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The PBA lives loud and proud

April 6, 1998

For an organization believed by some to be mortally wounded, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association put on a pretty impressive show of life Thursday night.

The occasion was the retirement dinner of its Second Vice President Richie O'Neil. Perhaps 800 people attended, including the department's current top brass, a former commissioner and three former first deputy commissioners.

The camaraderie displayed between them and top union officials indicated that despite the union's troubles - its paltry pay raise, the governor's rebuff of its proposed state arbiter and the racketeering and conspiracy convictions of its lawyers and fiscal genius Richie Hartman - the PBA remains a deep and rich force within the fabric of the NYPD.

Asked about the convictions, Phil Caruso, the PBA's former president and Hartman's patron, said jauntily, "Which ones?"

Current PBA president Lou Matarazzo crowed he'd just been photographed with the Chief of Internal Affairs Charles Campisi, the sworn enemy of cops the PBA often bends rules to protect.

In his speech, O'Neil never mentioned Matarazzo, a former rival. Instead, he discussed his relationship with former first deputies Pat Murphy and Tony Simonetti, describing how he'd prevailed upon them to spare cops from dismissal.

"I go to Pat Murphy . . . He says the cop's going to be fired. I say, Pat, let me tell you about the cop and about the damage it would do to his family.' The cop wasn't fired."

He went to see Simonetti "about a cop on trial. He wants to fire the cop. I say to him, Tony, stop the trial. The trial was stopped.' "

Of current first deputy Pat Kelleher - also at the dinner - O'Neil said, "I've gone to him a million times. His door is always open."

That open door symbolizes what can be described as a symbiotic relationship between the NYPD and the PBA. Last year Simonetti opened the door for police officer Jay Creditor, a PBA delegate, fired for missing 200 hours of work. With Police Commissioner Howard Safir undergoing bypass surgery, Simo ordered Creditor's unprecedented reinstatement so that Creditor could receive a tax-free, line-of-duty disability pension: lifetime worth $1.4 million.

A few months later the same door blew open for Simonetti. The department's pension board - six of whose 12 votes are controlled by the union - awarded him a $100,000-a-year, tax-free disability pension, courtesy of a piece of scam legislation known as the Heart Bill.

Pushed by the union, the bill holds that - contrary to medical evidence and common sense - virtually all heart disease affecting cops is job-related.

O'Neil, who as a top union official has done no police work for two decades, stepped through that same open door. Like virtually every chief and PBA bigfoot, he was awarded the same tax-free, line-of-duty disablity pension - his for an accident sustained while driving between two precincts, on PBA business.

Back to the Future.
The year: 2001. The scene: the steps of City Hall. The occasion: the newly elected mayor's first news conference.

"I want to apologize for the actions of the city under my predecessor concerning the death of Anthony Baez in December, 1994. This is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the City of New York both because of the loss of life involved and also because of the inadequate response of the City of New York.

"Mr. Baez died after police officer Francis X. Livoti used a department-banned choke-hold during a struggle, initiated by a mere football striking officer Livoti's patrol car. Livoti, you may recall, had been the subject of a dozen excessive force complaints and been placed in a special monitoring program. At the time of his struggle with Baez - who, incidentally, had no criminal record - Livoti was assigned to drive a sergeant so that the sergeant could closely supervise him.

"In the years following Baez' death, my predecessor uttered not a word of symapthy to the Baez family. During the family's civil suit for compensatory damages, the city took the novel legal tack that because Livoti used a banned choke-hold, he acted outside the scope of his employment as a police officer so that the city was not responsible for his actions.

"So for all of those reasons, the human tragedy involved, the loss of life, the tremendous amount of damage done and the clearly inadequate response of the City of New York, I wish to apologize to the Baez family and to all of the people who are affected by this."

Responding to the new mayor's apology, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called it "kowtowing" and "politically inspired."

"The new mayor, who drew on Hispanic support for his election," Giuliani added, "has countenanced the Baezes' false and legally insupportable theories and set a bad precedent for the future."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.