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And one probe begets another

January 11, 1999

After a drawn out and highly unusual internal investigation of a burgeoning sexual harassment scandal, two police officers are literally making a federal case that the department has taken revenge upon them.

Staten Island's Lt. Lloyd Thompson, a 17-year veteran with a law degree and outside law practice, served as commanding officer of the Staten Island Task Force.

All that changed when he officially warned his boss, respected Staten Island Patrol Borough Chief Eugene Devlin, not to transfer Officer Stacey Maher, a witness to the alleged sexual harassment of another female officer. Transferring someone after he or she has filed a complaint, Thompson warned Devlin, violated state and federal law.

Devlin had Maher transferred nonetheless and then transferred Thompson. Now, Thompson and Maher are suing the department.

In an affidavit filed Tuesday before Judge John G. Koeltl of Manhattan's Southern District, Thompson wrote that since warning Devlin, he has been "subjected to a continuing and escalating campaign of harassment designed to coerce my retirement and / or to remove me from the police department based on trumped up disciplinary infractions."

According to the affidavit, here, among other things, is what has happened to Thompson:

First, the department accused him of improperly appearing in the 120th Precinct sergeants locker room. Although the department later ruled that allegation "unsubstantiated," he was then informed that every officer assigned to his tour would be interrogated by the Internal Affairs Bureau regarding comments he might have made at the 120th Precinct roll call about the investigation.

On Dec. 29, the Chief of Patrol's Investigation / Evaluation Section (which nobody seems to have heard of) began interrogating cops who use Thompson's legal services.

Last week, Assistant Corporation Counsel Paul Aronson claimed to Koeltl that Thompson violated the city charter by representing "subordinates." Aronson added that the department's investigation of Thompson, who has properly filed off-duty reports about his law practice for the past eight years without incident, was undertaken in "good faith" and was not retaliatory.

The department's Patrol Guide Section 120-14, which deals with outside employment, however, says nothing about representing "subordinates." Rather, it says that an officer who is a lawyer cannot represent "a higher ranking member of the same command."

At the request of Thompson's attorney, Rosemary Carroll, Koeltl ordered the department to stop questioning Thompson's cop clients.

Koeltl also questioned the department's own investigation of the entire affair, originally conducted by Sandra Marsh, the former deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity. In her report, Marsh described Devlin's answers about Thompson's transfer as "evasive."

When Police Commissioner Howard Safir returned her report requesting "further investigation," Marsh vanished from One Police Plaza. She has not been seen nor heard from since.

"The question that immediately jumps to mind," Koeltl mused, "is why, particularly in a case in which it has taken over a year to conduct the . . . investigation . . . now an investigation as a result of that investigation, as a result of focusing attention on one of the complainants, the police department opens up another investigation . . ."

Apparently unknown to Koeltl, Neldra Zeigler, who replaced Marsh as EEO's deputy commissioner, has rewritten Marsh's report as per Safir's wishes, amid speculation that Devlin will be promoted to chief of the Housing Bureau.

Thompson says he expects EEO to discipline him, though he does not know on what charges. A letter to him by Zeigler on Dec. 28 says that the investigation of his case has been completed: "This case concerned an allegation by you, of retaliation by Asst. Chief Eugene Devlin. This allegation has been found to be unsubstantiated."

Zeigler has also dismissed Maher's retaliation complaint against Devlin, according to Maher's attorney, Jeffrey Goldberg. Meanwhile, Goldberg says the Internal Affairs Bureau has initiated an investigation of Maher based on her brother-in-law, Joseph Light, who was convicted of manslaughter and whose credibility might ordinarily be considered less than sterling.

Pardoned: Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode's wee dog Lil, after biting a sergeant's boot while scrounging for food. The line now is that Lil never bit anyone.

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.