NYPD’s Busts Get Busted

In the wake of numerous cases befouled by the misdeeds of NYPD narco cops, the department’s steroid scandal is now further deflating the judicial system.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn dismissed 54 narcotics cases late last week, bringing the total in that borough alone to 271—and counting.

Meanwhile, the still-simmering steroid scandal (“Cops on Steroids,” December 19–25, 2007) has just begun poisoning cases: A prime example is the bust of gunman—and known scumbag—Gary Waters.

The ex-con was nabbed by cops in September 2006 with a fully loaded 9mm handgun, an extra 15-bullet magazine, 27 loose rounds, and a pair of handcuffs. Since then, however, the arresting officer in the case, Vaughn Ettienne, and his supervisor, Sergeant Raymond Cotton, were suspended in the steroid probe, which has ensnared 29 cops who allegedly received illegal prescriptions. Both Ettienne and Cotton tested positive for steroid use, according to law-enforcement officials.

After Waters’s lawyer read late last year in the Voice about the suspensions, he launched a “‘roid rage” accusation against both Ettienne and Cotton (who signed off on the bust). Last month, Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Michael Gary denied Waters’s request for access to the Brooklyn D.A.’s files in the steroid probe to determine whether there was any evidence to support his lawyer’s contention that the cops were in the throes of “‘roid rage” when they busted him. But the judge ruled that Waters’s Legal Aid attorney, Adrian Lesher, already has a “good-faith basis” to question the cops—if they take the stand, as they normally would in such a case—about steroid use and its possible side effects.

It’s unlikely that this courtroom confrontation will ever materialize, however.

A spokesman for D.A. Charles “Joe” Hynes says that “our position right now is [that] the case is still going forward,” but sources in the office say a supervising assistant district attorney in charge of gun cases is leaning toward dismissing the case against Waters.

Ettienne and Cotton would too easily become targets for the defense, says a source.In any event, cops will often become worthless as witnesses for the prosecution if they’re facing legal troubles of their own.

“My experience is that once cops get suspended, they generally don’t cooperate with us anymore” on their pending cases, the source says.

D.A. spokesman Jerry Schmetterer says the office will review other pending cases involving Ettienne, Cotton, and four other police officers suspended last November after testing positive for steroids, to determine whether those suspensions would adversely affect the cases stemming from the busts they made. Schmetterer says he doesn’t know how many such cases have been worked on by the six cops.

The steroid scandal isn’t the only thing that’s fouling prosecutions in Brooklyn. The D.A. has begun an audit of nearly two dozen other gun cases made by an officer whose methodology a judge blasted as “guesswork.” Also, over the past five months, the D.A. had to dismiss 271 low-level drug cases after it was discovered that four cops from Brooklyn South Narcotics were suspected of not only demanding sex and taking cash from some suspects, but also stealing drugs from the dealers they busted and using them to pay off informants. And more dismissals arising from that scandal could be on the way.

What makes Waters’s case more disturbing is that the cops’ alleged involvement in the unrelated steroid scandal has apparently undone what otherwise would have been a solid collar in which the perpetrator, while attacking two cops, was allegedly trying to pull out his gun. Softening the blow to the gun case is the fact that Waters was subsequently convicted of pulling a string of burglaries in Long Island and won’t immediately be set free should this case be 86’d.

Police reports tell this story of the Waters bust: Ettienne and his partner, Steven Maddry, were dressed in street clothes doing an undercover patrol in an unmarked police car disguised as a yellow taxicab in Flatbush on the night of June 19, 2006, when a motorcycle zoomed past on their right. The cops ran the license plate, which came back as stolen, so they pulled in front of the motorcycle and identified themselves as police officers. As they got out of their car, Waters revved the bike and tried to drive past them—but the engine stalled, so he jumped off the motorcycle and ran. As Waters tried to scale a fence at the corner of Farragut Road and Flatbush Avenue, Ettienne caught up with him. When Ettienne pulled Waters off the fence, the ex-con threw a punch that Ettienne blocked with his right arm. Maddry joined the fray, but Waters bloodied his nose. Still wearing his motorcycle helmet, Waters head-butted Maddry, grabbed the cop’s baton, and swung it at him. The two cops finally wrestled him to the ground, but while they were trying to cuff him, Waters repeatedly tried to reach into his fanny pack.

When the dust had settled, the cops found the loaded gun, ammo, and cuffs in the fanny pack.

It seemed like a good bust, and later, after the paperwork had been completed back at the 70th Precinct, Sergeant Raymond Cotton signed off on the arrest.

Waters told the grand jury that the cops had planted the gun on him. It was his only defense—until his attorney realized that Ettienne and Cotton were two of the cops suspected of acquiring steroids at the Bay Ridge pharmacy around which the scandal revolves.

Lesher won’t comment on the case, but one of his motions notes that “anabolic steroids have been repeatedly cited by medical authorities as a reason for spontaneous and irrational aggressive behavior,” and contends that “‘roid rage was probably partially responsible for one of the most horrific instances of New York police brutality in modern memory, Justin Volpe’s sodomization of Abner Louima with a toilet plunger in 1997.”

In a counter-motion filed on March 31, Assistant D.A. Kevin James weakly asserted: “If in fact one or more of the officers in this case had used anabolic steroids at one point in time, it is not material to proving the unreliability of the charges against the defendant.” James also contended that even if the cops had been taking steroids, there is no way to prove they were using them when they arrested Waters.

