representing clerks and court officers, throwing Christmas parties for judges. Hartman’s generosity helped him prevail; aides routinely delivered gifts, ranging over the years from apple-shaped gold baubles to booze, VCRs, and a big­screen TV.

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Hartman’s New Year’s party guest list was a Long Island who’s who. One table was invariably heaped with honorary PBA shields, which could be pinned in a wallet and flashed if an officer asked to see a license. “Richie was great at networking,” recalled Daniel Guido, a Nassau police commissioner in the ’70s and now a crim­inal justice professor at John Jay College. “He had the judges in his hip pocket.”

Apparently, there were not enough cops and clerks to keep Hartman busy. He built a long list of criminal clients, which bothered some people, among them Guido: “I suggested to Hartman that it was inappro­priate for him to be repping our 4000 police officers while also … representing people his clients were arresting.”

But no mere police commissioner was going to tell Hartman what to do. The lawyer hit Guido with two $10 million lawsuits accusing him of slander. Hartman eventually withdrew the suit, yet he won the war. Nassau County supervisors did not renew Guido’s contract.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

BESIDES HIS ENERGY and his open wal­let, Hartman had deep roots in the Repub­lican organization that ran and still runs Nassau County. So did two brothers, Ar­mand and Alfonse D’Amato. All grew up in the same time, the D’Amato household a few miles from Hartman’s. During the 1960s, Hartman’s father, Bill, nominally a grocer but more significantly a GOP committee man, worked for Joseph Carlino, then the powerful assembly speaker and former law partner of Armand. Early in his career, a young Richard passed the machine’s admissions test, offering himself as the sacrificial lamb for the GOP in a futile 1969 city council race in Demo­cratic-controlled Long Beach.

These connections would become useful to Hartman when he began to negotiate police contracts. His bargaining table suc­cess, insiders said, was not just a matter of caffeine and number-crunching. “The un­spoken thing was that Hartman had such a friendship with [longtime supervisor] Al D’Amato,” a Nassau political operative explained, “that D’Amato went out of his way to get him good contracts.”

Small wonder. D’Amato and fellow su­pervisors — even a Democrat or two — won their seats with the Nassau PBA endorsement and contributions rounded up by Hartman. “Almost anybody from either political party could ask Richie for a contribution,” said John Matthews, until re­cently the Nassau Democratic chairman.

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So staunch was that solidarity that even independent-thinking Republicans were banished. Ralph Caso, a Nassau county executive until 1978, told the Voice that when finances tightened and he began op­posing big police wage increases, fellow Republicans, including D’Amato, turned against him and ensured his defeat.

It often seemed many figures in the la­bor-bargaining process, from negotiators to the county executive, were either politi­cal allies or accepting Hartman’s gifts. Hartman began bargaining sessions by sending out for lavish spreads of food and drink, even beer, for both sides of the table. Then he went to work, putting on the appearance of sweating out the details. One observer recalled the lawyer’s tactical devices, as demonstrated at a late-’70s bargaining session. Hartman was leafing through a thick book, and gesticulating: “Now if you look at page 1385, subsection C, paragraph 4, you’ll see that it says, ‘Differential, blah, blah, blah.’ Now if you’ll go back to page 943, you’ll see in subsection … blah, blah, blah.”

“The poor suckers across from him,” the observer said, “just couldn’t keep up.”

Another Hartman tactic was to make excessive demands at the table, which would put the decision into the hands of presumably neutral arbitrators, such as Jo­seph French. In a 1978 settlement, French awarded Hartman’s client, the Nassau PBA, interest on retroactive pay increases, a highly unusual concession. He also doled out a three-year, 24.5 per cent raise. “There were strange aspects of the deci­sion, a strange rationale,” said Bruce Lambert, who covered the talks for News­day. It was noted that French had a few conflicts of interest. He was not only a police buff (a brother and brother-in-law were cops who would benefit from the settlement), but his divorce had been han­dled by Hartman’s firm. (French did not respond to messages left by the Voice.)

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In 1979, Al D’Amato himself inter­vened directly in favor of a record salary increase for Nassau Community College’s adjunct faculty, which was represented by Richard Hartman. The lawyer won ex­traordinary labor gains for the adjunct faculty. The contract was written in such a way that it allowed a high percentage of new teaching positions to be filled via the Nassau GOP patronage network — run by the very people negotiating police contracts.

The agreements were so exceptional that they infuriated the full-time faculty, which would reap outsize gains as well. The faculty, whose salaries currently aver­age $72,918, includes D’Amato’s wife Pe­nelope (math) and Hartman’s brother El­liott (math). In turn, the faculty unions gave cash and material support to the campaign of Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, whose wife Elizabeth teaches biology at the school. The most recent faculty contract, in the words of college trustee Richard Kessel, a Demo­crat, “is one of richest municipal labor contracts I’ve ever seen.”

When Al D’Amato intervened in the Nassau Community College negotiations, the math department was headed by Abe Weinstein, a close D’Amato and Hartman pal who has since become a vice-president at the school. Al D’Amato himself has been a Nassau Community College trust­ee, as has Jeffrey Forchelli. Until recently, Forchelli was a law partner of Armand D’Amato — sentenced in November to five months house arrest and 19 months of supervised release (with disbarment proceedings pending) for mail fraud. John Cornachio, who monitors the college’s construction contracts, is the brother of a former Hartman law associate who now represents the Nassau PBA. In 1966 and 1971, Richard Hartman himself taught math classes at Nassau.

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The relationship of the college to police labor negotiations is critical to under­standing the quid pro quo nature of Nas­sau County contracts. Regional officials who got themselves or their relatives ad­junct teaching positions at the college were in many cases the same people approving nice contracts for Hartman’s oth­er clients, like the Nassau Police union.

The Nassau County cops became the highest-paid police in the country; their base pay is currently $52,229. With over­time, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually. Nassau police also re­ceive the best benefits ± days off and va­cation account for half the calendar year. And though police routinely cite the dan­gerous nature of their work as a basis for raises, Nassau officers have a relatively low casualty rate.

When Hartman moved on to New York City, he did not do nearly so well for its police officers, who have a far more peril­ous job. But the concessions he won proved incredibly lucrative to executives at the PBA, its staff, and its small circle of service providers. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Rogue Police Union

Corruption is the tone you set at the top. — Rudolph Giuliani, September 9, policy speech

THE MOLLEN Commission hearings that concluded October 7 filled pages of newsprint and hours of TV, forcing New Yorkers once again to wonder just how high up police corruption might reach. Cocaine-riddled cops, blue-uniformed sadists, and see-no-evil superiors confessed crimes and shortcomings in excruciating detail. Reformers described lonely, futile efforts. Yet for all the candor, there was a dramatic silence — a dog that did not bark. 

Somehow, not a single person on the Mollen panel or at the witness table addressed the one institution that routinely defends cops accused of malfeasance and that blocks serious reform programs: the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The Mollen Commission report, due this month, is expected to be equally silent on the role of the PBA in police corruption.

The 20,000 member union is so dominant and so brazen it can hold the city hostage if it sees fit, as it did last year when a PBA rally turned into a drunken riot, with thousands of police officers storming the steps of City Hall and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani’s proposed anticorruption endeavors won’t mean a thing if they don’t include the PBA’s influence in police affairs and in New York politics.

For the PBA, life is mostly a one-way street. Politicians kowtow to it, and taxpayer dollars provide most of its financing, yet PBA officials operate with virtually no accountability to the public, the police brass, or the union’s own rank and file. Meanwhile, inside the New York Police Department little gets done without tacit PBA approval — which is to say without the consent of its president, Phil Caruso, who refused to meet with the Mollen Commission. Now in his fourth four-year term and with no challenger in sight, Caruso has outlasted five police commissioners and two mayors. On January 1, president Caruso will see the inauguration of a third mayor, one the PBA strongly backed over incumbent David Dinkins, a man the union leadership despised and publicly challenged.

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Since 1980, when Caruso became the union’s head, the PBA has evolved into an all-but-invincible network. Much of the credit for the union’s ascent, and perhaps most of the blame for its worst impulses, goes to Richard Hartman, who from 1978 to 1991 served variously as the PBA’s lawyer, labor consultant, and insurance broker, and who continues to this day to have ties to the PBA’s law firm. Together, Caruso and Hartman shaped the once-complacent PBA, formed in 1894 to assist widows and orphans of slain police officers, into a potent, feared, and secretive organization. 

A year-long Voice investigation has uncovered a shameful history within the PBA, a litany of misdeeds and disturbing associations that raises fundamental questions about the values of the city’s police union leadership. Both Caruso and Hartman developed a practice of blatantly favoring their friends and punishing their enemies. The Caruso Hartman team has also demonstrated a willingness to associate with, and often act like, the very crooks police are supposed to arrest.

The Voice has learned:

  • Since Caruso and Hartman attained power in the PBA, law enforcement wiretaps have caught La Cosa Nostra figures bragging about their relationships with the two men. These gangsters included soldiers and associates of the Genovese and Luchese families. In addition, former Hartman associates told the Voice that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired sanitation worker who appeared to have ties to the Philadelphia mob, was for a period of time a menacing presence around the office where PBA legal matters were handled.
  • Caruso stood by as a gambling addiction engulfed Hartman and compromised the integrity of the union. Like so many compulsive gamblers, Hartman became both liar and thief as he piled up enormous losses in Atlantic City casinos. Besides improperly taking funds from a police officers’ escrow account — i.e. the officers’ own money — to feed his habit, Hartman turned to a loan shark and to clients who agreed to pay their bills in cash. In one instance, an associate with a criminal record delivered $250,000 in cash to Hartman’s Atlantic City hotel room, so the lawyer could get back to the craps tables. Many sources for this story believe that the millions Hartman blew at the gaming tables came mostly from the grossly inflated retainers, fees, and consulting contracts he received from Phil Caruso’s PBA.
  • Hartman relied on his close relationship with Senator Alfonse D’Amato and other friends in the Nassau County Republican machine to aid him in winning extremely generous contracts for clients. As a Nassau County supervisor, D’Amato intervened in labor talks on behalf of the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty. Hartman reciprocated by playing a vital role in D’Amato’s first successful race for the U.S. Senate. Among other things, Hartman allegedly funneled contributions through his staff. D’Amato later hired Hartman’s brother-in-law and eventually helped the man attain a judgeship, despite his lack of significant courtroom experience. The senator also assisted Hartman clients, including a felon, in efforts to get gun permits.

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  • By massaging the labor negotiating process in Nassau County, Hartman racked up huge salary gains for cops there. He then cited the Nassau contracts as fair precedents in getting concessions from New York City, concessions that benefited the PBA bureaucracy far more than New York’s police officers. Although Hartman had previously seen numerous associates charged with legal improprieties including two bosses, a coworker, and a law partner, he greased this process by providing gifts and favors to officials in Nassau county. Among other plums, certain county officials who favored Hartman were rewarded with well paid teaching jobs on the Nassau Community College adjunct faculty, a client of Hartman’s and a patronage pit.
  • Caruso transformed the modestly paid position of PBA counsel into a gold mine, paying Hartman millions of dollars a year and sending him millions more in referral business. Prior to Caruso’s election to president, the PBA spent a little above $1 million a year for legal representation, labor negotiations, and lobbying. By 1991, the PBA was spending more than $7.2 million for the same services. The huge bargaining budget had virtually no effect on the basic police officer’s salary, which at best has only kept pace with inflation. Others benefited greatly, however; Hartman poured contributions into Caruso’s campaigns for the PBA presidency and in 1981 gave Caruso a Jeep. According to investigative sources familiar with a 1988 Manhattan grand jury, convened to examine embezzlement in the union, the topic of cash kickbacks to a PBA official was also explored.
  • The PBA foiled investigations of police corruption. Before going to jail in 1985 for bribing witnesses not to testify against cops, Walter Cox, the PBA’s private investigator, recounted that he had been operating under explicit orders from superiors. More recently, a PBA precinct official tried to sidetrack initial police probes of renegade cop Michael Dowd. And law enforcement sources say the PBA also recently ruined a Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare crooked cops.

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  • After the Manhattan D.A. discovered that Hartman had raided the PBA members’ escrow fund to pay for gambling binges and got him to surrender his law license, Hartman turned right around and set up a cozy relationship with the PBA’s successor firm, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. The new outfit, headed by Hartman’s former roommate, an ex-cop named James Lysaght, seamlessly took over the lucrative PBA account, moving into Hartman’s offices and retaining his staff. Several Hartman relatives are on the Lysaght payroll and his brother Elliott until recently has handled the firm’s bookkeeping, just as he did before the transition.  Furthermore, the Voice observed Lysaght holding a clandestine meeting with Hartman during the past year, one of a string of business discussions Hartman held in near empty parks on cold winter days. If legal matters were discussed, such a meeting would seem to violate Hartman’s agreement with the district attorney to get out of the PBA’s legal affairs.
  • Instead of firing Hartman for dipping into the escrow funds, Caruso continued to reward him. After Hartman gave up his law license, Caruso granted him another multi-million dollar compensation arrangement. Hartman became both a “labor consultant” to the PBA and the broker on an expensive new life insurance policy sold to PBA members, before handing the account off to the wives of PBA lawyers James Lysaght and Peter Kramer.
  • Caruso, his staff, and PBA accountants are decidedly cavalier in the way they handle the PBA’s huge cash flow — $63 million in annual contributions from the city, dues from PBA members, and income on assets. In every document filed with the government, one of the biggest line items is always “other,” which is rarely explained on supplemental sheets. In 1991, a whopping $6.6 million in expenses was lumped under “other.” That figure only hints at the overhead that the PBA carries today. Because of its extravagant administrative costs, and huge payouts to lawyers, lobbyists, and labor negotiators, the PBA’s expenses nearly equal the benefits it disburses to members—approximately $26 million. (See “The PBA’s Bloated Overhead,” page 28.) For United Way and other tax-exempt organizations, such spendthrift practices have recently triggered public outrage and forced resignations. So far, the PBA has successfully avoided virtually all inquiry and criticism.

