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Chief cleared; Safir is mum

January 18, 1999

Police Commissioner Howard Safir confirmed Wednesday what this column reported a week ago - that the department (i.e. Safir) has exonerated Assistant Chief Gene Devlin of retaliation in a long-running sexual harassment case.

With typical Safirian abandon (So-long-as-crime-is-down, I-don't-have-to-give-an-explanation-for-anything-I-do), the commissioner refused to explain why he rejected the report of the department's former deputy commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunity, Sandra Marsh, and accepted another by her successor, Neldra Zeigler.

In her May report, Marsh had described Devlin - the respected and connected (to First Deputy Patrick Kelleher) Staten Island Patrol Borough commander - of being "evasive" about his transfer of Lt. Lloyd Thompson, the borough's task force commander. Thompson had officially warned Devlin not to transfer Officer Stacey Maher, a witness to the alleged sexual harassment of another female officer, because her transfer would be considered retaliation.

Marsh added there was "sufficient cause" to believe that Devlin's executive, Chief Phil Erickson, lied about Thompson's transfer. Under Safir's 1996 executive order, lying is a fireable offense. Being "evasive" is borderline.

Although Safir boasts he's fired more officers than anyone in NYPD history, he returned Marsh's report for "further investigation."

Instead, Marsh turned to a former top department official, who, requesting anonymity, told Newsday last week he gave her the following advice: "Stick to your principles. Do what you feel is right. You may suffer short-term pain but in the long run you will be better off."

Marsh stuck around for a few months to qualify for her pension, then vanished. Safir refused last week to explain her departure, describing it as "private." Attempts to reach Marsh have been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, on June 21, Safir appointed Zeigler, whose husband, Douglas, is the NYPD's highest-ranking black officer, as acting Equal Employment Opportunity deputy commissioner, succeeding Marsh. Department sources say he then transferred everyone on Marsh's staff involved with the Devlin investigation, beginning with commanding officer Capt. Timothy Donovan, and including his lieutenant, a sergeant and a detective.

On Oct. 23, Safir swore in Zeigler as Marsh's replacement in what was tantamount to a secret ceremony. With no public announcement, the swearing-in occurred not in One Police Plaza's first-floor auditorium as is customary but outside Safir's private office on the 14th floor.

Department sources say Zeigler had drafted a revised report for him before she was sworn in. Zeigler did not return phone calls.

Zeigler then issued her formal report on Nov. 16, exonerating Devlin and Erickson. A gag order by U.S District Judge John Koeltl, who is hearing Thompson's and Maher's suit against the department in Manhattan's Southern District, prohibits its being made public.

The report's conclusions will no doubt become the focal point of the federal law suit.

Sweet Charity.
Let's contrast Commissioner Safir's charity toward Chief Devlin with his harshness toward Officer Michael Meyer, who shot an unarmed squeegee man in the chest in the Bronx on June 14.

Six weeks later, on Aug. 3, Meyer - who had been removed from patrol before the shooting because of a high number of civilian complaints - was tried on one of those complaints before Assistant Commissioner of Trials Ellen K. Schwartz: specifically, that on Aug. 31, 1996, Meyer allegedly assaulted Carlos Seneriz of Brooklyn and was discourteous to Sindi Gonzalez.

Meyer had been interviewed about the incident by the Civilian Complaint Review Board on March 18, 1997. In December, 1997, he accepted a penalty of 15 days lost pay but in January, 1998, Safir rejected it.

Now, after the squeegee incident, the department tacked on a new charge to the 1996 complaint: lying to the CCRB in his interview on March 18. And lying under Safir, as we know, is a fireable offense.

Meyer's trial before Commissioner Schwartz ran from Aug. 3 to Aug. 12. On Oct 28, 1998, Schwartz found him not guilty on all charges - including the lying. Last week, Safir approved Schwartz recommendation.

Good Luck, Jennifer.
Perhaps we missed the wedding notice in the New York Times (and everywhere else), so let One Police Plaza proudly announce the marriage of Safir's daughter, Jennifer, an aspiring FBI agent, on Jan 2. Safir's spokeswoman Marilyn Mode refused to provide details, such as where the wedding occurred or whom Jennifer married.

The Times did mention, however, that Safir's predecessor Bill Bratton was about to pop the question to Rickie Kleiman, a lawyer and reporter on Court TV. She would become the fourth Mrs. B.

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.