But try telling that to a Brooklyn jury—especially when the defense, according to its motions, was headed down this path: “In this case the reported illegal use [by Ettienne and Cotton] provides cause to believe that at least these officers put their interest above those of society, that these officers feel free to commit criminal acts with impunity and that these officers are under the influence of drugs which cause irrational aggressive behavior. Moreover, the desire to cover up such illegal behavior provides a motive to fabricate testimony and evidence.”


The Gentrification Project That Turned into a Rat Castle on Ludlow

What was once an out-of-town developer’s plan to bring even more deluxe gentrification to the Lower East Side has instead turned into a crumbling eyesore, a haven for rats, and a traffic nightmare that keeps snaring delivery trucks on Ludlow Street.

Frustrated neighbors have watched as the almost-finished building at 179 Ludlow fell into disrepair, with an illegal sidewalk shed jutting so far out into the street that trucks traveling down Ludlow get wedged between it and another shed across the street. In the abandoned building itself, rats have taken over, and a 2,000-square-foot retail space that could have brought in $25,000 a month is now ankle-deep in rat shit.

Owner Michelangelo Russo paid $5.2 million—a discount price—for the half-completed building at auction 13 months ago. The seven-story cinderblock building, just footsteps from Katz’s Deli on Houston Street, was part of the construction boom in the trendy Lower East Side. It was supposed to have been another luxury apartment building, like the Ludlow, its fancy neighbor, where a two-bedroom can rent for as much as $9,000 per month. Russo reportedly put about a million dollars into the building, installing European-style molding, white-marble bathroom counters, heated terraces, and a private roof deck in the penthouse. At one point last year, Madonna’s reps even came to check out the retail space, where Madge was thinking of opening a Kabbalah Center. But late last summer, after Madonna passed on the property and the mortgage crisis was coming into full bloom, the money to finish the building ran out.

“Everything just stopped,” said David Chang, a longtime resident who is known on the block as the “Mayor of Ludlow” because of his regular presence cleaning up the street. Workers walked off the job in August after Russo stopped paying them, according to contractor Robert Lavecchia, whose company, Mulberry Group, did much of the framing and flooring for the building. “He bounced a $300,000 check on me!” Lavecchia says.

The building was never properly sealed and soon began attracting rats. Then the sidewalk shed slowly started to fall apart. Chang attempted to mend one part of the shed himself, wrapping wire around two broken bars to keep them from falling into the road, where they could puncture tires. Construction workers across the street also tried to help by putting up a mirror where the shed created a pedestrian blind spot.

Then there was the problem of the truck trap: In May, the city received several complaints that trucks were continually hitting the scaffolding. On June 3, Chang watched from his regular seat on the bench outside a health-food store as a delivery truck got caught between the scaffolding on either side of the street. “They had to get a tow truck and block off the street to get the truck unstuck,” Chang said. That happened at least one more time; the vehicle was released after police shimmied onto the roof of the truck and removed a panel from the shed.

The city’s Department of Buildings has since issued several violations for the unsafe shed, but has not made any moves to tear it down. (The department didn’t return calls seeking comment regarding 179 Ludlow.)

The man responsible—Russo—stopped answering his phone months ago: He did not return calls from several contractors, whom he reportedly owes about $400,000, and he did not return calls from the Voice seeking comment.

“This wound up being the first domino toppling over,” said James Famularo, a former broker for the building and executive vice president of New York Commercial Realty Services. Famularo said Russo, a New Jersey property owner who wanted to make the foray into Manhattan real estate, simply got in over his head. “It was bad timing, and probably not the best choice of a project to take on as a first project in Manhattan. . . . As a result of this, he lost this building and several buildings in Jersey.” The fact that Russo signed a balloon-payment mortgage with a whopping 24 percent interest rate couldn’t have helped, either.

These days, 179 Ludlow is in foreclosure proceedings, and the property is now being advertised, presumably by the lender, as an “excellent investment/conversion property” to be sold as is for $8.9 million. Famularo believes that price is optimistic at best.

“It’s incurring water damage right now, so every day that goes by, it’s probably worth less and less. . . . I went in there six months ago to show it [to a prospective buyer], and there was about four inches of rodent feces on the floor. There were dead rodents as big as cats on the floor in the basement. I’m a New York guy, born and bred here, and I’ve never seen anything more disgusting,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back in there even if they paid me the $9 million cash!”


The City Pitted Kids Against Artists in the East Village

The most remarkable recent one-act involving the artists of Performance Space 122 was the picket against them by neighborhood parents at the arts center’s May 15 Spring Gala. Steps away from the red-carpet entrance at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, where celebs Steve Buscemi and Rosie O’Donnell were expected to stroll, stood the parents and children of the Children’s Liberation Day Care Center (CLDCC), chanting and carrying signs.

After almost three decades in a 100-year-old school building at First Avenue and 9th Street, the venerable day-care center was mounting a last-ditch effort to save itself. The parents and the center’s staff say they were galled that P.S.122 apparently wanted to convert their space into a lobby, sculpture garden, and more theaters.

That last-ditch protest failed, and now the main drama is nearly over. Everybody says they’re upset by this, and some of them really are. “The only thing I can compare this to is The Wizard of Oz,” says Barbara Ingram, founding director of the day-care center. “Everyone from Kansas has descended on the Lower East Side, and they want to be creative. They are pushing out the immigrants and hard-working people.”

It was a creative maneuver in the first place by the Bloomberg administration’s Department of Cultural Affairs that pitted the artists against kids in a battle that’s dragged on for several years. It paid off: The building on First Avenue now known as Performance Space 122 will be virtually immigrant-free.