WEARING EXPENSIVE tailored suits and a withering scowl, Phil Caruso is the face of the PBA, and to a large degree of the New York Police Department itself. Commuting from his home in Sayville Suffolk County, he encourages a hostile view of New York City, the notion that it’s nothing but an armed camp that issues nice paychecks. The same outlook informs the PBA’s 19 other executive board members, most of whom live in the suburbs. They’re all white, all male, and, though they don’t perform any police work, all collect taxpayer financed NYPD salaries and have generous PBA expense accounts. The next level down on the PBA hierarchy contains 364 delegates — virtually all white and male, most of them living in the suburbs.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Despite the PBA’s fundamental alienation from the city, the organization has become an increasingly potent local political force. Although it made no formal endorsement in the mayor’s race, its sympathies were obvious: Rudy Giuliani was the man. Giuliani joined Caruso at the infamous September 1992 City Hall police rally. The candidate screamed out one “Bullshit!” after another in his critique of Mayor David Dinkins, and Caruso told the mob, “The forces of evil are all around. They are trying to surround us. They are trying to defeat us.”

Ever since that rally-cum-mutiny, the PBA has championed Giuliani. As tallied by Shaun Assael and Wayne Barrett in the November 2 Voice, PBA-connected sources contributed $20,500 through a single bundler to Giuliani’s campaign, and many police officers worked as volunteers. Yet now that he’s moving into Gracie Mansion, the former prosecutor has to decide if he is willing to stand up to his PBA supporters. He’s sent out mixed signals so far: he pledged that, for the time being, he will leave alone the Dinkins-mandated civilian police review board, which the PBA is staunchly against.  But in a year, Giuliani warned, he will review the board’s performance “to see if officers are being treated fairly.”

More encouragingly, Giuliani has also called for the return of an independent special prosecutor to investigate police misconduct, a post Governor Mario Cuomo abolished in 1990. With the Mollen commission ready to issue its report and with Giuliani about to name his police commissioner, there has perhaps never been a better time for an independent prosecutor to look into police affairs, especially the inner workings of the PBA.

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Not that it will be easy. Almost every source the Voice approached in preparing this article was reluctant to speak. People intimately familiar with the PBA said they feared for their lives and those of their families if they talked.  As one person put it: “It would be suicidal for a police officer to speak out.”

After months of building trust and cultivating leads, however, the Voice persuaded many knowledgeable sources to reveal what they know. Interviewed were more than 100 people — many of them several times — including PBA employees and other law enforcement sources from New York City, Nassau County, New York State, New Jersey, and the federal government. Along with details drawn from stacks of documents and files, the insights of these administrators, investigators, police officers, attorneys, and other professionals enabled the Voice to piece together a portrait of an organization that operates above the law and without review.

Caruso himself refused to comment, declining repeated requests for an interview and saying  through a spokesman, “The Village Voice is anti-cop, anti-PBA, and anti-Phil Caruso.”

Attempts to contact Hartman were ignored or rebuffed. A prominent criminal defense attorney who has represented Hartman promised to relay the query, but no answer came back, and a phone message left with a woman at Hartman’s west side apartment was not returned. Neither did Hartman respond to letters mailed to him at all known addresses. As for the firm Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, which has taken over Hartman’s enormously profitable PBA work, both James Lysaght and Peter Kramer abruptly hung up the phone when the Voice called to request an interview. 

When the Voice telephoned the PBA office to ask how to get in touch with Hartman, a woman who refused to identify herself said, “He’s retired.” Then how do you reach him? “You don’t,” she snapped, ending the conversation. Hartman’s formal ties with the union may indeed have been severed, but a network of friends, relatives, and legal and business allies remains firmly in place.

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PHIL FOR PRESIDENT

FOR CLOSE TO A DECADE and a half, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman have been the odd couple of police organizations.  Disheveled, charming, and compulsive, Hartman was the Nassau County conjurer who brought to the union political muscle, negotiating savvy and dubious associates. Manicured, reserved, and willful, Caruso was Hartman’s sponsor, bankroller, and enabler, feeding him larger and larger retainers and contract, and backing him with the unqualified, unquestioning support of the PBA. Together, using tax revenues they bargained for in the name of the cops on the street, Hartman and Caruso built a powerful, wired institution that stands virtually beyond scrutiny. 

The unlikely partnership began in 1977, with Hartman making a pitch for the New York PBA’s legal work and Caruso a bid for the PBA presidency. Hartman had just come from the patronage pit of Nassau County politics. A bright, energetic student at Long Beach High, he had scored in the top percentile on his college board exams. At New York Law School, he had been taught by none other than the notorious Roy Cohn, the Joe McCarthy aide whom Hartman would cite as a role model and who would be disbarred for improperly handling a client’s funds. Hartman went on to ace the bar exam, and presumably could have aimed high in the legal field, perhaps for a clerkship for the U.S. Supreme Court justice or a career in corporate law. Instead he descended into the mercenary, brawling world of Nassau County law and government. (See “Nassau’s GOP Affirmative action Machine”

Then, as now, Nassau politics had little to do with issues or ideas; it was all about power, getting ahead, and helping yourself, your family, and your friends. Throughout these early years, Hartman played protégé to a string of ethically challenged mentors. A Nassau D.A. he worked for went to jail for padding his expenses; a Suffolk district court judge for whom he worked was removed from the bench for improprieties ranging from fixing traffic tickets to advising a prostitute on how to avoid prosecution. 

Besides his intelligence, energy, and colorful presentation, Hartman could rely on the Nassau GOP machine, in which his father, a grocer and bookie, had been a party committeeman. Richard established early relations with the D’Amato brothers, Alfonse and Armand, friendships that later proved fruitful for all concerned. After taking over representation of the Nassau PBA, he began adding other police unions, including the Suffolk County PBA, and before long had an incredible stable of 300 client unions, most in law enforcement. Hartman’s connections, combined with his penchant for handing out tokens of his esteem to county officials, helped make the Nassau and Suffolk police the best paid in the country. Nassau officers currently earn a base pay of $52,229 after seven years of service. With overtime, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually.

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While Hartman was first making a name for himself in suburban police labor negotiations, Philip Caruso was rising fast in New York City politics. After two years in the army and two years installing telephones, the young Brooklyn native had joined the NYPD in 1958 and served as a patrolman and plainclothes officer working 42nd Street. Caruso began his climb through the PBA hierarchy as a delegate, a sort of shop steward who represents the union in his precinct. In 1971, the PBA president elevated Caruso to sergeant-at-arms, the first rung of PBA leadership. 

Caruso stood out from day one. He spoke more eloquently than others. “The guys were hail fellows well met,” said Stuart Linnick, a former PBA attorney. “Phil was more dignified.” And he polished his resume by picking up a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration from Pace University. Former colleagues recall that Caruso considered himself above, and was even embarrassed by, uneducated, inarticulate officers. 

In 1974, a slate of young policemen, including Caruso, ran unopposed, and were elected to slots on the executive board. In a typical display of bravado, Caruso immediately announced that in the 1977 election he would take on president Ken McFeeley. When ‘77 rolled around, Caruso’s platform included a promise: If elected, he would hire Long Island wunderkind Richard Hartman as the PBA’s attorney and negotiator. Hartman reciprocated by helping to finance Caruso’s run.

Though Caruso lost, narrowly, the rest of the slate prevailed. The top four officers below president Samuel DeMilia were Caruso allies. The group quickly staged a confrontation, hoping to force DeMilia to hire Hartman.

On December 30, 1977, DeMilia and the board met at his home. According to a contemporaneous memo written by DeMilia’s counsel, Harold Foner, “DeMilia stated that the opposition members of the Board led by [first vice president Charles] Peterson wanted Hartman retained… [I] emphatically told DeMilia not even to consider Hartman, that it was rationally stupid and untenable to retain a man who gave large sums of money to defeat him and who had actually campaigned against him.”

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On February 15, 1978, in a meeting at the PBA’s offices, Caruso’s executive board allies, including Charles Peterson, plus Hartman, met with Carmine Perrotta, the man who had been hired the previous August to handle the legal assistance plan. The group presented Perrotta with an ultimatum: step down. His back to the wall, Perrotta, whom the PBA was paying $47,500 a year, reluctantly agreed to a $100,000 buyout. The following day, at age 37, Richard Hartman became attorney and chief negotiator for the PBA, with an annual retainer of $750,000.

Two years later, in March 1980, DeMilia, suffering from eye cancer, resigned, elevating Charles Peterson to the position of acting PBA president. Hartman maintained a friendly demeanor with his ally Peterson, yet behind the scenes he was plotting the new president’s downfall in the June election. Sources said that between 1977 and 1980, Hartman pumped large sums into the PBA presidential elections, and though some of it went to Peterson, the bulk flowed secretly to Caruso. “Richie was smart enough to realize that Peterson wasn’t the politician Phil is,” a former Hartman staffer recalled. Hartman was not only observed as a Caruso bankroller but according to sources close to the elections, also fed Caruso information straight out of the Charlie Peterson camp. 

“Everything Peterson told Hartman, Hartman told Caruso,” according to former PBA spokesman George Douris, who was dismissed by Caruso in late 1980. In other words, to insure that Caruso would win, Hartman sucker punched Peterson. (In an odd twist, years later, after Peterson himself died of cancer, Hartman would wed the man’s daughter.)

The pattern of overthrowing friendships was hardly unique to Hartman. Caruso, too, saw pals as expendable if they got in his way. PBA vice president Nick Chiarkas, a man responsible for Caruso’s rise through the PBA ranks and one who urged him to pursue degrees at Pace University, paid dearly for his encouragement. Once Caruso secured the presidency, he dispensed with the older Chiarkas, who was known for his integrity. At the time, Chiarkas was retired from the force and working at the PBA as a civilian. When Chiarkas left the PBA, Caruso refused to allow Chiarkas to continue his medical insurance at his own expense.  When Chiarkas died of cancer in 1985, his wife and daughter were left to fend for themselves.

“That son of a bitch double-crossed me,” Chiarkas told a friend after being cut loose by Caruso. 

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FAVORS AND APPEARANCES 

IN 1980, WHEN Phil Caruso took the PBA helm — as its eighth president in 10 years — the triennial labor negotiations were already underway. Hartman and Caruso were so confident of doing well that the PBA team bragged before bargaining began about exactly what gains they would be attaining. They even discussed the need to drag the discussions on for the sake of appearance. During negotiations, PBA officials were upstairs in a hotel room partying. To help pass the time, a couple of them even enjoyed the favors of prostitutes, according to a source who said he personally brought the women to the hotel. 

Hartman was able to engineer increases in the form of complex benefit packages, which often benefited the union more than its members. But he was less successful in his efforts to force salary gains in the NYPD by pointing at rates he’d won on Long Island. Today, the base pay for a Nassau police officer stands almost $12,000 over that of a New York City officer. 

Still, Hartman couldn’t resist using unorthodox methods that had worked well on Long Island. A favorite ploy was developing warm relations with negotiators on the other side of the table. For example, former assistant labor relations commissioner Bob Pick told the Voice earlier this year that Hartman had come to Pick’s house to tutor his wife in math, and when he got too busy, sent over the head of Nassau Community College’s math department, Abe Weinstein. Asked about this, Weinstein said that he could not recall a Bob Pick, and that he did not do tutoring. Accepting such favors or gifts would be improper, according to Bruce McIver, the Office of Labor Relations director and the superior of these negotiators from 1980 to 1985: “You can’t let them buy you lunch, you can’t let them buy you tickets to the theater.” 

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If warming up bargaining opponents weren’t enough, Hartman also befriended neutral arbitrators. In 1976, while Hartman was unofficially advising the New York City firefighters union, arbitrator Eric Schmertz awarded a controversial, generous settlement. “My feeling was he had lost some of his impartiality,” said McIver. “My impression was he was favoring the fire union.” 

Schmertz nevertheless moved on to more prestigious posts, including that of dean of Hofstra Law School. One student who enrolled at Hofstra during that period was Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda, who has since become a lawyer at the PBA’s law firm. (Schmertz later served as director of Mayor Dinkins’ Office of Labor Relations. In October he was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board, but told the Voice last week he had just withdrawn his name for “political considerations.”)

Right after winning the 1980 police contract, Caruso and Hartman faced another pressing task: moving Al D’Amato onto the national stage. The Nassau County supervisor, already close with law enforcement, bonded anew with police that August when he called a press conference to denounce a Nassau police department affirmative action plan, designed to answer a lawsuit that challenged the makeup of the force, 97 per cent white and male. Immediately thereafter, the Nassau PBA endorsed D’Amato’s Senate bid, in which he was contesting the seat of fellow Republican Jacob Javits.

