Booted out amid scandal
February 14, 2000
Police Commissioner Howard Safir quietly drop-kicked feared Internal Affairs Bureau Deputy Insp. James Burns out of the Police Department after demoting him to captain.
The department calls the charges "inappropriate conduct," which translates to inappropriate touching, groping and sexual harassment of a male subordinate.
From an interview on Jan. 22, 1999, by the Internal Affairs Bureau's then-Lt. June Martucci of a male detective we won't name:
Martucci: So you wanted to tell us something, describe whatever happened between you and Inspector Burns.
Detective: He basically would, like, verbally harass people; he would say things of a sexual nature.
Martucci: What type of things, does anything stand out? . . .
Detective: Yes, I mean he would touch sometimes. . . . On approximately four occasions he grabbed my genitals. On approximately five occasions he grabbed my buttocks. . . . On one occasion . . . while standing behind me he stuck his hand down my shirt. . . . When I grabbed his hand and told him to stop and what was he doing, he said, 'I just wanted to see if your nipples would get hard. ' . . . On numerous occasions he would ask me if my wife was giving me sex. When I told him I was fine, he said, 'If she doesn't, you know where to come for it.'
Martucci: What did you say? Did you respond to him?
Detective: No, I would just, like, wave my hand, like, 'Get out of here' or walk away from him. . . . The most recent thing that occurred was I was attending a meeting in Queens IAB. . . .There were approximately 30, 40 people there. . . . He entered the room, sat next to me and placed his hand on my left leg, and he started to move his hand up and down my leg. That was witnessed by my partner.
Martucci: OK. What did you do or say, anything? . . .
Detective: I kept pushing his hand off of mine. . . .
Martucci: Did he touch any of your genitals?
Detective: No, no. On one occasion he called me into the supervisor's office. When I walked in, he was standing in boxer shorts and a T-shirt.
Another officer also filed suit against Burns with similar allegations.
Many in the department call Burns' situation tragic because of his 19 years of service, lack of civilian complaints and the fact that these charges do not involve corruption. But he has accepted Safir's decision. Worse than Burns' financial loss, say department officials, is the loss of his reputation and the embarrassment to his family.
Protecting the Finest. On Feb. 2, the department and the FBI held a joint news conference to announce the arrests of 65 people in three separate auto theft rings. A joint news release was drafted by the FBI's Louis Schiliro, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Loretta Lynch and Safir, all of whom attended the news conference in Lynch's office.
Although it was agreed that neither the FBI's case agent nor the Police Department's undercover detective would be mentioned in the news release, reporters interviewed the detective and identified him - apparently with the department's approval.
This marked the second time this month that the department had broken with tradition and unmasked its undercover cops. Just the day before, Safir had identified the four undercover officers who helped indict John Gotti's son-in-law, Carmine Agnello. Safir then invited the media to their promotions at One Police Plaza. In the past, such undercover promotions were performed privately in the commissioner's office.
Safir's line in the Agnello case was that the department revealed the undercovers' identities to protect them. Others suspect it was to tout the department while Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seeks higher office.
Meanwhile, the FBI's position on not identifying undercovers remains unchanged. "Our policy is not to identify undercovers," says FBI spokesman Jim Margolin, "unless there is a compelling reason to do so."
© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.