The artsy crowd is upset about being cast as the bad guys in this drama.

“I hate to see nonprofits being pitted against each other,” says longtime P.S.122 contributor and performance artist Lucy Sexton. “I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old. I know how hard it is to find day care, and I also know how hard it is to make art.”

P.S.122 executive director Anne Dennin admits that the organization has had a lot of explaining to do when it comes to the closing of the CLDCC. “We’ve spent a lot of time explaining the situation to neighbors,” she says. “We are not evil people. We like small children—we have them ourselves.”

The die was cast when the Department of Cultural Affairs decided to renovate the building. The day-care center had been a fixture in the East Village since it first moved into the community center known as P.S.122. The former schoolhouse was converted from an artists’ squat into a city-owned space for nonprofits encouraging the arts. As the lone child-care facility in the building, the CLDCC always stood out.

When the Department of Cultural Affairs (which holds the lease for the building) began planning renovations, the big issue was naturally what would happen to the children. DCA spokespeople say the building itself is in need of such drastic repairs to bring it to code—including the removal of lead paint and asbestos—that there was no safe way for the children of the day-care center to remain. The center’s staff and parents say that was nothing more than a ploy to seize complete control over a chunk of prime real estate and devote it entirely to the arts.

The day-care center couldn’t find another space in the rapidly redeveloping (and increasingly more expensive) East Village. One of the final blows came when another city agency waded into the fray: Citing the clouded status of the day-care center’s future location, the Administration for Children’s Services canceled its contract. Without the $919,450-a-year funding from the ACS, the day-care center couldn’t survive—and will now shut down on June 30.

The day-care center blames P.S.122, seeing its clout as the reason for the city’s decision to end the CLDCC’s contract and kick it out. The theater denies any involvement: “We don’t have any control over who the members of the community center are,” says Dennin. “When the renovation was decided, the City Council appropriated money to bring the building up to code. The money for the construction is for code work—it has nothing to do with a sculpture garden.”

In its last days, the day-care center
had become a still-life. Most of the parents had pulled their children out, and most of the teachers had left to find other work. On a recent day, there were only three two-year-olds in attendance, and the pre-kindergarten class was down to 11 kids.

It’s not that a demand for day-care centers doesn’t exist. In fact, according to the Bloomberg administration’s own estimates, a third of a million New York City children under the age of six qualify for subsidized care, and about 200,000 of them are currently out of luck.

Despite the need for such places as the CLDCC, many of its loyal parents knew the fix was in. Board member Paul Williams, who has sent three of his children through the center (the oldest is in her twenties and the youngest is still in Pre-K), worked hard to fight the inevitable. “The Bloomberg administration is characterized as the ‘arts administration,’ ” he says. “Behind the scenes, they started hatching a plan to make a baby ban and make P.S.122 an all-arts space. Our lawyer caught wind. They knew it was going to be unpopular and got ACS to do their dirty work.”

Spokespeople for the ACS and the Department of Cultural Affairs vehemently deny that allegation.

Of course, there were reasons for the CLDCC to be unhappy. The city initially offered to find it a new home, but the proposal would have split the center into two locations, both of them outside the East Village—which, despite the recent gentrification, still has a major need for affordable day-care centers.

Despite the profusion of luxury apartments and construction cranes, Community District 3 is still a hodgepodge of immigrant communities, from Alphabet City to Chinatown. In Community District 3, where P.S.122 is located, there are 14 ACS center-based programs, two family child-care networks, and 14 Head Start centers. There are also 47 private child-care centers whose tuitions are comparable to small colleges.

Williams says that the CLDCC’s own search for new space was futile: “There is no room for us in the East Village,” he says. “One space we did apply for, we were outbid by the Blue Man Group. They are starting a kindergarten—tuition is $20,000.”


From Brooklyn, a Rap Campaign Against Tight Clothes

If clothes make the man, do tight clothes make the man a homosexual? A Brooklyn-based rap group thinks the current trend in hip-hop—medium tees and sagging jeans cinched tightly below the hips—is causing some confusion. And they are not alone.

Members of the rap group Thug Slaughter Force—three brothers and two friends calling themselves Drama, Filthy, Tempa, Rebel, and Blanco the Don—walk the streets of Brooklyn in XL T-shirts with the words “Tight Clothes” slashed through with a red stripe: their message of protest against what they see as the move away from traditional baggy clothing and toward tighter-fitting outfits in today’s hip-hop. The “No Tight Clothes” campaign is their latest idea in a decade of trying to make it in the rap game.

“Where’d you get that shirt from?” yells Elijah Bilal, sitting outside Lalove Uniform on Fulton Street. “Bring me one!” the 40-year-old adds, and then offers a reporter his own observation about the direction of hip-hop attire: “The tight clothes—what, the boys is gay now? Boys walking around thinking they girls, girls walking around thinking they boys . . . No wonder all the girls are dating girls—because the boys are gay!”

And Bilal isn’t alone in his analysis. “I like that shirt,” says a 28-year-old NYPD officer on foot who didn’t want to be named. “This movement of everyone wearing tight-fitting clothes—it’s not nice.”

“That’s a beautiful thing,” says 26-year-old Thug Slaughter Force member Tempa. “You walk through the street and don’t have to say nothing—the product sells itself.”

Besides the shirts for sale, TSF are also promoting themselves with (no surprise) a YouTube video, which shows scores of young people wearing their own shirts and leaping to the lyrics of TSF’s anthem, “No Tight Clothes.”