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Hartman and his associates went into high gear.  “His election came up. We dropped everything,” a Hartman staffer remembered. Hartman called his clients for donations to D’Amato’s campaign. He also, according to a onetime employee, gave cash to some staffers to donate in order to circumvent contribution limits. 

“Richie was pulling [D’Amato’s] strings,” said a former associate. “Al knew he needed Richie for the campaign contributions and all the clout Richie had. He represented 200 police organizations at the time. D’Amato got every single police department endorsement when he ran. That’s a hell of a base to start with.” 

So close were the two that Hartman loaned his driver to the supervisor to ferry his family to the 1980 Conservative Party convention at the Diplomat Hotel in Manhattan. Hartman’s driver did other errands for D’Amato during the campaign, even babysitting his kids during the victory celebration at the Hempstead Marriott. 

After D’Amato won, he gave a job on his Senate staff to Hartman’s brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, who was married to Hartman’s sister Lynn and worked as Hartman’s office manager. Alpert’s job largely involved fund raising. With D’Amato’s assistance, Alpert later won a judgeship, which raised a few eyebrows. “You should have a little trial experience, a day or two at least,” joked a former cop who knew Alpert. Reached by the Voice, Alpert said that he had tried cases as a lawyer, but could cite no specifics. 

In 1987, D’Amato also sought judicial robes for Robert Roberto, a former colleague of Hartman’s in the Nassau D.A.’s office, recommending him for a federal judgeship. Roberto’s confirmation was sunk when it was revealed during hearings that he had once carried out his own sting on a prostitute in which he arrested the 16-year-old after she masturbated him. He voluntarily withdrew his nomination. Roberto nevertheless went on to win an appointment to the state supreme court, with D’Amato’s backing.

D’Amato’s image as Senator Pothole extended beyond judgeships to small but potentially deadly favors. For instance, D’Amato helped get a pistol license for Raymond David Tse, a controversial Chinatown businessman, restaurateur, and Hartman client who in 1988 would kill a young gang member in his office. At his 1991 trial, where he was represented by a non-Hartman lawyer, Tse argued that he fired 18 shots in self defense. He was acquitted. 

And when Hartman was representing boxing promoter Don King, D’Amato intervened in an effort to get King a pistol permit, despite the fact that he had served four years for manslaughter after he beat a man to death. Felons are generally prohibited from owning weapons, and the police denied the permit.

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THE PBA’S FINEST

THE CARUSO HARTMAN ERA ushered in some new faces at the PBA. One figure with a troubled past was Gary Melius. As a young thug, he’d met Hartman and gone on to work his way into the union’s circle of friends.

In 1963, the teenaged Melius and three friends had offered a ride to a young man who had been waiting for a bus, then choked him and robbed him of $40. The following year, Melius was convicted of malicious mischief — six months, suspended sentence. In 1971, he and James C. Mileo, a 40-year-old Nassau County patrolman, were arrested in an attempted $1000 shakedown of a narcotics courier, a young woman caught with a pound of heroin in her car. She said she didn’t have the money, so the patrolman ordered her to go get it. When she returned, Melius, who worked as a general contractor, was there to receive it. Perhaps the scheme would have been successful if the woman had not been an undercover police officer.

When Melius was arrested after driving off with the money, attorney Richard Hartman represented him. He had Melius plea bargain to third degree grand larceny, and to the great relief of the young builder, Hartman turned a potential 15-year sentence into three years probation and a $1000 fine. “[Hartman] always inferred he was a connected guy,” Melius said in a Voice interview.

Melius was later arrested for his role in a “steal to order” business that delivered hot tractor trailers and construction equipment on request. The ringleader was a young woman connected with organized crime figures. Melius was charged with grand larceny, and Hartman again got the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and probation.

Subsequently, Melius moved the office of his small construction company into the ground floor of Hartman’s dumpy two story building at 300 Old Country Road in Mineola; Hartman’s law firm occupied the upstairs. Melius began chumming around with the attorney and before long was both a personal aide and social pal.

“I just hung out with him,” Melius said. “We went to the movies. We went to the racetrack, to Roosevelt, to Nathan’s.”

By 1975, the two had become such fast friends that Hartman sold 300 Old Country Road to Melius for $250,000. Melius said he paid the entire sum two years later. Subsequently, Melius demolished the building and constructed a sleek three story professional office condominium complex, which he sold for a huge profit.

In 1979, law enforcement officials again took an interest in Melius. This time, investigators for the Manhattan D.A.’s office came upon his name while following checks written by loan shark Teddy Moss, operating from the garment district. One such check, for $25,000, had gone to Gary Melius

When the $25,000 check surfaced, investigators summoned Melius to their offices. “Once he saw that check he literally took off,” one investigator said. “He fled out the door.” Ten minutes later, Richard Hartman called the investigator to quiz him as to what he wanted with his friend. Melius, who does not recall the meeting in the D.A.’s office, but does remember a phone call, said he told the investigator that the money from Moss was a loan.

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The loan shark was a familiar figure: back in the ’60s, Moss had been a principal prosecution witness in the Crazy Joey Gallo trial. He’d worn a wire and gotten protection from the D.A. because Gallo wanted to kill him. But by this time, Moss’s days of cooperation with law enforcement officials seemed long over.

Prosecutors suspected Moss’s check to Melius was a means of laundering illicit profits. And though Moss pled guilty to criminal usury (charging 69 per cent interest) and paid a $45,000 fine in 1980, an investigator on the case feels it was not Moss’s idea: “Somebody told him, ‘You better plead or this thing is going blow up in people’s faces.'”

Soon after Phil Caruso’s election to the PBA presidency, the ubiquitous Melius entertained the policeman and his family on Hartman’s yacht Big Bart. (The name was Melius’s moniker for Hartman, drawn from a dirty joke about a pig.) “Richard bought the boat for entertaining, especially to take Phil out,” Melius recalled.

The PBA boss put Melius to work handling production of the union’s magazine, New York’s Finest. “That was Phil’s idea,” said Melius, who coordinated ad sales and got to keep some of the revenues. Prodigious spending on printing and advertising was a pre-Caruso PBA tradition; hiring publishing consultants with criminal records was something new. Though it is not clear whether Caruso knew of Melius’s history, one would assume he hadn’t checked. And Melius and the Carusos were decidedly friendly, even attending a Lincoln Center concert together.

“Phil was sickeningly obsequious with Gary,” said one associate. 

CRAPPING OUT

Most people who gamble don’t really want anyone to know what they are doing. Most of them will lie about what they had for breakfast. Compulsive gamblers who are down on their luck steal 90, 95 per cent of the time.
— Bill, Gamblers Anonymous

OUTSIDE OF WORK, Hartman had only one pleasure: dice. His father, the grocer and politico, had tripled as a bookie, so Richard’s obsession with gambling was not entirely surprising. Early in his career, according to acquaintances, Hartman had wagered heavily, then eased off. But in September 1980, only a few months after Phil Caruso won the PBA presidency, Hartman opened what appears to be his first line of credit in Atlantic City, at Caesars. Over the next several years, he opened credit lines at eight different casinos. 

Hartman was enthralled by the craps tables and would stay at them far too long. In one night in 1983 at Bally’s Park Place, for example, he lost $667,500. “It irritated the hell out of him that he couldn’t beat the system,” a former associate said. 

As a man who rarely bothered with a good night’s sleep, Hartman was a natural for the casino environment. He was also the ideal casino client. One night in Atlantic City, Hartman had $5000 on the table. He turned to a companion and asked him to roll the dice. “I kept rolling sevens and elevens, and the stack of chips kept getting bigger and bigger,” the companion recalled. When the winnings began to pile up, he suggested stopping, but Hartman urged him on. The next toss crapped out — one roll, $148,000. “Typical degenerate crapshooter,” a high ranking casino official recalled when asked about Hartman. 

As they commonly do, casinos tripped over themselves to offer the big time spender loads of perks, beginning with complimentary rooms, even ones he could pass on to friends. In the mid ’80s, when his former PBA cohort Charlie Peterson was being treated for cancer near Philadelphia, Hartman suggested to the ailing cop’s daughter, Patricia, that during her hospital visits she stay in one of his comps in Atlantic City, not far from Philly. Patricia, a Long Island Rail Road cop, seemingly unaware that the lawyer had betrayed her father in the 1980 PBA presidency campaign, started seeing Hartman in October 1986. He lavished her with expensive gifts. Within a month, she asked her husband, a New York City police officer with whom she had a rocky marriage, for a divorce. 

Hartman’s cash flow was like a torrent. It came in fast and went out faster. Like most obsessive gamblers, Hartman was always short of funds. 

Often, sidekick Gary Melius was with him in Atlantic City, but even when he wasn’t, Hartman might desperately summon him. An acquaintance remembered overhearing an imploring call: “Richie kept saying, ‘C’mon Gary, c’mon’ like, jokingly, but he was really begging for money.” 

A couple of hours after one such plea, Melius arrived in Atlantic City, having been flown down on a private plane from Nassau County’s Republic Airport. He came directly to Hartman’s casino penthouse carrying a bag crammed with cash. “He opened it up and emptied the money onto the bed,” recalled another person in the room. “Two hundred fifty grand. I had never seen that much fuckin’ money.” 

Melius, who confirmed the incident and the amount, said he got the money out of Hartman’s bank, Irving Trust, where he routinely cashed sizable checks, made out to “Cash,” from the attorney’s business account. (Hartman, always preferring cash, apparently did not maintain a personal bank account.) Melius also made deposits there, as much as $300,000 at a time. An Irving Trust vice president personally fussed over Hartman’s account. 

Much of Hartman’s gambling money was, of course, New York City tax revenue that had gone to the PBA and out to Hartman. His PBA retainer had grown to $1.2 million, but even that was not enough. Some funds apparently came from the aforementioned Teddy Moss, who Melius says he has known for many years. Besides his loan sharking enterprise, Moss is said to own pizza parlors, a Chinese restaurant, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and a First Avenue card shop. 

During Hartman’s casino meltdown, according to a former Hartman associate, a courier picked up sizable amounts of cash several times over a two month period, sometimes from Teddy Moss’s Chinese restaurant. Reached by phone recently, Moss volunteered that he had accompanied Hartman on several visits to Atlantic City, but denied ever loaning him money, beyond what he described as “car fare” for the millionaire lawyer to get back to New York.

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Hartman was close enough with Moss to have his driver pick up Moss’s daughters and take them to the airport for a trip to Europe and one to Israel. Even when the driver began working for Phil Caruso, if Melius or Hartman asked that the chauffeur handle airport runs for Moss, he would do so. Moss said he met Caruso on one or two occasions. 

Clearly, Hartman had lost control of himself. He even started lying to those who had previously accompanied him to Atlantic City, denying where he was headed. Instead of summoning his driver, he began taking private flights from Republic Airport. Eventually, morale in his Queens office deteriorated, along with its finances. One week in 1983, the paychecks actually bounced. 

Eventually, Hartman finances fell into such disarray that he ceded Melius almost total control over his monetary affairs. For a short period during the early ’80s, Melius controlled all of Hartman’s business bank accounts, personally handling the money himself. 

By early 1984, following a three-month craps binge, Hartman had defaulted on $700,000 in gambling debts. At Hartman’s prompting, Melius wrote a letter to casinos urging them to allow Hartman to settle. The attorney ended up paying just 42 cents on the dollar to Bally’s, the Golden Nugget, Caesars, the Sands, and Resorts International. 

Why was Melius doing Hartman’s deals? “Richard couldn’t negotiate his own deals,” Melius said, insisting Hartman’s publicly acclaimed bargaining prowess is much exaggerated. 

It was around this time, when Hartman’s gambling put him into a financial tailspin, that Frank “Kiki” Testa, a retired West Hempstead sanitation worker, began hanging out in Hartman’s office. Testa, the father-in-law of a Melius high school chum, was a man with a menacing aura. 

A staffer in Hartman’s office got the impression that Testa was there to keep watch over the operation. One former associate recalled seeing Testa in Atlantic City with Hartman on several occasions. Testa had confided to a handful of Hartman associates that he was a member of the Angelo Bruno organization in Philadelphia — a Philip Testa ran that family for several years — and that he had killed quite a few people. Melius, for his part, had told an associate that he himself was connected with the mob.

In an early Voice interview, Melius said his claims about being in the mob were inventions intended to impress people. In a subsequent conversation, he denied ever making the claim: “That is very inaccurate.” Such a boast would indeed seem particularly misplaced since he was hanging out at the office of a police union. He couldn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of why Testa would have been spending time with Hartman, though he did allow that Testa could have had mob ties: “I’d believe that he knew people.”

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While Testa was around, “Gary didn’t say so much as boo,” said a Hartman associate. “When Kiki came into the office people were very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.” One young Hartman assistant remembers Testa offering him a word of advice, drawled out with exquisite meaning: “You know, working with Richie, you’re in a verrrry sensitive position.” 

That was a lesson Melius himself soon learned. Hartman had come to believe that Melius, having access to Caruso, had become such a presence that he was a threat. Also, as Hartman’s gambling made him more dependent on Melius, the contractor appeared to lose respect for his onetime mentor. Hartman quietly began working to oust him, making sure that all the top PBA officers knew the full extent of Melius’s criminal record. The conspiracy did its work. By mid-1984, Melius had been eased out the door, never realizing that it was his growing clout in the office that had done him in. 

