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On the outs among ranks

September 29, 1997

An obscure federal trial is providing a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the NYPD.

The trial is an age-discrimination suit by four deputy chiefs who charge they were marginalized into a rotating night duty, sans staff and car, because each was over 50.

The Manhattan court trial has also exposed rifts within the department. Its two highest-ranking minority chiefs, Rafael Pineiro and Wilbur Chapman, testified for the plaintiffs. Both are on the outs with the NYPD's top uniformed officer, Chief of Department Louis Anemone, and have been marginalized themselves.

Testifying for the department last week was ex-commissioner Bill Bratton's First Deputy John Timoney, himself on the outs with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for having called current Police Commissioner Howard Safir a "lightweight."

Explaining past promotion policies, Timoney - whose destiny appears, nonetheless, to be defending the NYPD wherever he roams - testified, "Some people got to the top by sticking around longer than anyone else." Bratton, he explained, disregarded officers' past experience and performance evaluations and instead looked for "rising stars."

Next, Timoney explained why each of the four deputy chiefs was sloughed off into the night duty slot. In 1994, he said, he'd telephoned Edward Cappella, 63, then Bronx chief of detectives, after a sniper shot a tourist on a Circle Line cruise off the Bronx.

"It was clear he hadn't been to the hospital or to the scene," Timoney testified. "I was incredulous. I would expect the top Bronx detective to be out there."

Timoney said that, in a separate incident, Paul Sanderson, 62, who headed the Bias Unit under then Chief of Department Robert Johnston, had had a subordinate brief Johnston, rather than briefing Johnston himself. And, he added, after meeting with the Brooklyn district attorney about a bias assault, a district attorney staffer told him the bias unit hadn't done a good job. The unit, he said, "hadn't gotten out in front of the investigation."

Timoney said Brian Lavin, 57, was shunted to night duty because he'd investigated whether a police officer had failed to pay for a second scoop of ice cream. (The officer had been charged for only a single scoop.) "He conducted a full-blown investigation," Timoney testified. "It held the department up to ridicule."

Outside the courtroom, Lavin - known in the department as "Two Scoop Lavin" - said his borough commander had "endorsed" his report.

Printable versionCappella said, "I did go to the hospital. I had an unblemished 37-year career. He makes this decision from a 30-second phone call."

Sanderson said, "Johnston gave me carte blanche. Later, he told me what a great job I had done. He recommended me for a promotion."

The four's attorney, Rosemary Carroll, said to Timoney, "You had no written criteria, only your subjective assessments. You said a rising star is someone you can just see." Alluding to so-called rising star George Grasso, deputy commissioner for legal matters, Carroll told Timoney, "You mean it's like obscenity. You can't define it but you know it when you see it."

Timoney said the fourth chief, 62-year-old Elson Gelfand, was "a fine commander" who'd been placed in the night rotation slot not by him, but by Anemone. (Friends of Gelfand say it was he who, as duty chief a few years ago, recommended the suspension of Officer Francis X. Livoti after he pushed a lieutenant. The suspension was overridden after Anemone intervened.)

The dark prince, who spent last week at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., is to testify today. That should be rich.

No way, Al. Here's former First Deputy David Scott's version of the non-meeting at One Police Plaza between Bratton, Nation of Islam ministers and the Rev. Al Sharpton that followed the celebrated confrontation at a Harlem mosque in January, 1994, Giuliani's first month in office: "Minister Don Muhammad from Boston called Bratton to meet with him and Conrad Muhammad of the Harlem mosque. Bratton asked me to bring them up to my office. They indicated they were waiting for others - Sharpton and, I believe, Vernon Mason. I conveyed to them that Bratton had agreed to meet only with the Nation of Islam ministers. They caucused among themselves, then said it was all of them or nothing, and left. And contrary to what Sharpton said, there was no call from City Hall."

Seen: In the department's recent medal day brochure, the picture of Chief of Patrol Chapman was not on the same page as that of Anemone. Instead, a picture of Anemone's buddy, Transit Chief Duke Donahue - far lower in the department's pecking order - appeared. With Anemone away last week, Chapman, not Donahue, was appointed Acting Chief of Department.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.