The video opens with an over-the-top “Slaughter General’s Warning”: “Wearing tight clothes by men may result in feminine tendencies, homosexuality, possible yeast infection, severe hemorrhoids, permanent wedgies, and genetically inherited transsexual characteristics in your son.”

And then come the lyrics:

Take them tight-ass fuckin’ clothes off

That shit ain’t gangsta, nigga

We don’t wear tight clothes . . . we let it hang!

. . . Shirt extra-small and you six feet tall

Lookin’ like you got your pants off a Ken doll

Silk speedo cheetah-print Superman drawers . . .

. . . And what the fuck is this shit?

Rude boy rockin’ Prada

Rhinestones on his collar

Cowboy belt buckle with a chain like a rocker

You forgot you was Rasta

You need to puff on the ganja. . . .

Are these rappers for real? “It basically boils down to: You are in a homosexual attire, and you are claiming to be something else,” says 28-year-old TSF member Blanco the Don. “That’s what I have a problem with—not the homosexualism. You’re a front artist, and you’re promoting homosexuality with your actions and dress code, but you’re promoting gangster lifestyle with your lyrics. The two don’t match up.”

To be clear, the “you” he’s referring to are the artists who set trends—the ones who wear rhinestones, big belt buckles, tight shirts, and small jackets, and carry “man bags.”

“It’s a string of rappers with the man bag . . . calling it a ‘man bag,’ but you’re wearing a purse,” says Tempa. Blanco and Tempa both say that the language of the “Warning” is meant in jest, but not everyone is convinced.

“I think it’s offensive,” says Park Slope resident Jenny Brauer. “It’s homophobic, inflammatory, and highly prejudicial.” Although, she added, “there is a humorous aspect to this; it’s not lost on me.”

Blanco, for his part, insists that “it’s not a gay-bashing movement.” On the other hand, he added, “if you are homosexual, you are not gangsta. There’s nothing gangster about being homosexual.”

Homophobia in rap is nothing new, of course. And there’s a growing awareness of homosexuality in hip-hop.

“You walk in urban communities [like] Harlem, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and you see these young people walking around with pants sagging way down below their ass cheeks and underwear showing—what are you selling? That’s much more homoerotic than fitted jeans,” says Terrance Dean, author of Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry—from Music to Hollywood, a book that electrified the music industry when it was published last month and hinted at the homosexuality of numerous unnamed music figures.

“It just so happens that heterosexual people are always emulating gay style,” Dean says. “Most stylists are gay,” and, he points out, those styles then make their way from international runways to inner- city neighborhoods. “I don’t think it necessarily correlates with people being gay or feminine,” he adds. “I think it’s just fashion and hip-hop go hand in hand.”

But he doesn’t share TSF’s fashion sense: “It’s about time that people started wearing clothes that fit.”

Among some residents of Brooklyn, however, this is a minority view. One such young man, emerging from the Brooklyn Courthouse in a Boston Celtics jersey stopped briefly to talk with Blanco and Tempa and, upon hearing they were rappers, even kicked a little rhyme: “As I reminisce/with two of my bros/tell them niggas/don’t wear no tight clothes!”


Artist, Fan Clash Over What Constitutes Online Piracy

Park Slope artist Alex Grey is known for his love of LSD and the vivid, elaborate body of work that has often been inspired by it. His paintings have graced album covers for Nirvana, Tool, and String Cheese Incident—not to mention rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid.

Juan Pablo Fernandez, who lives in Sunset Park, describes Grey’s work as “the best art that has come out in the last couple hundred years. Not only is it beautiful, but it has depth and meaning to it.”

Sweet words, but the two soft-spoken men have squared off in a lawsuit that raises questions about art piracy and permissible sales practices on the Internet.

Fernandez has been selling—or, rather, reselling—Grey’s work online. Last month, the artist filed a copyright-infringement suit against him. Grey doesn’t dispute his fan’s right to resell the prints, which Fernandez bought at retail price straight from Grey’s gallery before framing them, marking them up, and advertising them online. Rather, he is suing Fernandez for posting online photos of the art. Says Grey: “I worked all my life to create the art, and it’s very easy to reproduce it now—these grand pictures online.” He equates the online images to clip art, which is anonymous and easily available to right-click and copy.

Whether online photos of artwork constitute illegal reproductions is a murky legal question, but one that is hugely important to sellers on eBay, CraigsList, Amazon, and other venues where people often resell their possessions. While publishing a photo of a copyrighted work for the purpose of reselling it certainly can be legitimate, it’s a question of interpretation, says Paul Fakler, vice chair of the New York State Bar’s intellectual-property section: “The courts have a lot of latitude on deciding what is fair.”

This particular battle also hinges on the generation gap between the 54-year-old artist and his 30-year-old fan. While Grey’s days consist of New Moon meditations and techno tribal dances, Fernandez’s world revolves around his Mac.

Grey, who refers to himself as a mystic, is a product of the ’70s psychedelic-art scene and still seems rooted in that era. His art, which centers on the human body and spirit, has been inspired by both his experience preparing cadavers for Harvard anatomy classes long ago and the visions induced by psychedelic drugs. (In March, he attended the World Psychedelic Forum in Switzerland, though he says he’s abstaining from drugs these days.) Lately, he and his wife, artist Allyson Grey, are focused on their Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Chelsea, a nonprofit gallery space that hosts a wealth of New Age–y events. They are currently raising money to move the gallery after their current lease ends later this year.