Yet even after Melius was pushed away from the PBA, Hartman had one more request. By 1985, the lawyer was so desperate for cash that he decided to ask former associates to rejoin his ranks in order to recapture clients that he had voluntarily relinquished years before. 

“He wanted me to talk to them, and I wouldn’t do it,” said Melius, explaining that he had tired of serving as Hartman’s point man on such assignments and that this refusal was the last  time he spoke to Hartman. 

In his interview with the Voice, Melius confirmed his crimes prior to his friendship with Hartman. But he argued that for quite a few years now he has been a decent family man, with a respectable reputation. In a November 23 letter to the Voice, Melius writes, “I have spent my adult life establishing myself as a business man whose word is his bond and a responsible member of the community.”

Indeed, Melius was featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1986 as the owner of an estate in Cold Spring Hills, Long Island, a 120,000-square-foot palace, the second largest private residence in America. Formerly known as the Otto Kahn Castle (or Oheka), it had been built in 1917. Melius purchased it in 1984, fixed it up, and sold it in 1988 for $22 million to a Japanese businessman who insisted on a no-publicity clause. Today, Melius has sizable developments throughout Long Island. 

Of his earlier activities, including his association with Hartman and the PBA, the 49-year-old Melius has regrets: “I was trying to hang out with what I thought were the good guys — lawyers, law enforcement. I would have done better with the bad guys.” 

Without Melius, Hartman still managed to finance new excursions to Atlantic City, judging by a civil suit the state of New Jersey filed against Trump’s Castle for having allegedly violated state gaming laws in authorizing Hartman credit. On September 17, 18, and 19, 1987, Hartman cashed three separate checks at the casino, each for $500,000. Then, on September 22, he arrived at Trump’s Castle with a certified check for $817,000 later identified as the money from the New York City police officers’ housing escrow fund. He went on to lose much of this money shooting craps. From October 12 to October 14, 1987, also at Trump’s Castle, he would blow $475,000. A few days later, on October 17, the Castle raised the high roller’s nearly exhausted $500,000 credit line to $1 million, approved by Ivana Trump via a phone consultation. That day he lost another $541,000. This pattern was typical: he’d bet a couple million dollars, some of it his own money, some not. Apparently, he always knew there was more to be had. 

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Given Hartman’s gambling fever and the presence of Melius and Testa, perhaps mob connected figures could be forgiven for thinking they had a friend at the union. On two occasions, law enforcement officials listening to wiretaps heard the names of the PBA president and counsel being bandied about by organized crime figures. While listening to a September 3, 1985, phone conversation between Genovese soldier Federico “Fritzy” Giovanelli and Harry Dickran, a friend and associate, FBI agents and city detectives were startled to hear the PBA president referred to with great familiarity. (See Streetbeat, William Bastone, Voice, October 13, 1992.) 

Dickran told Giovanelli he was worried about having been followed and surveilled on Friday afternoons as he met with associates in a Long Island restaurant. According to the FBI audio tape, Giovanelli then asked, “What kind of car? Take the plate number.” Dickran responded with the number. “I’m gonna give it to the PBA to track it down. You know, I’ll get it from Phil, Phil Caruso. He’ll take care of that for me.” 

Caruso wasn’t unique in this respect. Starting around 1983, Hartman reportedly spent time at Roosevelt Raceway with Jerry Corallo, the son of mob heavy Antonio “Tony Ducks” Corallo (now in jail). A law enforcement bug, placed in a Jaguar, picked up a conversation between Tony Ducks, former boss of the Luchese family, and Sal Avellino, a Luchese soldier. The two were worried about being watched. 

Corallo: “I’m going to have Jerry check with that guy.” 

Avellino: “You mean Richie, Richie Hartman?”

Corallo: “Yeah. He hangs out with Jerry at Roosevelt racetrack.” 

According to Melius, the relationship didn’t end with the son. He claimed Hartman personally knew Tony Ducks and was in fact Tony Ducks’s attorney. 

That the PBA’s president and lawyer would be cited as helpful contacts by organized crime figures seems especially noteworthy in light of the access the PBA has always enjoyed at police headquarters. Corruption investigators confirm that any information from the police would be extremely useful for criminals, especially those involved in the numbers racket, an activity that the department closely monitors. Requests from PBA officials for sensitive NYPD files could be couched as PBA business. According to one former PBA official, “We could pull out any piece of paper in the police department and look at it.” 

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HARTMAN FALLS, HARTMAN RISES 

IN SPRING 1988, Phil Caruso and Richard Hartman were at the top of their professions. Caruso was king of the cops, and Hartman his legal magician, racing hither and yon, negotiating contracts, getting cops out of trouble. The previous year, Hartman himself had filled out a form declaring estimated annual earnings of $6 million; a highly placed prosecutorial source told the Voice that his actual income, including referrals, probably topped $10 million and may even have approached $20 million in some years. A large chunk of his money came from his PBA work and related referrals, and the rest primarily from other unions representing housing and corrections officers. 

Suddenly, though, the two men found themselves on the defensive. A Manhattan grand jury wanted to know why Hartman had withdrawn $817,000 in 1987 from a police officers’ real estate escrow account — which held for safekeeping the payments PBA members made in the process of buying a home — and cashed a check for that exact amount at Trump Castle in Atlantic City. 

Hartman explained, in testimony to insurance investigators two years later, that “to avoid the embarrassment with all the attorneys in the office, of taking funds out of the regular operating account and making it out to a casino, I would take it from the escrow account, which was in my sole province…”

Caruso, called to testify, backed his friend, insisting that Hartman’s unorthodox dipping was okay because the PBA owed him money anyway. Caruso even said he had authorized the “advance,” and other ranking trustees testifying before the grand jury said they, too, had known about and approved the invasion of the escrow account. 

Investigators told the Voice they were amazed that Caruso had authorized the withdrawal from the escrow account; it was even more startling that a number of ranking PBA officers would condone the removal. In any event, it was surprising that Caruso, who had turned the PBA into a virtual fiefdom and was privately referred to as the “dictator,” would feel the need to consult with his board members on the sensitive matter. 

Although District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office believed that the PBA charter did not permit Caruso’s authorization for Hartman’s withdrawals, Morgenthau felt he had no choice but to abandon the prosecution. “All funds removed from escrow accounts by Mr. Hartman were repaid before the investigation began,” Morgenthau announced, “and there is no evidence of any harm to any client. The investigation is now closed.” Instead, Morgenthau settled for the forfeiture of Hartman’s law license.

Hartman later told department of insurance examiners, “I resigned [my legal license] because after one year of investigation and making the newspapers I thought I embarrassed everybody enough…”

In deciding not to press for an indictment, Morgenthau was following New York State law pertaining to embezzlement, requiring the existence of a “victim” and either the intent not to repay the lifted funds or the inability to do so. Apparently, when the D.A.’s office launched its investigation, senior staffers had no idea how much money Hartman was earning. In fact, they were stunned to learn his income.

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Notwithstanding the D.A.’s rationale, some law enforcement figures found the whole affair curious. “What made it unusual was that Hartman was able to plea bargain before the grand jury could issue an indictment,” New Jersey deputy attorney general Kevin O’Toole told the Voice.

It didn’t hurt that Hartman’s negotiator was Michael Armstrong. After serving in the early ’70s as counsel to the Knapp Commission on police corruption, Armstrong had built a lucrative practice handling high profile white collar criminal defenses, like that of disgraced Queens borough president Donald Manes. Armstrong had also become a close personal friend and adviser to Hartman’s ally, Senator D’Amato, and would later serve as his counsel during Senate ethics investigations. 

Although the D.A. decided he couldn’t bring criminal charges against Hartman, Armstrong, who had worked under Morgenthau when Morgenthau ran the U.S. Attorney’s office, presumably couldn’t save Hartman’s law license. Under the lawyer’s code of professional ethics, dipping into escrow accounts is grounds for disbarment, even without an indictment. So by conceding the license without a fight, perhaps Armstrong (who wouldn’t comment on the case) was foreclosing the possibility that the D.A. would develop something more serious on his client. Information from sources close to the grand jury indicates that prosecutors were probing the broader nature of Hartman and Caruso’s relationship, including the possibility that Hartman had improperly channeled gifts to Caruso — such as the Jeep that undeniably ended up in the PBA president’s driveway, wrapped in a red bow. Prosecutors were also said to have quizzed witnesses on a variety of names associated with organized crime. 

One thing was certain: Hartman came out of the proceedings with his reputation sullied. But no sooner had Hartman’s resignation from the bar been announced than a PBA spokesman rushed to his defense, declaring: “Richie will always have a role with the New York City PBA.” 

In short order, the PBA awarded Hartman a labor consulting contract worth a staggering $2 million a year. As if that weren’t enough, three months later Hartman decided on an insurance career, selling the PBA supplemental term life policies and earning himself a fat $2.2 million commission. The extravagant brokerage deal would be virtually concealed from the public and PBA members until 1992, when an accountant working for Hartman sued him and the dispute opened previously hidden financial papers. 

In other words, Caruso had presented Hartman with a magnificent golden parachute. But where was the money going? It seemed a fair question, because shortly after winning his new contract, Hartman began to pass cash around as lavishly as ever. In a single day, for example, Hartman wrote out eight different checks to “Cash” for a total of $20,000.

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THE HARTMAN HAND OFF

BY FALL 1988, Richard Hartman had become a huge embarrassment to the PBA. To be sure, he had won concessions from Ed Koch’s city hall; he had helped Phil Caruso build one of the most powerful and intimidating organizations in the city; and he had made them all a great deal of money. But the public gambling, the bad debts, the indiscreet cash payments, and the open associations with the likes of Teddy Moss, Gary Melius, “Kiki” Testa, and Jerry Corallo was getting to be too much, even for Hartman’s friend Phil Caruso. 

But what exactly could Caruso do? What could any PBA official do? When Robert Morgenthau’s grand jury began to investigate Hartman’s looting of the police escrow account, the union president and his lieutenants had little choice but to back him. Whatever had really gone down around the missing $817,000, Caruso (testifying under immunity) and his officers trooped before the grand jurors and backed their wunderkind attorney. They knew what Hartman had done, they testified, and they had approved it. 

“There’s no question Phil told the trustees to say they had authorized it,” said an investigative source familiar with the grand jury. If they had, it would have been an extraordinary betrayal of their membership.

“At the point Hartman got fucked up on the gambling, do you think they could throw him to the wolves?” asked former police sergeant Robert Hughes, who headed the NYPD’s 1980 sick leave abuse prevention operation and therefore became a PBA nemesis. “Hartman knew everything,” Hughes told the Voice. “It was the same concept as J. Edgar Hoover: ‘I have so much on everybody, all you can do is pay me.’ ” 

When Caruso did just that, naming Hartman upon his resignation from the bar to the highly paid labor consultant position, the question became: What would happen to Hartman’s lucrative PBA legal business? The solution was simple: Caruso hired Hartman’s good friends at Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. In a remarkably smooth transfer, the small Lysaght firm moved into Hartman’s office on Horace Harding Expressway, in Queens (to which he had moved from Mineola years earlier). The name plates were changed, but Hartman’s staff of attorneys and secretaries remained virtually intact. Over time, the Lysaght firm’s payroll would include Hartman’s mother-in-law Mary Peterson, his sister Lynn, and his brother Elliott, who has done the firm’s bookkeeping. Phil Caruso’s daughter Lynda Caruso Nicolino is currently an attorney at the Lysaght firm. 

The firm had been founded by James I. Lysaght, who went on to become a village judge. When the firm took over the PBA account, it had two senior partners. One was former Nassau cop James J. Lysaght. The younger Lysaght had shared an apartment with Hartman and was widely considered the office’s public face. The other partner was Peter Kramer, whom most people regard as the firm’s workhorse. 

Hartman had been dealing with Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer long before 1988. For years, he had been referring personal injury cases to the firm, in return for referral commissions. Many of the cases came via his work representing the PBA. These were among the referrals that the prosecutorial source included while estimating that Hartman’s annual income could have been as high as $20 million.

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A TALK IN THE PARK 

IN AUDITS OF the New York City housing police PBA, which was headed by Caruso buddy Jack Jordan, city officials discovered that Richard Hartman had received $60,000 in improper advance payments.  

In 1991, after 16 years in office, Jordan was decisively trounced by a reform slate. The new president, Timothy Nickels, accused Jordan of making another unauthorized payment, this one for $50,000 to Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer, issued on Jordan’s last day in office. No paperwork could be found to explain the expense.

Upon taking over the housing PBA presidency, one of Nickels’s first actions was to drop Lysaght as the union’s law firm and fire Hartman as its bargaining adviser. The union has confirmed that its annual legal costs immediately dropped 50 percent. 

In rejecting Hartman, the housing police were the exception. While that union’s reformers were moving away from the Lysaght firm and Hartman, other police groups were cozying up. One example is the 1500 member New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association, the bargaining unit that recently pulled out of the Superior Officers Council, which represents ranks above patrolman. The SBA, which controlled most of the council’s money, is being wooed by Caruso and represented by Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer. Over at the transit police union, for the first couple of years after the surrender of his law license, Hartman served as labor consultant. Lysaght provided, and still provides, legal services there. 

