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Chaplain says final prayer

June 1, 1998

Speaking to a group of police retirees at a sparsely filled Knights of Columbus hall in Brooklyn on Friday, the Rev. William Kalaidjian delivered what may have been his final invocation after 41 years as a department chaplain.

A bear, if not a bull (as in china shop) of a man, Kalaidjian, 72, has been forced to retire after calling a Manhattan prosecutor a "fag."

His remarks were the latest to have embarrassed the NYPD brass over the years. Last year, he criticized Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir's refusals to attend the funerals of Sgt. Walker Fitzgerald and his brother Patrick, a police officer. Walker Fitzgerald was shot to death in his car following a collision with a livery cab after he had allegedly been drinking and visiting topless bars. Patrick committed suicide two months later. A Protestant minister, Kalaidjian gave the eulogy at the Catholic service.

Says Kalaidjian: "First Deputy Commissioner Pat Kelleher said to me, 'What did you say about this to the media? Later when I saw Kelleher, he couldn't look me in the eye.

"They hate my guts," Kalaidjian said in the course of several interviews last week. "I overshadow them. I have not been at a promotion ceremony in a year. I get no exposure. I only get the crap assignments. They use Professor Alvin Kass." He said the name of the department's Jewish chaplain with the faintest trace of disdain.

"I can't tell how many guns I took away from cops," Kalaidjian continued. "A daughter calls me at 2 a.m. about her father, a lieutenant . . . I come up to his room. He has two guns at his head. I thought it was either him or me. I talked him out of it. I put the guns in my raincoat. A year later he died of a brain tumor.

"I sat with Neil Foster of the Fiftieth Precinct for a year before he died. He was at the scene of an auto accident when he was hit by an off-duty cop who was speeding. He lost a leg and died a year later.

"I wrote a three-hour eulogy. Ten minutes before the funeral, an inspector tells me only the mayor and the police commissioner can speak at the funeral. I listened to two people whine.

"I also tried to keep the guy's sanity who hit him. He called me six times."

Kalaidjian tells of the suicide of a black officer who failed the sergeant's exam. "He wanted to be the first black commissioner. He saw me three times. I saw something was wrong and called Psych Services.

They took away his guns. One day they called me from the . . . precinct. He had broken the lock where they kept the shotguns. His body was on the floor. I called the family. A black granny screamed, 'It was whitey did it. I said to her, 'Whitey didn't do it. " Then I prayed for this young man who failed his sergeant exam. "Let us respect him for what he did, for the torment of failing this exam," I said.

Printable versionKalaidjian says he viewed his role as department chaplain as a helper to cops the department abandons. "Anyone in trouble is treated by the department as though he has a contagious disease. If someone is suffering, it is my job to lift his burden. I never said no to anybody who had a problem. I would never back away. And I never asked anyone's race, creed or sexual orientation."

His refusal to back away has aligned him with some of the department's hardest elements. "I recently had lunch with Justin Volpe and his father," he said. Volpe is the 70th Precinct cop accused of shoving a broom handle up the rectum of Abner Louima in the precinct bathroom.

"He told me he didn't do it," said Kalaidjian, "and I believe him." When a 70th Precinct cop, Eric Turetsky, came forward to give evidence against Volpe, the person he is believed to have contacted was Rabbi Kass.

Kalaidjian also attended the trial of Sgt. Thomas Kennedy, charged with dropping a handcuffed prisoner face-down on the sidewalk, breaking three of his teeth and a rib. Kalaidjian says he was "shocked" when the prosecutor, Thomas Hickey, referred to Kennedy by altering the department's motto: "Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect" to "Cruelty, Punishment and Revenge."

Kennedy was acquitted. But at a police banquet, Kalaidjian called Hickey, who is openly gay, a "fag prosecutor." Because of this, Kalaidjian says, Chief of Personnel Mike Markman pressured him to resign by June 5th.

Last Friday at the Knights of Columbus hall in Sheepshead Bay, Kalaidjian was honored by police retirees together with former Commissioner Ray Kelly. A Marine color guard and two bagpipers appeared, but the NYPD refused to allow an honor guard.

"Today the department mourns the loss of one of its own," Kalaidjian said in his invocation, referring to officer Anthony Mosomillo, shot to death last week while executing a warrant. He then left the luncheon to attend Mosomillo's wake.

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.