Fernandez, born in Bolivia and raised in New York City, makes his living by helping others set up eBay stores for their goods, and by framing and selling posters online. His main project is, which features 44 different Alex Grey prints ranging in price from $28.85 to $299. Many other artists’ works are featured on the site, including those of H.R. Giger, M.C. Escher, and José Clemente Orozco, but he says Grey is his top seller.

The two men met in person last summer after Grey discovered his work being sold on Fernandez recalls: “He told me, ‘It’s OK if you sell it on the street,’ ” but he didn’t want the images online. “That was kind of an insult,” says Fernandez. Tearing himself away from his laptop, he adds: “What’s going to become of the Internet if you can’t post photos of what you are reselling?”

Fernandez says he offered a few possible solutions, such as watermarking the online images, but no agreement was reached. Meanwhile, Grey complained to eBay, where Fernandez was also selling the framed prints, and the company quickly took down the disputed listings. (eBay typically removes listings of disputed goods if the complaint comes from the owner of the copyright or trademark in question.)

“On the one hand,” says Grey, “if [Fernandez] is doing this because he has some connection—hopefully it’s some kind of meaningful connection and love of the artwork—gosh, I’m heartened with that. It’s just that every penny we can make, we try to put into the long-term goal of building the new chapel. That’s why I guess we felt we had to file the suit.”

Fernandez says he’ll file a response to the civil complaint this month, arguing that the online images are a protected fair use of copyrighted material.

With so much open to interpretation, Fackler wouldn’t hazard a guess on the outcome. In such a suit, he says, considerations include the size of the published photograph and the purpose of posting it online. And, he adds, “you have to factor in what the judges had for breakfast that day—and whether they’re in a good mood.”


The NYPD Harasses a Photographer at Coney Island

Manhattan commercial photographer Simon Lund loves Coney Island so much that he treks out there 10 to 20 times each summer to take pictures. But it was only on his latest venture that Lund encountered something he’d never experienced in all his trips there over the years: an unwanted photo editor from the NYPD.

As if he were in a police state, Lund was intimidated by a cop into giving up his film, even though he was doing nothing wrong and wasn’t formally accused of anything.

The upshot is that “the police had no right to get involved—none,” says Todd Maisel, vice president of the New York Press Photographers Association.

Under the law, Lund was allowed to take a photo of anyone in public. If he intended to use the picture commercially, he’d have to get a signed release.

Maisel, a shooter for the Daily News, says news photogs get into occasional scrapes with police, but most know never to give up their film. However, he says he can see how a commercial photographer might be more easily intimidated by the NYPD.

NYPD officials declined to comment for this story, but several allegations of the cops’ heavy-handed behavior toward photographers have been documented. The NYCLU has filed several lawsuits against the NYPD, accusing them of violating First Amendment rights in its harassment of photographers. One of the suits, Sharma v. NYPD, was filed in January 2006, when Indian filmmaker Rakesh Sharma, who was shooting taxis in midtown, was stopped by police and detained for several hours, during which he was quizzed about “terrorist” activities. That August, the suit was expanded at the NYCLU’s request to include a slew of photographers.

“Photographers and filmmakers have been unlawfully detained, searched, and threatened with arrest if they would not disclose or destroy their film,” the Sharma suit contends, adding that the harassment, ominously, doesn’t always end there. “Photographers have also been subjected to a second round of questioning by members of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division,” the suit alleges.

The department also may be keeping close track of which photographers it harasses. The suit accuses the NYPD of maintaining a database that includes the identities of everyone “investigated for photography . . . regardless of the outcome of the investigation.”

If that’s the case, then Simon Lund is on the list.

His troubles started when he was with his wife, Jano, clicking away at Coney Island on Memorial Day. A woman approached him and accused him of taking pictures of her young son. Lund says that if he did, he was unaware of it; he recalls that he was shooting the rides. In any event, Lund knew that it’s legal to take pictures of people, even kids, in public. (For later commercial use, photographers have to get releases from the children’s parents.)

The woman told him to accompany her while she found a cop. She insisted that Lund erase the picture, but Lund was using a film camera, not a digital one, and thus couldn’t erase individual shots. Nevertheless, he says, he willingly followed her over to a group of police officers congregating on the boardwalk. “I just wanted to sort it out, because I knew it was fine to take pictures in public,” he says.

A cop whom Lund couldn’t fully identify, however, didn’t see it that way. Lund says the cop asked him and his wife if they had children. When they said no, the officer said: “If you did, you’d understand why she is so upset.” The woman was joined by other family members, and soon they were all yelling at the police to make Lund hand over his film.

“It was starting to get uglier and uglier,” says Lund. “The mother of the child was getting really hostile: ‘Why isn’t he destroying it? How can he take pictures of my child?’ “

Lund says the cop then leaned over to him and said: “You should destroy your film right now, or give it to her. You’ve got to give up your film, or things are going to get much worse for you.”

“I knew at that point I could fight it,” says Lund. “I knew I was right.” But he recalls that he didn’t want to find out what the cop meant by things getting “much worse for you.”

So he gave the film and a business card to a friend of the woman’s. “The cop didn’t exactly say, ‘I’m going to take you to jail,’ ” says Lund, “but basically, he didn’t leave me any other choice.”