Indeed, Lysaght, Lysaght & Kramer is the dominant law firm in the world of police unions, a status it clearly owes to Hartman. “I believe they are out to monopolize all business from all unions in this city,” said a high ranking union official. 

During the past two years Hartman’s formal role with these organizations has been almost entirely ceded to Lysaght, yet the link has apparently not been broken. In March, the Voice observed Hartman leave his temporary home at the Gramercy Park Hotel and approach a car registered to James Lysaght. He asked its driver and sole occupant, “We’re going to the park?” They then drove to Stuyvesant Park, which was nearly empty on an extremely cold, damp day. There, the two pulled out a cellular phone and engaged in lengthy consultations. “How many files in the account? … How much volume are we talking about?” Hartman was overheard asking. 

Since his supposed retirement from working with the PBA and other unions, Hartman has developed a fondness for meetings in parks, even in the poorest weather. And on occasion, Hartman has been seen leaving his home and walking a number of blocks, then suddenly getting into a waiting car. In August he was observed climbing into a vehicle registered to Teamsters Local 237. Until recently, Local 237 was run by Hartman’s good friend Barry Feinstein, who was forced to resign in April when federal investigators found that he had misused more than $500,000 in union funds. Recently, Feinstein has been under investigation by the state for his own insurance brokering arrangement. 

If Hartman’s new career in labor consulting was designed to be profitable, selling insurance would be equally so. Affiliating with Met Life in 1989, Hartman became the PBA’s broker and agent for a new insurance plan to supplement coverage that members already had. Hartman, and later James Lysaght, were also instrumental in passing special legislation in Albany that made it easy for tens of thousands of PBA retirees to buy such extra insurance as well. By signing up once, members could have premiums automatically deducted from their pension checks. 

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Hartman handled his Met Life commissions in a curious way; he immediately wrote a series of small checks to “Cash.” Over the course of two days, upon receiving a check for $550,000 from Met Life, he wrote out three checks to “Cash” for $9500 and 16 more for $2500. This pattern of keeping transactions below $10,000 would be repeated when Hartman received checks from his Chicago commodities broker, Gerald Inc. On October 12, 1990, Gerald issued Hartman three checks, each for $9500. In the final week of that month, the firm issued four more checks, again for $9500 each. And two months later, one more for the same amount. 

The suspicion, which would be raised by Hartman’s own accountant in the course of a bitter, still pending civil suit (the accountant argued that Hartman did not repay him loans he had extended Hartman to cover his escrow pilferage), was that Hartman was trying to hide his income, and specifically to avoid the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires the reporting of all cash transactions of 6,000 or more. The law also bars the intent of getting around the limit by exactly such devices as Hartman seemed to employ. (By way of response, Hartman in his affidavit did not explain his writing checks to “Cash” that slip in just under the reporting limit, other than to say: “There is nothing illegal per se about making withdrawals in amounts under $10,000… I categorically deny ever having violated or intending to violate the said federal regulation.”) 

Hartman would stay with Met Life into 1991. Then the PBA’s insurance work was transferred to an insurance brokerage called Deblin Planners, which had gotten its license shortly before. The firm, interestingly, is a partnership between Deborah Martz Lysaght, wife of James Lysaght, and Linda Nunziato, wife of Peter Kramer. Met Life currently lists Deblin as the PBA’s broker. The Voice has obtained a copy of a $100,000 check that Linda Nunziato Kramer wrote to Hartman on March 12, 1991. In the check’s memo space is the word “Installment,” though it is not clear what the compensation was for. Around the same time, Nunziato’s partner Deborah Martz Lysaght also made a $50,000 payment to Hartman. 

Currently, according to Met Life, Deblin represents the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association; the New York City Superior Officers Association; the New York City Transit PBA; the New York City Housing PBA; the Stamford, Connecticut, Police Association; and Barry Feinstein’s old union, Teamsters Local 237 — all former Hartman insurance clients. 

In 1992, the state department of insurance began its second of two examinations of Hartman’s fitness as a broker in light of his dicey financial background. The state took no action against Hartman. In the previous year Hartman’s labor consultancies had started expiring, including the $165,000-a-month agreement with Caruso’s PBA and a $12,500-a-month agreement with the New York Transit PBA. Now some of his insurance contracts were winding down. Several presidents of police unions, including Caruso, wrote letters to assure the state that Hartman’s commissions were deserved and, moreover, wholly unrelated to his former legal and labor relations work. A few noted that Hartman had even waived commissions so that the unions could offer rebates to their memberships. Assuming this was true, Hartman’s generosity began after he had pocketed millions of front loaded commissions that could also have gone toward substantially reducing PBA members’ premiums. 

Hartman’s apparent relinquishment of those accounts would conform to his pattern of establishing business relationships, then passing them on to friends and associates. While it’s unclear exactly what compensation, if any, Hartman continues to receive from the accounts he has handed off, the insurance business did enable him to get back to the craps table, despite a 1988 assurance from his lawyer to the D.A. that Hartman was seeking help for his gaming addiction. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

In February of 1990 Hartman told a state examiner from the department of insurance that he had put his gambling problems behind him. He said he had been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings two or three times a week for two years and had also sought psychiatric help. “I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since [the escrow account invasion] either.” 

Before the year was out, however, Hartman suffered a relapse. In the final weekend of 1990, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on casino profits, he arrived in Atlantic City with a cashier’s check for more than half a million dollars. That month, other financial papers of Hartman’s confirm, he received a $550,000 commission check from Met Life. Caesars and Harrah’s allowed Hartman to wager the proceeds, despite his outstanding $2 million debt to Trump Plaza and Trump Castle. (Merv Griffin’s Resorts Casino had already written off $500,000.) Shooting craps at Harrah’s over four days, Hartman won $600,000. 

Perhaps that marked a shift for the better in Hartman’s luck. If so, he needed it. By 1990, Harman was paying the IRS $105,000 a month to settle outstanding unpaid taxes; in October 1991, the payments dropped to $100,000 a month. Apparently he kept current on these payments, and even somehow managed to have more than a half a million dollars left over to risk in Atlantic City. 

As he has done in the past, much in the mold of the late Roy Cohn, Hartman continues to live on a cash basis despite his substantial income, with practically no credit trail or attachable assets. He and his wife, Patricia, have no personal checking or savings accounts, no credit cards, no vehicles, and no listed property ownership. Alimony checks from Patricia’s ex-husband are deposited by Hartman’s sister, mother-in-law, or by the Lysaght firm. Hartman’s mail goes to a house in Merrick, Long Island, inhabited by his sister Lynn and aforementioned brother-in-law, Bruce Alpert, a state supreme court judge. Reached at his office, Alpert said he could not confirm the arrangement because both the mail and family finances are handled exclusively by his wife. Despite a promise from Alpert to ask his wife to call the Voice, she did not. The Alperts’ home number is unlisted and the judge would not provide it. He did, however, confirm that for a time Lynn had a job at the Lysaght firm. “She was a paralegal, I guess you could call it.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”721103″ /]

 PRESIDENT FOR LIFE?

 Phil Caruso is more difficult to get to than the mayor or the president.
— Eric Adams, president of the black officers’ association, the Guardians

IF THE CARUSO REIGN has been longstanding and omnipotent, the police commissionership has been ephemeral and constricted. “The turnover in the police department administration is so rapid, that nobody knows the whole story,” former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes said. “And nobody wants to know. They are afraid of them.”

Even within the union, Caruso’s only rival was J. Patrick “Paddy” Burns, until recently the first vice president and a man known for his expensive tastes. For whatever reason, however, Burns didn’t challenge Caruso. Perhaps he merely lost his ambition. “Paddy Burns didn’t do any work while I was there,” Gary Melius said. “He played golf.” (Efforts to interview Burns were unsuccessful, though on one occasion he returned a call but left no number.) 

In 1991, when Burns was replaced as second in command by Caruso aide decamp Thomas Velotti, Burns was transferred to Albany as the PBA’s principal lobbyist. As lobbyist, he received $50,000 a year, which, combined with his patrolman’s salary, put his earnings at about $90,000 a year. 

For 1993, PBA filings list lawyer James Lysaght as the principal lobbyist. Burns, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 62, nevertheless has a contract with the PBA through 1995 at $50,000 a year. “The PBA has enormous influence in Albany, particularly through its campaign contributions and through providing help in campaigns,” said New York City lobbyist John Bozella. “I’m not convinced they’re successful because they’re discussing issues on their merits with the rank and file members of the legislature.” In 1991 the PBA political action committee dispensed S140,000 in campaign contributions, largely to state legislators. 

Ironically, it is not legislators from the city itself who are the most responsive. “Those little legislators from outside the city are totally intimidated by them,” said one lobbyist, referring in particular to representatives of suburban communities in which so many New York City cops live. 

The favorable legislation just keeps on coming. In 1991, PBA allies in the legislature passed a law that allowed injured cops to sue the city as individuals. This gave them the opportunity to earn bigger settlements than what the city already provided. 

Last summer Albany nearly handed the PBA a weapon that would have dramatically strengthened Caruso’s hand, a bill with staggering consequences for the battle against police corruption. On July 7, the senate and assembly — the latter by a vote of 135-3 — passed the Confidential Communications bill. This ominous law, sponsored in the assembly by Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat from Long Beach, Hartman’s home town, would have shielded conversations between police union officials and their members, even criminal admissions. In other words, a delegate couldn’t report, or be forced to disclose, a patrolman’s confession of taking a bribe, selling stolen drugs, or killing somebody. 

[related_posts post_id_1=”719763″ /]

The law would have made investigating the PBA impossible. “It was a pro-police corruption bill,” lobbyist John Bozella said. Alarmed by the implications, Governor Cuomo vetoed the bill when it reached his desk in August. Yet the audacity of the legislation is a PBA trademark, and if a PBA or D’Amato ally were sitting in the governor’s seat, it is likely that it would have been signed. 

Even without such a barrier, apparently no agency wants to probe the activities of the PBA. “Morgenthau went after them in 1988 and fell flat on his face because he let a deal be cut,” noted one knowledgeable observer, referring to the grand jury and Hartman giving up his law license. “He is politically afraid to try to go after them again.” Asked by the Voice to respond to this, Morgenthau said, “Nobody has come to our office and said that Hartman, Caruso, and the PBA warrant a deeper look.” 

Although the D.A. does prosecute individual officers, taking on police institutions presents special problems. For example, district attorneys cannot successfully try criminal cases without cooperation from the officers who made the arrest. So excessive zeal in rooting out police corruption can make life difficult for prosecutors.  

Sometimes only the press can ask the tough questions. Among the dailies, New York Newsday is easily the most aggressive in covering the union. Its reporters and columnists — Jimmy Breslin, Jim Dwyer, Leonard Levitt, and Kevin McCoy, to name a few — give Caruso fits, and he no longer grants the paper interviews. The PBA seemingly doesn’t appreciate the right of the press to ask questions, a lesson learned by Bruce Lambert, a New York Times reporter who looked under a few rocks when he was at Newsday. In the ’70s, Lambert wrote a series of articles critical of PBA negotiations. Governor Hugh Carey, outraged by the generous contract terms, called to compliment Lambert on the work. Later, the reporter would be told by the PBA’s private investigator, Walter Cox, that he’d probed Lambert’s personal life on behalf of the PBA. In particular, Hartman wanted to know if Lambert was gay (he isn’t) — information that could not have possibly served any legitimate purpose. 

In its investigation, the Voice has continually encountered PBA insiders and associates who express fear of reprisals. As one ex-PBA staffer put it, “Keep me out of it. I would like to live a little longer. I have a family.” Two people with intimate knowledge of the PBA said they would consider granting an interview, then had their telephone numbers changed and unlisted. Another PBA employee described the union’s environment this way: “It’s like the Mafia. Once you’re in, you’re never out.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718103″ /]

“A cop knows from day one, you do what the union tells you,” said a former police officer. At monthly delegate meetings, a member or two occasionally got up to complain about Hartman or his staff. Sitting on the dais, Hartman would laugh, while other members shouted down the dissenter. Some delegates would try to make the maverick’s life miserable. As an investigator put it, “Members will always support someone with clout over someone trying to reform the system.” 

That clout allows the PBA to stymie corruption probes targeting its members. Leading this effort for a number of years was the PBA’s investigator, Walter Cox. A Nassau County Republican committeeman, Cox had retained Hartman to represent him in 1971 after he got drunk and robbed a Massapequa supermarket. In 1974, Cox was convicted of impersonating a federal officer. Hartman put Cox, who had no private investigator’s license, on his payroll and assigned him to look into cases in which PBA members were accused of wrongdoing. 

In 1984, Cox was arrested in Florida, where he had been tape-recorded in a Fort Lauderdale disco attempting to bribe a potential witness in a police corruption case. Shipped to New York to face charges, Cox had legal representation, courtesy of Hartman; nevertheless, he was convicted of bribery. But before going to jail he turned on his PBA bosses, giving a crucial deposition in another case, backing up former NYPD investigator Robert Hughes, who had been fired by the department under pressure from the PBA. As head of the NYPD’s sick-leave-abuse-prevention operation, Hughes discovered that 2 per cent of police officers were responsible for 51 per cent of the absences, and he saved the department $3.25 million. (One officer was running an insulation business while out with a proclaimed bad back.) In 1987, Hughes sued the PBA and its first vice-president, J. Patrick Burns, for harassment. Eventually, he was vindicated when a judge granted him two $400,000 court settlements, one from the PBA and one from Burns. (The PBA paid Burn’s share.) Cox testified that Burns instructed him to “get Bob Hughes.” But Cox was unwilling to elaborate further, and shortly thereafter suffered a heart attack in jail and died. 

