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Judge Bristles At Plea for Cops

January 16, 1995

One of Phil Caruso's last acts before announcing his retirement as president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association was to call State Sen. Olga Mendez of East Harlem. His purpose: to complain about the sentences given Lt. Patricia Feerick and three subordinates who had been convicted of trashing an East Harlem apartment while holding its two occupants at gunpoint. Acting State Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner sentenced Feerick and two others to prison; the fourth drew probation.

Soon after Caruso's call, Orlando Rosario, one of the four convicted cops, showed up in Mendez' office to plead his case in person. He and the others, he told Mendez, were set up by drug dealers, who had concocted a conspiracy to frame them and had tricked the Manhattan district attorney. Mendez got so steamed up she did something she says she'd never done before and now regrets. She telephoned Wittner, who had before her the defendants' motion to set aside their guilty verdicts.

"It was the first time in my life I ever called a judge for anything. Ever," said Mendez.

"Maybe I was wrong, maybe I was stupid. But the cop was so believable. He looked to be telling the truth. He said the main witness was a known drug dealer who made a deal with the DA. I really believed him. In that same moment I called."

Wittner refused to accept Mendez' call, which was taken by her law secretary. But she then called all the parties to her courtroom to place on the record her views about it. "The thrust of the call was that I should not believe the witnesses, that what the DA did was improper, I should disregard the evidence and I should give these defendants, demand that I give these defendants a new trial," Wittner said.

Since sentencing, the defendants have "mounted a campaign in the press and have directly appealed to many local and state political leaders." But, she added, "I want everyone here to understand clearly I will not in any way be influenced or intimidated by a press campaign or pressure by political leaders. It is axiomatic that the judge's decision on a legal motion should be free from outside influences and political pressure. I will decide the motion before me on the record before me and the applicable law as I understand that."

On Thursday she did - and denied the motion of the Feerick Four.

Who's on first. John Timoney, promoted last week by Police Commissioner William Bratton from chief of department to first deputy commissioner, will certainly have more power than his predecessor, Dave Scott, whose name has already slipped from Bratton's memory. (Bratton couldn't remember it when he spoke to reporters last week.)

Timoney will also have more power than Scott's predecessor, John Pritchard, and even more than Pritchard's predecessor, former Commissioner Ray Kelly,Printable version who served as first deputy to Lee Brown. This is because the "first dep" does as much, or as little, as the commissioner wishes. In appointing Timoney, Bratton re-established what was once the traditional line of departmental authority with the chief of department reporting to the "first dep."

That line had been sundered by Brown, who allowed his chief of department, Robert Johnston, to report directly to him, bypassing Kelly. Johnston had theatened to quit unless Brown gave him direct access.

Bratton perpetuated Brown's chain of command under Scott, allowing Timoney to report directly to him. But now, he says, Timoney's successor as chief of department, Louis Anemone, will report not to Bratton but to Timoney.

Bratton also boasted to reporters that his "number two" had always succeeded him. "The practice has been in every department I've been in . . . that my number two has always moved up, with my strong urging and support. I have no doubt John could take this job over today, if it became available." While this may have been true for Bratton's jobs in Boston, only time will tell whether it will play here in New York.

Crime and time. Deputy Commissioner Walter Mack was so impressed by the remarks of "Dirty Thirty" cop Justine Fazzini, who pleaded guilty to perjury and was quoted as saying she was prepared to do 21 months in prison to atone for her sins, that he called her lawyer, Murray Richman, and asked whether she'd share her experiences with the department's new recruits. The fact that Fazzini refused to cooperate with the prosecution and implicate other cops didn't bother Mack. "Her decision not to cooperate is not unusual. But every time a police officer falls, I am of the view that there are factors that are important and that their experiences are conveyed to others in the department," he said.

Flying, flying. Bratton's aide-de-camp Peter LaPorte says he's willing to make restitution for a 30-minute trip he and his two nieces took around the city in a police helicopter earlier this year. LaPorte, 31, who's recognized for the long hours he puts in at One Police Plaza, says he'll write out a check for whatever the amount is determined. "If there's any sense of impropriety or wrongdoing, I'm looking to put it behind me."

New Lou. First up on the dais pumping hands after Friday's promotion ceremonies was Lou Matarazzo, the PBA's new head man. Asked about chances of halting the union's long-running feud with New York Newsday over its reporting, he answered diplomatically and enigmatically, "Anything is possible."

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© 1995 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.