Lund asked that the woman develop the photos, remove any pictures of her son, and please return the rest of the photographs to him. He hasn’t heard from her since. He says he plans to file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

“We’re quite confident that the NYPD has told its police officers, in one way or another, that they should be paying very, very close attention to photographers,” says Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU’s associate legal director. “But they haven’t been given clear directions on the limits in which they have to conduct those investigations. Police officers are not allowed to look at images without consent of the photographer, and they have no authority to order someone to let them look at their pictures or to confiscate their film. And it happens all the time.”

Officials at the CCRB and the NYCLU say that complaints about the police approaching people taking pictures and either demanding to see their photos or seizing and destroying them have been on the rise ever since 9/11.

Dunn says this particular case offers the “wrinkle” of Lund willingly approaching the cops instead of the cops approaching him. “But the outcome is the same,” he adds: “Someone’s film is disappearing.”


After the Sean Bell Case, Bloomberg Still Starves the NYPD Watchdog

Adding insult to fatal injury in the wake of the Sean Bell trial, Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration is slashing its budget for the agency that oversees police behavior—at the very moment when Bloomberg is boasting about an earlier budget increase for the agency.

Last month, on the day when three cops were acquitted in the fatal November 2006 shooting of Bell, the mayor was a mile and a half away from the spot where the unarmed Queens man was gunned down. Cutting the ribbon for the opening of a community job center on Jamaica Avenue, Bloomberg called for calm, assuring those who were upset with the verdict that steps have been taken since the Bell shooting to hold the New York Police Department more accountable.

One of the ways that the NYPD is being better monitored, according to Bloomberg, is that his administration has bolstered the Civilian Review Complaint Board, so that now “complaints are dealt with swiftly and efficiently.” The mayor was referring to a $1.4 million budget boost that the agency received in the months after the Bell shooting.

In fact, however, the opposite is true: While Bloomberg was boasting about a better-funded CCRB, his administration has actually slashed the CCRB’s budget by $632,210 from the funds dished out last year. On May 19, members of the CCRB testified at a City Council finance hearing to request that the money be restored.

CCRB chairwoman Franklin Stone told the council that the current budget “leaves us with fewer investigators on hand than we have had over the past five years.” Over that time, the number of complaints that the agency received increased from 4,616 to 7,559.

The CCRB’s executive director, Joan Thompson, painted a grim scenario for the council members: Because of the budget cuts, the agency loses 10 investigators (down to 138), causing a productivity decline that adds 45 cases per month to its open-cases docket. Eight months from now, the agency’s open-cases docket will top 4,000—the most since the board was established in 1995. This will eventually cause the average time that it takes to close a case to increase to almost a year. And what are formally called “substantiated” cases of police abuse, which are usually more complicated and take longer to complete, will be pushed right up against—and maybe past—the agency’s 18-month statute of limitations, after which the cases must be dismissed.

“Our projections show that within 18 months, the performance indicators for our agency will decline to levels not seen since the early years of the CCRB, when the agency was seen as largely ineffective,” Thompson said.

Some might argue this is still the case. As the Voice reported earlier (“Bad Cops Get Tough Talk,” Runnin’ Scared, April 23–29), Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has the final word on disciplining his police officers, hasn’t exactly made punishing overly aggressive cops his top priority. In 2007, the NYPD’s Department Advocate’s Office, which prosecutes the CCRB cases, took only eight substantiated CCRB cases of police misconduct to departmental trial (compared with 88 in 2004). Five of those resulted in acquittals. At the same time, the NYPD’s lawyers dismissed without explanation—except to categorize them as “department unable to prosecute,” or DUPs—102 of the 296 substantiated CCRB cases. In 2004, the number of DUPs was 10.


Lower East Side Rezone Sparks Border War in Chinatown

What was meant to be a wonky town-hall meeting last week in the Lower East Side about zoning and building-height protection for just about everywhere in the area but Chinatown erupted into a screaming match between the community-board chair and at least 60 protesters holding signs declaring Mayor Mike Bloomberg a racist.

The ruckus at P.S.20 on Essex Street began when Wing Lam, director of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, interrupted the introductions at the May 12 meeting to demand translation for the many Chinese and Spanish speakers in attendance. David McWater, chair of Community Board 3, refused, saying that there was no money to hire translators. After Lam whipped the crowd into an earsplitting frenzy, McWater’s face reddened with rage, and he called the cops to remove the rabble-rousers.

And that was only the first argument of the evening. Several more times, the proceedings were interrupted by screaming chants, unsuccessful attempts by the cops to quiet things down, and finally a mass walk-out by protesters. It was a loud and clear example of the growing and racially tinged tension over just what parts of the Lower East Side and East Village will be protected from aggressive developers.

The dispute has touched a nerve across the city. Joining the May 12 protest were members of the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors, a Brooklyn group that successfully pressured a developer to scale down a high-rise last year. Harlemites also showed up en masse. Many of them are members of Voices of the Everyday People, a group that has filed a lawsuit to stop the rezoning of 125th Street for fear that long-time black residents will be displaced.

Lam, along with the newly formed Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the LES, contended during the raucous meeting that the rezoning is part of Bloomberg’s city-wide plot to price out all people of color. McWater countered that residents’ concerns about gentrification are overblown and termed the protesters’ tactics “horseshit.”

The plan at the heart of the dispute would create building-height limits and affordable-housing incentives for developers within an 111-block area in the north part of Community District 3. What’s left out of the protection area is at issue. For three years, the community board and the Department of City Planning have been working on the plan to prevent more high-rises from sprouting up unchecked. But in the past two months, the plan’s boundaries have come under fire.