The PBA’s blocking actions against corruption probes were more recently evident in the case of patrolman Michael Dowd, the leading villain in the Mollen Commission hearings. Dowd would not have been able to run his cocaine ring for years without an active PBA enforcing the code of silence. When Dowd got into trouble in 1992, according to New York Newsday, Jack Fitzgerald, the PBA delegate in the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint, called high department officials and got them to back off. Hardly a role model himself, Fitzgerald was known as “the mayor” for his ability to fix schedules and assignments for his buddies. One of Dowd’s partying pals, Fitzgerald ran a Monte Carlo club in the precinct’s basement kitchen, where cops bet and boozed. 

In recent years, the PBA has gone even further in undermining efforts to clean up the department. In one instance, according to a law enforcement source, it sent people over to a Marriott hotel, where they apparently compromised a joint Bronx D.A./NYPD sting set up to snare dirty cops. (The Bronx D.A. refused to comment.) 

Although Hartman himself has been tripped up by the IRS, PBA finances apparently escape scrutiny. The last city audit, by then comptroller Harrison Goldin, was in 1986. Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman’s office recently completed field work on its only audit of a PBA account. The examination covers the 1991 tax return for the union’s health and welfare benefits fund for active members — just one of five benefits accounts the PBA maintains. Press secretary Maerwydd McFarland said the final report will likely be completed in January, when Alan Hevesi assumes the office. “There are no significant findings,” McFarland said. 

Two accountants, asked by the Voice to review a stack of federal 5500 forms (enumerating employee benefits and charitable trusts) and 990 tax forms going back to 1977, were shocked at how poorly they were prepared and how vague they were in their details. They noted many unusual characteristics. Particularly troubling was the sloppy preparation, which would be a certain invitation to an audit, a rigor federal tax authorities have seemingly spared the PBA. 

No one is better qualified to explain these apparent irregularities than Richard Hartman, and someday maybe he will. In January 1995, Hartman will be eligible to reclaim his law license. He could join the Lysaght firm and even become the PBA’s attorney again. 

Caruso’s term ends in three years, when he will be 62, the mandatory retirement age for a police officer. The PBA constitution and bylaws, substantially revised during Caruso’s tenure, leave open the possibility that he may stay in office as long as the membership continues to reelect him. 

The coming months could be decisive for the union. An announcement on a new police commissioner is expected any day. The Mollen Commission report is due within the month, and Governor Cuomo will have to decide whether to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate police corruption. Like most other municipal bargaining units, the PBA has been operating for two years without a contract, and the new city administration will soon have to begin bargaining. More importantly, mayor elect Rudolph Giuliani will have to decide how to deal politically with the police union that was instrumental in getting him elected. ♦

Research assistance: Jeremy Bogaisky, Lea Carnevali, Malene Jensen, Kate King, Julie Lang, Carlo Martino, Jodi Melamed, Adam I. Rich, and Mark Stamey

[related_posts post_id_1=”713118″ /]

ADDRESS FOR SUCCESS

TODAY 300 Old Country Road is a sleek office condo complex, but it once was the address of a seedy two-story building owned by PBA attorney Richard Hart­man. In 1975, Hartman sold the run­down property to his crony Gary Melius.

Nonetheless, 300 Old Country Road continued to be a repository of opportun­ism. Hartman ran his law business upstairs. The downstairs was occupied by Davis Optical, a small firm that grew rapidly after getting the PBA contract to supply eyeglasses to police officers and their families. Squeezed into the tiny storefront next t0 Davis was a branch of the Money Store. Famous for its ads fea­turing retired Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, the business would come to be criticized for its extremely high-interest loans to the poor. The Money Store co-owner was Steven Gurian, also president of Long Island Development Corporation. At the time, Gurian was allegedly under investi­gation for mob connections.

Gurian prospered on deals backed by the Small Business Administration. It was Senator Alfonse D’Amato who had pushed vigorously to broaden the SBA program under which Gurian and his Long Island Development Corporation/ Money Store operated.

In addition to the construction, optics, and finance firms, 300 Old Country Road served as a hangout for a clique that included Philip Basile, a music pro­moter, club owner, and alleged front for mobster Paul Vario. The D’Amato brothers helped Basile obtain his nightclub permits; Armand P. D’Amato was Ba­sile’s lawyer. ln 1983, just hours before a jury would convict Basile of conspiracy to defraud (he gave renowned goodfella Henry Hill a no-show job after Hill got out of jail), Senator D’Amato would tes­tify that Basile was “an honest, truthful, hardworking man, a man of integrity.” To the amazement of the jury, he then kissed Basile on both cheeks.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Security THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York’s Whitest

Keeping the Melting Pot on the Back Burner 

Last month New York City agreed to add 126 blacks, 167 Hispanics, and one Asian, along with 306 whites, to its ap­proximately 30,000-member police force. For the first time, minority police appoint­ments reflected New York’s ethnic re­alities — and the principle that all are equal in as well as under the law.

There is a general impression that we have Mayor Koch to thank for that: for his graceful yieldling, despite his high if con­tradictory principles, to a federal court­-ordered hiring quota for cops; yielding, that is, for the year or more it will take him to appeal it. As the reason for his good losership, Koch cited our urgent need for more cops to prevent imminent bloodshed, Miami-style.

But this was the very same reason he gave federal Judge Robert L. Carter back in December when Koch insisted the city couldn’t change its hiring policy for cops. No matter that Judge Carter had found (not for the first time) that this policy was discriminatory and therefore illegal.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

It was this attitude on the part of the city that led to the quota in the first place — and to Judge Carter’s charge that the city not only discriminated against its racial minorities, but did so deliberately.

Carter based his conclusion on court records stretching back over nearly a dec­ade of litigation, in an uphill and contin­uing struggle by the city’s black and His­panic cops to reconcile the letter and the spirit of anti-discrimination law.

The record shows:

  • The city’s Police Department and its Personnel Department knew as far back as 1969 that exams discriminated by race;
  • They knew by 1971 that such dis­crimination had nothing to do with the requirements of the job or ability to perform it;
  • Individual officials unable to act on that knowledge invited and encouraged the ongoing lawsuit by the minority cops,­ back in 1972;
  • Nonetheless the city chose to fight the case, and even now claims it has never discriminated against minority cops;
  • Throughout the course of subsequent litigation, the city continued to test and hire and fire without making any substantial changes in the system.

A decade later, minorities, now nearly half the city’s population, were still only 10 per cent of a police force whose most pressing task is to combat a rise in crime that is polarizing communities along ra­cial lines. Yet Koch in 1980 continues to fight an affirmative-action quota for blacks and Hispanics — a quota he en­dorsed two years ago for policewomen and, more recently, for city construction contractors from poverty neighborhoods. As if affirmative action was not a right but an act of charity.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724782″ /]

Carter’s view that the city dis­criminated with intent — not intent to do wrong, but intent not to do right — pre­vailed (along with his one-in-three quota) for seven months, from January of this year until last July. At that time, federal appellate Judge Jon Newman decided the city hadn’t erred on purpose, though it had erred, and the quota (reduced to one-­in-four) would stay in force.

Newman’s revision was hailed by the Koch administration as a “vindication,” and by the media as a breath of sanity and common sense (as though the perception of injustice were de facto a neurosis). Such a view of events and of Koch, who as mayor must take the rap not only for his own actions but for that of the city as a continuous entity, says a great deal about this moment in the recent history of Amer­ican civil rights.

Forget the editorial rejoicing over the arrival of our long-awaited troops; forget the staged spectacle of mayoral blessing upon the union of black and white in uniform; forget our (false) sense of satis­faction at a problem finally solved.

Look at the record and remember that this is supposedly an enlightened era, and we are supposedly an enlightened city. And then remember what is supposed to happen to people who forget history.

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•••

In 1967, following a wave of racial violence, the federal Kerner Commission began looking at the low numbers of blacks and Hispanics in police departments across the country. Cities began to respond to the problem. In 1968, minority appointments to the New York City Police Department almost doubled: by 1970, when a job freeze halted all hirings, some 1400 minority officers had been hired, or 18.4 per cent of all appointments to the force between 1968 and 1970. And still the 29,500 member police department was, as the department itself observed, 90.8 per cent “lily white.”

This problem did not go unnoticed by the Lindsay administration. In August 1969, the city Department of Personnel released its two-year study of a previous civil service exam for the entry level posi­tion of patrolman.Comparing test-takers of similar employment, education, and family background, Personnel found that only “the ethnic factor” — race — affected exam scores. That finding prompted the department to investigate its most recent exams. The results would not be ready for four years, but eventually they and other studies supported the 1969 speculation of the personnel department: that greater numbers of blacks and Hispanics could have made perfectly fine cops but never got past the front door “because of below passing test grades which may have been unrelated to actual job performance.” (My emphasis.)

With this speculation, the anonymous drafters of the personnel study unwittingly hit upon the crux of a matter that still confuses many people — who ask, some­times pointedly, exactly how something “neutral” like a civil service test does discriminate racially.

The answer is not simply that we don’t know, but — as the personnel investigators foresaw — that it doesn’t matter just how racial bias is “built in” to an exam if the exam itself is irrelevant to the job.

This is the conclusion the U. S. Supreme Court reached in a landmark 1971 decision. In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the court ruled that if minorities can prove a seemingly “neutral” job requirement or test has a racial bias, then that job re­quirement or test is illegal unless the em­ployer, in turn, can prove it is “job-related.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”724399″ /]

Proof that a test is biased is a straight-forward matter of statistics. Evidence that it is “job-related” (or that the employer genuinely tried to make it so) is more complex. But at minimum the employer is expected to be able to describe in simple English exactly what the job is (the writ­ten job analysis). And obviously, a positive relationship between an employ­ee’s test score and his or her on-the-job­performance would be helpful to the de­fendant-employer.

No such relationship was discovered when, in the fall of 1971, the personnel bureau within the police department re­leased its own study. Minority patrolmen, it noted, were promoted to detective slots a — promotion based on job performance­ — at a higher rate than their white col­leagues. Yet when it came to promotions of equal rank that required civil service ex­ams, minority patrolmen did poorly. In short, there clearly was no connection be­tween a minority cop’s on-the-job performance and the civil service test for promotion. Here was a strong suggestion that this would hold true for the hiring tests as well, which ought to have alerted top brass to the need for a written job analysis.

But as of March 3, 1972, Peter Smith Ring, special assistant to the commanding officer of the personnel bureau, was forced to warn the police commissioner:

There appears to be general agreement that existing testing, and our own past recruitment efforts, are the major roadblocks to adequate minority rep­resentation … I have deep reserva­tions about both efforts as they presently stand … it is impossible to develop a new test until we undertake a job analysis for the rank of pa­trolmen … To the best of my knowledge this is not being done … we have little time to lose.

In fact, the department had no time at, all. On that same day, black and Hispanic officers represented by the Guardian As­sociation and the Hispanic Society sued the city.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719880″ /]

•••

The Guardians’ case did not catch its defendants, the city’s police and personnel departments, unawares. Behind the scenes, high-level city officials had not only acknowledged (if only to each other) that the department’s practices were dis­criminatory; they had already tried, and failed, to correct the problem.

The day the Guardians brought suit, the police department’s legal division delivered the fruits of its research on “the possibility that a significant legal trend may be developing” of anti-discrimination challenges to police departments.

The report, circulated in draft form before its official release, contrasted cur­rent laws with all the department knew of its recruitment and promotion practices and concluded they “are vulnerable to litigation charging discrimination. This Department and the Department of Personnel will be hard pressed to show job-relatedness … Such a suit … will have a good chance of success.”

The department did more than antici­pate the suit — it invited it. In 1971, an informal committee began meeting, com­posed of Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy, Deputy Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, representatives of Mayor John Lindsay, and Personnel Director Harry Bonstein. Ward later testified to “an agreement pretty much all around the table, that something was wrong with our testing process … All parties agreed to that except Harry Bronstein. He was clear­ly opposed to changing the system.”

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Director Bronstein had been kicked up­stairs to his desk from a key spot in Lindsay’s budget burea, where he was know in that inflationary era as “The Abominable No-Man”. Says a former Lindsay administrator: “Bronstein was bright, he could have done anything, but he was a Depression baby. He wound up in civil service because that’s all there was.” In his official capacity, Bronstein appeared to his colleagues to be acting out of personal spite.

Whatever the reasons for it, Bronstein’s resistance was not overruled by the mayor.

Ward, Murphy, and representatives of the mayor met again, Ward said under oath, “and it was pretty much the con­clusion of the people then in that room that the problem was with the Depart­ment of Personnel … A strategy was then designed and devised to deal with the problem …” That strategy, as Ward testified, was to approach the NAACP. He said police and personnel were aware “that I had spoken to the NAACP Legal Defe1;1se Fund and asked them to bring an action both against the Department of Personnel and the Police …”

Today Ward is Koch’s commissioner of corrections. Through a spokesman, he says he may not comment, “but he stands on his testimony.” The staff attorney from the NAACP with whom Ward spoke, Eliz­abeth DuBois Bartholet, now of Harvard Law School, confirms it. The NAACP worked with the pro bond law firm that handled the suit; the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund was later brought in as well.