The area to be rezoned is bounded by East 13th Street to the north, Avenue D to the east, Grand and Delancey streets to the south, and Third Avenue and the Bowery to the west. But it leaves out a major part of District 3: Chinatown, the Bowery, and the far East Side.

Fears that the rezoning, by reining in developers in much of the Lower East Side, will push high-rises into Chinatown and drive up the rents there are ratcheting up the volume of protests.

“It’s really blatantly racist, the way they drew their boundaries,” said Josephine Lee, an organizer at the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the LES. “The rezoning plan is not so much to protect the East Village as it is to displace the communities of people of color within and around it.”

Along with the boundaries—which opponents obviously want expanded to include Chinatown—protesters took offense at the city’s description of “affordable housing.” The rezoning plan calls for “incentives” that would allow residential developers to build larger buildings if they make 20 percent of their units “affordable.” In the city’s parlance, some of the “affordable” units are targeted for a family of four with a maximum income of $55,000, but family incomes in much of Chinatown are below $30,000, which means that current residents of Chinatown still wouldn’t find such units affordable. “It is obviously not for us,” Lam said. The disparity prompted one person at the meeting to stand up and shout: “Why are we settling for incentives when we all know we need guarantees? And why are we settling for ‘affordable’ housing when we all know we need low-income housing?”

McWater dismisses the contention that the “affordable” units would be beyond the reach of most residents: “If I could raise a wand and make it so everybody gets an apartment for $500 a month regardless of their income, I would,” he tells the Voice. “What they’re demanding is impossible. They want the 111-block rezoning to stop and start over to include Chinatown.” The city, he said, has already spent millions of dollars on the current rezoning plan. He also dismisses the criticism of the current boundaries: “The impetus to include the area north of Houston was that it seemed to be under an imminent threat, and you can’t say that about Chinatown then or now.”

Because of the way Lam and McWater have squared off, there may be little hope for a compromise as the plan goes through several more months of review.

“Until this bastardization of the process by Wing Lam a couple months ago,” says McWater, “it was a beautiful process to watch. There are 165,000 people in Manhattan Community District 3. Getting 50 or 60 of them to scream and holler because you lied to them about stuff is not that impressive. They’re just embarrassing themselves.”

Lam’s take on McWater is more succinct: “The chair is a jerk.”


Suit Against Sperm-Bank Firm Claims Sexual Harassment and Cult-Like Behavior

Stuart Miller runs a profitable company with offices in New York and Los Angeles, and which provides surrogate moms to gay couples and houses sperm and egg banks.

Miller is CEO of Growing Generations, which has been featured in glossy magazines and had two favorable write-ups in The New York Times.

Miller’s least favorable write-up is in a lawsuit recently filed in Manhattan federal court. Scott Glasgow, 40, the company’s former marketing director, claims he was fired in June 2007 after he refused to attend Landmark “personal-growth” seminars and spurned Miller’s amorous advances.

In the suit, Glasgow also claims that Miller required him to share a bed with him on company trips and sent him suggestive e-mails and shirtless pictures of himself in bondage wear, holding a whip. Glasgow is suing under sexual-harassment and religious-discrimination statutes.

“I was shocked when I was fired,” says Glasgow, who made about $100,000 as the company’s New York–based marketing director. “It took me months to right myself. I want them to stop imposing Landmark on the employees, and I want an apology.”

Ian Wallace, a lawyer representing the company, declines to discuss the facts of the case, but he calls Glasgow’s claims “baseless.” He says Glasgow wasn’t fired but just walked away from the job.

“He abandoned his position,” Wallace says. “Growing Generations and Mr. Miller are very confident that these claims will be dismissed ultimately, and there’s no factual basis for them whatsoever.”

Landmark Education, a for-profit progeny of Werner Erhard’s EST program, runs weekend-long seminars at which participants are asked to unburden themselves of intimate life events in often-confrontational exchanges. The pricey sessions can last 15 straight hours.

“They tell you nothing is true,” Glasgow says. “There is what happened and what you put on it. They say there’s no right or wrong and there is no God. It went opposite of my Christian beliefs.”

At the end, Glasgow says, participants are supposed to bring five friends to the session for a “graduation.” Those new arrivals, says Glasgow, are then given the hard sell.

“At some point, I got their pattern down,” Glasgow says. “They work you, find something emotional, and then pitch you more classes. I walked out.”

The influence of Landmark even extended to the Growing Generations offices, Glasgow says. The top officials used Landmark lingo, he says, in their daily conversations—like “I want to enroll you in my possibilities” and “You’ve got to align with me on this.”

Quarterly meetings skipped business topics and often devolved into emotional encounter-group sessions, he says, and employees had to meet with a “life coach” on staff each week.

“The Landmark philosophy is deeply ingrained in the culture of the company,” says Brent Pelton, one of Glasgow’s lawyers. Wallace, however, says that the company doesn’t require employees to attend the seminars. “Many directors and many high-level supervisors have not attended any Landmark courses,” says Wallace.

Glasgow claims the sexual harassment by CEO Miller began in the fall of 2006 with e-mails. Miller chose Glasgow as his roommate and insisted on sharing a king-size bed with him for both a cruise and a conference in New Orleans. At one point, he says, Miller caressed his head. “It was uncomfortable,” Glasgow says.

Wallace, the company lawyer, says only that Glasgow and Miller, and Miller’s domestic partner, had a very close friendship going back several years.

The end came in mid-May of last year, according to Glasgow: On the way to a conference in Philadelphia, Miller talked with Glasgow about why Glasgow had walked out of a Landmark meeting. Glasgow says he told Miller that he didn’t want to attend any of the seminars.

“A few days later,” he says, “I could do nothing right. In December, I spent the holidays at [Miller’s] home, and a few months later he fired me.”

Glasgow now works as a waiter.


The NYPD Releases Detailed Data on Dogs They’ve Shot, But Not on The People

Last week, the NYPD gave the City Council nine years’ worth of previously confidential detailed reports on the department’s shooting incidents.

But members of the council’s Public Safety Committee, which ostensibly oversees the NYPD, were barking up the wrong tree if they thought these long-sought-after Firearms Discharge Reports were going to reveal anything about the racial makeup of the people shot by New York’s cops.

On the other hand, among all the statistics and analyses were detailed breakdowns of the breeds of dogs shot by cops.

In 1998, the same year the NYPD began reporting in earnest about its canine shooting victims, it stopped providing the racial breakdown of its human victims—and of the cops who shot them.

“We know more about the breed of dogs that have been shot than we know about the people who have been shot,” said committee chairman Peter Vallone.

The lack of detail on the race of human shooting victims should be a particularly touchy topic, given that it’s widely believed that a disproportionately high number of blacks and Latinos are shot by police. In addition, a lawsuit claiming that police searches for missing persons are racially biased has gotten the go-ahead from a judge to proceed to trial, as the Voice reported last week (“Missing in Action,” May 7–13).

NYPD statistics might shed light on the difference in justice—and injustice— received by New Yorkers on the basis of the color of their skin. Stats that have been pried out of the NYPD do show that blacks and Latinos also bear the brunt of an astonishingly high number of minor pot busts (“Weeding Out Blacks and Latinos,” April 30–May 6).

But when it comes to the more deadly stats—like those of police-shooting victims—dogs are a breed apart in the department’s eyes. We can now say, for example, that between 1998 and 2006, pit bulls were overwhelmingly the target of choice for New York City’s cops. According to the NYPD’s meticulous records, there were 78 dogs shot by cops in 1998. Some 234 shots were fired at those dogs—145 of which hit them, for a 63 percent hit rate. In 2006, there were 30 incidents of cops shooting dogs, during which cops fired 113 shots (without return fire, apparently), and 55 bullets found their targets.

Overall, the most popular targets during those years, after pit bulls, were Rottweilers, with German shepherds being third, according to the reports.

Vallone’s mild complaint—he followed it up with a compliment to the NYPD—was aired at a May 5 Public Safety Committee hearing to discuss several bills that would require the police by law to be more forthcoming with statistics on shootings, gun trafficking, and housing-project crimes.

Deputy Chief John Gerrish politely made the seemingly contradictory statement that “we’d gladly provide” any information the committee needs, but that the NYPD would fight any attempt to make providing such information mandatory because, he said, it would unnecessarily tax police resources. Gerrish cited the “confidential” Firearms Discharge Reports he’d just handed over as an example of why such laws are not needed.

What Gerrish didn’t tell the council members was that Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU, had obtained those reports through a freedom-of-information request and had planned to hand them out to committee members at that same hearing.

“He stole my thunder,” Dunn told the committee.

When asked about the racial breakdown of NYPD shootings involving humans, Gerrish insisted that the department doesn’t collect that data.

But such breakdowns were routinely part of the NYPD’s pre-1998 Firearms Discharge Reports. After Gerrish testified, Dunn told the committee members that the NYCLU had also obtained the reports—then called Firearms Discharge Assault Reports—for 1996 and 1997, in which that information was included. In 1996, for example, under the listing “Ethnicity of Perps,” it shows that, of the 413 people shot whose ethnicity was listed on police reports, 239 were black. That’s about 58 percent, or more than double the percentage of the city’s black population. Of the remaining shooting victims, 134 (or 32 percent) were Latino, and 32 (or 7.7 percent) were white. The human shooting stats for 1997 were similar: 181 blacks, or 57 percent; 99 Latinos, or 31 percent; and 26 whites, or 8.2 percent. As Dunn pointed out, close to 90 percent of the NYPD’s shooting victims were black or Latino.

In 1996, 62 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, 17 percent black, and 19 percent Latino. In 1997, about 59 percent of the cops who fired their guns were white, compared to about 20 percent for both black and Latino officers. (The report didn’t include the racial breakdown of the force in those years.)

Gerrish said that providing statistics on the age, race, and gender of each officer involved in a shooting as well as for the people who were shot is a waste of the NYPD’s time and resources, because “no meaningful conclusions may be drawn from such information, since every firearms discharge must be judged in light of the unique circumstances in which it occurs, and any conclusion drawn from the purely demographic data involved is fatally flawed.”

But it’s not just shooting statistics that the NYPD has been holding back. When asked why the department doesn’t provide to the Public Safety Committee a breakdown of crime by housing project, Gerrish replied that the NYPD has that information, but prefers to release it only as part of the overall precinct-crime stats. He also balked at providing reports by precinct on the number and type of weapons seized.

“We need to spend our resources on getting the guns off the street rather than compiling reports about our activity in doing so,” said Gerrish, who is the commanding officer of the Office of Management Analysis and Planning, the large unit solely responsible for compiling such reports.

Afterward, even the relentlessly pro-police Vallone had to admit that “when it comes to the last few years, [the NYPD has] clearly drawn a line in the sand when it comes to giving out information.” He added that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s philosophy when it comes to disseminating information has evolved into: “We can do it—we just don’t feel like it.”