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•••

But instead of using the suit to force the desired change in its policy, the ad­ministration chose to fight it. The enormous contrast between the city’s private actions and its public posture may be explained in part by Lindsay’s presidential ambitions, and by the rules of the game of politics: a public admission of racial guilt by city leaders, at a time when race relations were especially volatile and when moreover the police department was already under fire following the Knapp Commissions’s exposure of another kind of police corruption, would have predictably unpleasant consequences for the Lindsay administration. If any consideration other than this obvious political one entered into the city’s turnabout, today — eight years later — the matter is still under wraps. Jay Kriegel, who in 1972 was Lindsay’s liaison to the police department, claims total memory loss on this issue and is unwilling to have his memory jogged.

The Guardians challenged the use of seven exams given between 1968 and 1970 (the date of the last exam before the hiring freeze took effect), including the ones the city knew were discriminatory. Yet the first step of the city’s defense was to ask for still another study. Since the hiring lid was on, the Guardians agreed to postpone trial while this study, by the Rand In­stitute, was undertaken.

But before the results were in (they would, again, confirm the Guardians’ posi­tion) the lid was lifted, and the city­ — using familiar threats of civil unrest­ — proceeded swiftly to hire according to eligibility lists based on scores from the challenged exams.

The Guardians tried to halt the hirings, but the court waited so long before re­sponding that the issue became moot; then, for that reason, it denied their injunction request.

The lawsuit, however, had forced the city to hire all those applicants who’d passed the challenged exams, including the low-scoring minorities who would oth­erwise have been bypassed by the holding of a new exam. Thus both the Guardians and the lame duck Lindsay adminis­tration were content for the moment to leave matters in legal limbo.

[related_posts post_id_1=”4736″ /]

But then the Beame administration began and with it, the fiscal crisis: Despite expressions of concerns from city Human Rights Commissioner Eleanor Holmes Norton and from Mayor Abe Beame himself about the effect of civil service “separation policies” upon the last-hired minority workers, in 1975 22 per cent of all Hispanic cops and 18 per cent of all back ones were let go, compared to only 9.8 per cent of the white force.

Uncertainty in the press about whether more cops would be fired or rehired made it urgent for the Guardians to halt further job actions and seek adjusted seniority for those minorities hired later than they would have been but for poor scores on the biased exams. The Guardians renewed their case in 1976.

At the trial that year, the city insisted the exams were valid, job-related ones, although it was still unable to produce a written job analysis. It also tried to poke holes in the by now overwhelming mass of statistical evidence (much of it collected by the city itself) of discrimination — in short, to deny the facts.

Finally, in its ugliest move, the city argued that it had never discriminated because Title VII, the part of the Civil Rights Act that bans job discrimination, didn’t apply to cities until March 1972 (just three weeks after the Guardians’ suit was first filed). Since all the recent hirings and layoffs were based on exams given before 1972, the city claimed they weren’t discriminatory.

This reasoning, set side by side with the evidence above that the city knew long before 1972 that it was discriminating due to race, was rejected by Judge Carter — ­first in March 1977 and again in February 1979 (Carter was required by the appellate court to reconsider in light of a then-recent Supreme Court decision that appeared to lend weight to the city’s argument).

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At this point, enter Mayor Koch.

Faced with Carter’s reaffirmation that the 1968-70 exams were biased and that the city was wrong to use them, Koch could have decided to drop the line he’d inherited from Beame and move to settle with the Guardians in good faith. He was not dealing, after all, with the kind of “radical,” “revolutionary” black politi­cians he claims to abhor, but with a group of hard-working, dues-paying family men who wished for nothing more than the means to be among those middle-class, law-abiding citizens Koch considers his constituency.

Koch chose instead to apeal. He lost that appeal before Appellate Judge Thom­as Meskill, in a decision that was totally ignored by the press, last July 25. The city is appealing and this time so are the Guardians, because Judge Meskill has re­duced by about 700 the number of minor­ity officers who could receive retroactive seniority in, compensation for the city’s actions.

Koch had had another opportunity to turn over a new leaf in the fall of 1978 when, true to his campaign pledge to hire more cops, his administration made plans for a new patrolman’s eligibility exam, from which 4000 officers were to be hired over the course of his administration. Yet Koch failed to ensure that the lessons of the past were respected. Though changes were made in the test-preparation process, they seem to have been executed in a spirit of indifference to its impact on the lives of real people — and with a carelessness that could only be from stupidity or arrogance.

The facts support at minimum the Guardians’ claim that the new exam was biased. Of those who passed the exam, held in June 1979, 15.4 per cent were minorities, though they formed at least 30.9 per cent of all test-takers; in contrast 66.6 per cent were white, though whites were only 53.8 per cent of the total. (A number of applicants declined to identify themselves by race.) The statistical dis­parity, the courts agree, is too great to be by chance.

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The Guardians filed their complaint last October. But in November, the month of the trial, the city went ahead and hired using the contested exam. Of the 415 ap­pointees, all but 45 were white. And even as Judge Carter mulled over his decision, the city announced a second group to be hired in January 1980: of a total of 380, only 38 would be minority officers.

The city’s expressed determination to use the challenged exam even after Carter personally informed its lawyers in Decem­ber that in his forthcoming opinion he would declare it illegal, forced Carter to issue his written opinion just hours after the last hearing on the case. Very likely the city’s uncooperative attitude, right down to the wire, helped settle any linger­ing doubts Judge Carter may have had about its good intentions.

Intentions were not legally at issue. The city hadn’t been charged with deliberate discrimination, because that — like rape before the corroboration law was repealed — is almost impossible to prove. But the question of good faith creeps in the back door when one must assess the credibility of a witness on matters of great complexi­ty; and Carter, unlike the Appellate court, has been dealing with the city on this issue for years.

His ruling, on January 11, found “that Examination No. 8155 was designed either with a deliberate intention to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics or with reck­less disregard of whether the test would have that effect.” And he ordered the hiring quota.

Of course, as we know, the city ap­pealed. Judge Newman of the federal ap­peals court was inclined to give the city the benefit of the doubt in matters of faith, but when it came to matters of fact he could only conclude the exam was illegal. He modified, but nonetheless upheld, the hiring quota.

Without that so-called “drastic” reme­dy, the number of black and Hispanic cops in New York City — after a decade of of­ficial affirmative action and litigation — ­would still be only 10 per cent.

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•••

Why?

At each stage of these events, the mayor — Lindsay, Beame, and finally Koch — had two options: to make peace; or to accept the legalisms that propped up the city’s resistance, along with the prac­tical obstacles that he would otherwise have to struggle to overcome.

Like Lindsay, like Beame, Koch chose the latter course. Since he has bought it, Koch now must defend — along with the present — the past.

Why didn’t the city buck the civil ser­vice system? “Put yourself in the position of the police commissioner,” says one of Koch’s attorneys who is handling the case. “In the back of his mind are 29,500 white police officers, breathing down his neck.”

Why didn’t — why doesn’t — the city of­fer a settlement? “Where were we going to get the money for that? Do you have any idea how much that retroactive seniority would cost? There’s backpay, there’s pen­sion contributions … We can’t even total it up; we’ve tried.”

Yes, money is tight. Yes, the PBA, to which, in bitter irony, the minority officers must pay dues, has filed briefs against the Guardians in this case. (The PBA has also successfully fought efforts to bring quali­fied minority youths into the department under an internship program.)

But these aren’t reasons for the city’s stand, they’re excuses. The city lays the blame for the status quo on the status quo, a tautology that becomes more suspect when we look at what other cities have accomplished. Detroit, for one, has a vol­untary affirmative action quota for its police, one it was willing to go to bat for when white cops attacked it in court.

So have Tampa, Seattle, and Sacra­mento County. Closer to home, Syracuse, when its voluntary plan came under at­tack, worked out a settlement with the state Civil Service Commission; there is no reason why New York City could not do likewise. The long list of local govern­ments that have reached settlements in the past year rather than fight suits brought by the U. S. Justice Department (a “friend of the court” on behalf of the Guardians in this case) includes Cincin­nati, Fort Lauderdale, and the Ohio State Police.

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And New York, of course, is willing to promise hiring quotas to its policewomen. The consent agreement between the de­partment and the Policewomen’s Endow­ment Association in April 1978 pledges the department “will in good faith use its best efforts to have women comprise 10 per cent of the entry level police officer positions within five years of the date of this agree­ment. To achieve this goal the Police De­partment will use its best efforts to have women comprise a minimum of 30 per cent of the officers hired to the Police Department during the aforesaid five-year peri­od.”

Finally, only one explanation for the city’s intransigence remains. When I pressed Koch’s attorneys to explain why the city didn’t just bow to the inevitability of justice, they said — as Koch has said, in different words, before them — “But we haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You know, I used to be glad whenever I saw a black cop,” a friend of mine said not long ago, “and I used to think it was because I was so unbiased, because it confirmed my political beliefs.

“Then I realized that wasn’t it at all. I was happy to see a black man in uniform because that meant he was one less I had to worry about.”

I heard these words with a jolt of self­-recognition. My friend and I are white, we think of ourselves as decent and progressive. But there is more than one variety of racism.

So it is, speculates one of his adminis­trators, with Ed Koch. The mayor seems to see himself as he likes to see himself: he knows he means well. Trust him. And meanwhile, like the rest of us, he is trav­eling the path of least resistance, and we know where that leads — not despite, but because of “good intentions.” ❖

Categories
From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

How To Cure the Police Crime Plague

We are experiencing a police crime wave. More than 40 New York City police officers have been arrested so far this year for crimes including criminally neg­ligent homicide, manslaughter, assault, sodomy, and robbery. During 1984, 81 police officers were arrested. During the past two months, two sergeants — the backbone of the department’s command structure — have been accused: one of stun-gun torture, and another of being a hit-and-run killer.

During 1984, 6698 complaints of bru­tality or verbal abuse were filed with the civilian review board — an increase of 2000 over the previous year. Peer pres­sure for cover-ups — communicated by superior officers — has created a “blue wall of silence” to shield lawbreaking by law enforcers. Clearly, the mayor’s busi­ness-as-usual election-year study com­mittee of power brokers is an insufficient response to this civic crisis of confidence.

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The purpose of this article is to outline five specific, systemic, attainable reme­dies to the epidemic of police abuse. But first I want to make some general obser­vations to try to keep matters in perspec­tive and prepare the reader to better un­derstand where the writer is coming from:

Crime is just as serious a problem in this city as police brutality. New York’s population is not being adequately pro­tected and does not feel safe. This is es­pecially true in black and Latin commu­nities, where the crime rate is the highest. According to the New York Times poll published last Thursday, 36 per cent of blacks named crime as the “most impor­tant city problem” while only 12 per cent mentioned jobs and 9 per cent said housing.

We need more police, more jail cells, faster trials, and tougher sentences for violent recidivists. We need to appreciate what a difficult job being a cop is. We tell them to be aggressive, but not too aggres­sive. The police department can’t be ex­pected to rectify all the failures of soci­ety’s other institutions — the economy, the schools, the courts, the drug-enforce­ment agencies.

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The police are only human. We pay them to do a dirty job that most of us can’t do. Police work under extraordinary stress inside a subculture of violence. Most of them do it honorably. I am respectful, even as I criticize and urge reforms.

One reform that this article will not suggest is the appointment of a special prosecutor for police brutality. This is a pointless, simplistic demand that is being promoted by loony media militants like Reverend Al Sharpton and lawyer Clay­ton Jones.

Mario Merola, Elizabeth Holtzman, and John Santucci have done nothing to justify superseding them in police cases. Their integrity and independence have been exemplary. That is why the PBA has attacked these D.A.s — and demanded a special prosecutor in the Eleanor Bumpurs case.

As an unreconstructed, Jeffersonian democrat, I believe in accountability to the electorate. It is better to have an elected prosecutor making these sensitive decisions than an appointed prosecutor who is only responsible to the politician who selected him or her.

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A special prosecutor would quickly become an institutional prosecutor, little different from the five D.A.s. The existing networks of relationships and pressures would merely shift to the new, unelected personality. Moreover, the first time a special prosecutor made a decision that Sharpton or Jones disagreed with, the demand would go up to supersede the special prosecutor with an extraspecial prosecutor.

Police brutality is perceived as a racial issue by both blacks and whites. And there is a significant racial component to it. But the deeper, more universal issue is abuse of authority: guns and nightsticks in the hands of unstable persons, official irresponsibility that victimizes all kinds of people.

In 1984, almost as many whites as blacks filed grievances with the civilian complaint review board. Last year, 38 per cent of all the complaints against police were brought by blacks, 37 per cent by whites, 20 per cent by Hispanics, and 5 per cent by Asians and others. In 1982, 30 people were killed by police deadly force in New York City — and 20 of them were Hispanic. Last month a black police offi­cer, Mervin Yearwood, was indicted for killing Paul Fava, 20, who was white, on a Bronx subway platform. Yearwood says Fava jumped the turnstile. A mostly white group called Citizens Against Police Injustice has been active on Staten Island for the last five years. Two of its leading members are a retired city police detective and a Transit Authority police sergeant. They cite 10 cases in which citi­zens were beaten up or unjustifiably killed by police guns.

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Dr. Hyman Chernow — white, well-off, and elderly — was crossing Park Avenue when he was run over and killed by police sergeant Frederick Sherman, who was allegedly drinking on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. And two of the cops arrested off-duty for assault this year — officers Paul Witchel and Russell Bjune — allegedly beat up women. Bjune was indicted for assaulting a woman entering a Brook­lyn abortion clinic that he was picketing.

This week Sergeant Rudolph Hays pleaded insanity at the start of his trial in Queens in the shooting and killing of Sharon Walker after a traffic accident last December.

Police violence and misconduct poten­tially affects everyone, and it ought to be perceived that way. There seem to be more nuts entering the NYPD than there are leaving the Reagan administration.

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These are my five specific proposals to restore the honor of the New York Police Department:

1. Require all new police officers to live within New York City. This would reduce the “occupying army mentality” of many suburban cops, lead to more off-duty arrests, pre­vent some crime, and help the city’s economy.

Most of the police officers arrested this year live outside of New York City. All five of the cops accused of the stun gun torture in the 106th Precinct live on Long Island. Lieutenant Steven Cheswick lives in Wantagh. Sergeant Richard Pike lives in Selden. Loren MacCarey lives in Com­mack. Michael Aranda lives in Freeport. Jeffrey Gilbert lives in Elmont. Police Officer Joseph Vecchio, who was indicted for manslaughter in Brooklyn, lives in Lynbrook. Officer Alexander Forbes, who was indicted for criminally negligent ho­micide in Manhattan, lives in Orange County.

A police department commanding offi­cer with 20 years on the force told me: “Living in the suburbs breeds an attitude of fear, paranoia, and disrespect for the population. It creates a feeling of not be­longing, of feeling like an alien.”

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The police should not feel separate from the population. They should not live separately. If all New York cops used the parks, paid taxes, voted, and sent their children to schools in this city, their outlook would be different. Cops should not fear or loathe the population that employs them.

Many of the public statements made by Phil Caruso, the head of the New York PBA, have been inflammatory and unconstructive. Caruso lives in Sayville, in Suffolk County. The entire executive committee of the PBA is white, and al­most all of them live outside the city.

There was once a residency law for all city employees — the old Lyons Law — but it was repealed during the 1950s as the municipal workforce started moving to the suburbs. The time has come again to require city residency for all future police officers.

Prospective residency laws enacted by other major cities, like Chicago, have been upheld by the courts and have worked out well.

Eventually, police officers should be assigned to precincts near their homes, and should patrol their own neighbor­hoods. Both of these recommendations were made by the prophetic Conyers Committee after it conducted police bru­tality hearings in New York two summers ago.

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2. The training and screening of police recruits should be radically changed. The training program should be patterned after the state police: 26 weeks in a barracks boot-camp setting where psycho­logical weaknesses can’t be hidden and new values can be instilled.

The New York Police Department has been suffering from an erosion of disci­pline and competency over the years, starting perhaps with the notoriously poorly prepared police academy class of 1969, which was rushed through the academy because of fear of riots. Most new recruits have no military experience, and for a high proportion of cops, this is their first job. Because of the hiring freeze during the fiscal crisis, 50 per cent of the force now has less than five years’ experience. Last year, 58 per cent of citi­zen complaints were made against officers with less than three years on the job.

Almost every cop I talked to for this article told me off-the-record that the department has a severe and growing drug problem among these younger officers. The combination of tension and tedium on the job, access to drugs confiscated from arrested dealers, and the prolifera­tion of drugs in the working-class culture has increased the abuse of Quaaludes, co­caine, and marijuana by police officers. This makes them more irritable, para­noid, and sometimes out of control. Dur­ing 1984, seven police officers were ar­rested on drug charges — five for possession, two for sales.

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The statistical evidence of the general breakdown of discipline in the depart­ment is strong. Last year, about 100 cops reported they lost their guns; 20 years ago this was unheard of. Last year, about 360 squad cars were cracked up in acci­dents — 60 more than the previous year. At a public forum last November, Com­missioner Benjamin Ward commented offhandedly: “These young patrolmen to­day seem to have a penchant for wreck­ing cars.” Ward later explained that many new cops have never driven a car before joining the department.

The idea for a boot-camp environment police training was suggested to me by Thomas Reppetto, the well-respected president of the civic watchdog Citizens Crime Commission. Reppetto is a former commander of detectives in the Chicago Police Department and author of The Blue Parade, a history of the police in America.

Says Reppetto: “Police recruits can hide a drinking problem, or a drug prob­lem, or a violent temper, or a bad racial attitude in the police academy during an eight-hour day. But they could not hide such weaknesses under the stress of a 26-week barracks training-and-testing situa­tion. This would screen out a lot of bad apples that the psychological test seems to miss …

“The training for the New York City Police Department should be as high-lev­el and as tough as the FBI or the state police. New recruits have to get their val­ues straight. Right now a lot of young cops are influenced by TV and the mov­ies. The message they get from Starsky and Hutch and Dirty Harry is not to play by the rules. A lot of voices are telling cops it’s okay to get the bad guy any way they can. We need completely different training methods to create the peer pres­sure to act the right way.”

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3. Recruitment of blacks and Lat­ins should be made a higher priori­ty. Their numbers must be in­creased in positions of authority in the police department.

New York City today is half black and Latin. But only 10 per cent of the police force is black and 8 per cent is Latin. Of 232 captains, only one was black as of October 1984. Of the 2700 recruits who graduated from the academy during 1983, 1880 were white, 252 were Hispan­ic, 198 were black, and 22 were Asian.

The perception of every white police officer I spoke to is that affirmative ac­tion has lowered the standards of the de­partment. And to a limited degree this is true, although I would argue that bend­ing the old rules is an acceptable price to pay to create a department that reflects this city’s wonderfully diverse population.

Height requirements have been low­ered to accommodate minority and fe­male applicants, and under recent rule changes an applicant with a minor crimi­nal record can become a police officer.

But Tom Reppetto argues: “Affirma­tive action for minorities should be con­tinued. It is not a factor in the break­down of discipline.”

The goal of an integrated police force is both prudent and ethical. You cannot have an 80 per cent white police depart­ment when 70 per cent of the crime vic­tims are nonwhite.

One useful idea, proposed by Basil Pat­erson, is that the city invite the Guard­ians — the fraternal society of black cops — to play an upfront role in recruiting, with an emphasis on high school graduates who are likely to pass the sergeant’s exam.

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4. Implement the idea of a Police Corps. Under this plan, young men and women of all racial and ethnic groups would be offered college scholarships in exchange for serv­ing three years as police officers after graduation.

The Police Corps is the brainchild of Adam Walinsky, a former speechwriter for Robert Kennedy and a former chair­man of the State Investigation Commis­sion. Walinsky says:

“This proposal would give us more po­lice at an attainable cost. It would bring idealism and intelligence to police work. It would recruit the most qualified mi­norities. It would make citizens feel like we are really doing something to fight crime, instead of giving up and saying crime is insoluble …

“We would offer young people a free, four-year college education, just like the army and the marines do. And these young people would give us a couple of summers’ worth of training. After that, they would give us three years of service in the NYPD at an entry-level rate of pay that we could afford. Our goal is 20,000 Police Corps cops in New York City.

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“As the economics work out, we could support a kid to the tune of $8000 or $9000 a year for four years of college and pay him or her a reasonable salary and benefits — say about $20,000 a year the three years of police service. And at the end of the whole program — the whole seven years — it costs less than half of what it costs for the average year of po­lice service under the current labor contract.”

The concept behind this is affirmative action while upgrading standards. We are now creating a two-class police depart­ment. Blacks are not being promoted to captain, and not enough are passing the sergeant’s test. Under the Police Corps, blacks and Hispanics could go to college, become cops, and then pass the ser­geant’s exam if they choose to remain on the force after the three years.

This bold and creative innovation has been endorsed by Bronx D.A. Mario Mer­ola, former deputy mayor Basil Paterson, U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, conser­vative columnist William F. Buckley, the Daily News, and The New York Times. The PBA is opposed in private, but pub­licly will not attack it. Meanwhile, most politicians try to ignore the Police Corps idea and stick to their comfortable, boil­erplate rhetoric about crime.

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5. Create a civilian complaint review board as a truly independent institution outside the police de­partment. This can be accomplished by an act of the City Council or state legislature, or administratively by the mayor.

The present complaint board was im­proved and given more staff in 1983. But citizen complaints still must he filed in the intimidating atmosphere of a police station, and investigations by the board are still under the command of a deputy chief of the NYPD.

The present review board received 4676 complaints in 1983 and 6698 last year. There are two or more unproven complaints on file against 300 police offi­cers. The PBA has won a court injunction preventing these multiple allegations from being used for evaluation or disci­plinary purposes by superior officers.

When Congressman John Conyers held his police hearings in New York in 1983, Mayor Koch complained that the hearings would “embolden criminals.” But judging from the increased number of cit­izen complaints, capped by the recent revelations of torture in the 106th Pre­cinct, what occurred was that the mayor’s hysterical overreaction to the Conyers hearings emboldened brutal cops to feel that they had a license from City Hall.

Now, more than ever, an independent civilian review board is needed. Police Commissioner Ward said this year: “I can live with an outside board.”

The resistance comes from the mayor and the PBA. ■

1985_village Voice article by Jack Newfield on Police Misconduct

1985_village Voice article by Jack Newfield on Police Misconduct

Categories
From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New York’s Finest: Busting Out All Over

New York’s Finest: Busting Out All Over
May 2, 1968

WASHINGTON SQUARE — While the good John Lindsay praised the peace parade in Central Park, the bad John Lindsay had the peace parade busted in Washington Square Park. While the good Sanford Garelik passed out flyers of “principles to guide police officers at demon­strations,” the bad chief inspect­or gave the order to attack the demonstrators. While the good William Booth looked on, the bad human rights commissioner looked away. While the good Jay Kriegel and the good Barry Got­tehrer privately deplored the police action, the bad mayoral aides publicly condoned it.

Saturday was a fair, gray day. At 11 a. m. the Anti-Imperialist Feeder March began to form in Washington Square Park. Its marchers, some 400 strong, had split with the Fifth Avenue Viet­nam Parade Committee because, according to an ad, “the Parade Committee leadership arranged for strike-breaker Lindsay, whose police regularly attack the black and Puerto Rican commu­nities and break up anti-war and Yippie demonstrations, to greet the anti-war rally in the Sheep Meadow.” So the dissidents — ­mainly Youth Against War and Fascism and the United States Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front — planned their own march.

As police and city officials met under the arch, plainclothes heavies massed on Washington Square North. Cheaply dressed, each cop sported a red hat pin and secreted a sap. City officials also wore hat pins. Tethered by Garelik’s glance, the plainclothesmen waited hungrily at the edge of things, ignoring the far-off challenges of their enemies and prey.

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Aryeh Neier, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, leaned against the arch and waited for the bust to begin. Earlier, Neier had sug­gested to Kriegel that the march­ers, two or three abreast, be given a sidewalk route. “You’re telling me what’s legal, I’m tell­ing you what’s practical,” responded Kriegel, who had evi­dently already decided on the bust. So there was nothing to do but wait.

At exactly 12 noon the march­ers hoisted their banners (“Poli­ticians lie — Vietnamese die”) and Vietcong flags, marched out to the sidewalk on Washington Square North, and turned west.

An aged police lieutenant with a bullhorn intoned a warning: “Atten-Shun! There are two authorized parades. This parade is unlawful, having no poi-mit. You are in violation of the law and subject to arrest.”

“The streets belong to the people. The streets belong to the people,” responded the marchers, inching forward on the sidewalk.

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The cop with the bullhorn con­tinued to urge marchers to join the Loyalty Day Parade down Fifth Avenue or the Vietnam Peace Parade up in Central Park as plainclothesmen led by Assist­ant Chief Inspector Sidney Cooper seized some 50 demonstrators, slammed them against parked cars, and tossed them head first into paddy wagons. Other cops chased would-be marchers west on 4th Street and north on Seventh Avenue. They caught a few at Perry Street and beat them bloody. The plainclothesmen worked in teams, shielding their colleagues from the press while they pummeled their prisoners. One photograph­er was so carried away by the action that he joined the police in seizing a demonstrator. Aryeh Neier objected, and he too was arrested and thrown into a van. Kriegel watched Neier’s arrest, made a feeble attempt to stop it, failed, shrugged, and went back to directing the bust.

Within a few minutes some 80 persons were arrested and hauled off to various precincts. It took hours to book them and longer for arraignment. At 100 Centre Street, the cops, claiming the court rooms were filled, closed the criminal courts build­ing, denying access to attorneys and bail bearers. It took the DA to re-open the place.

On Monday the New York Civil Liberties Union called for a dep­artmental trial of Chief Inspectors Garelik and Cooper on charges of brutal conduct by plainclothesmen in dealing with the Anti-Imperialist marchers. The NYCLU also said it would bring suit in Federal Court against the Police Department for deprivation of civil rights in Saturday’s incidents and during earlier demonstrations.

“The Police Department be­haved abominably … with the active support and the agree­ment of the Mayor’s office,” said Neier. “Either Lindsay is poorly served by Kriegel and Gottehrer or he is complicitous.”

Neither the Mayor’s office nor the Police Department could be reached for comment. They were busy busting Columbia.

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