Between lines of Safir
April 3, 2000
Perhaps the kindest thing one can say about the testimony of Police Commissioner Howard Safir and Corporation Counsel Michael Hess before a state Assembly committee Friday was that they thought they were making an April Fool's joke. How else to explain their justification of their release of Patrick Dorismond's sealed juvenile arrest record?
First, let's examine their specious comparison of the shooting of the unarmed Dorismond with three other victims also killed by police, Kevin Cedeno, Anthony Rosario and Ernest Sayon. Cedeno was carrying a machete, Rosario a gun. Sayon, who'd just set off an M-80 firecracker, was out on bail, having been charged with attempted murder while carrying a machine gun.
Of course, the release of their prior arrest records -as well as those of the two men killed over the weekend in what appears to be a "clean" police shooting -is appropriate, if it is relevant. Note that word, relevance.
What, however, is the relevance in releasing the record of Dorismond's arrest at age 13 for a crime that was dismissed? What is the relevance of releasing a subsequent arrest for gun possession -also dismissed -when no gun was found after the shooting? Only a fool could accept Safir's explanation that Dorismond's actions at age 13 were part of what Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has described as Dorismond's "propensity to violence" when he took a swing at a supposed druggie who turned out to be an undercover cop.
But there is a word to describe, as a former top police official did, why our mayor ordered Dorismond's sealed arrest record released.
That word is "smear."
Said the former official: "It was released to make a citizen look like a bad person and justify a killing that the police had set in motion and whose consequences they couldn't control."
In his testimony, Safir implied that the Police Department has been releasing this kind of information about victims of police shootings since 1986. That brought the following response from Ray Kelly, former police commissioner.
"I don't remember that happening. Let him cite a specific case," he said.
Perhaps now would be a good time to report the remarks of Gerald Stern, administrator of the state commission on judicial conduct.
Stern was cited by Monroe Freedman, professor of legal ethics at Hofstra Law School, at Friday's Assembly hearing as criticizing Giuliani when he was a prosecutor. Urging the banning of news conferences by federal prosecutors in announcing indictments, Stern was quoted in the magazine LawScope News in 1985 as saying of Giuliani, then U.S. attorney for the Southern District: "Giuliani is a classic illustration of a prosecutor who has disregarded the rules ... revealing all sorts of things he should not and treating indictments like convictions."
Finally, we take with cynicism Hess' remark that Giuliani sought the release of Dorismond's sealed record as part of the "public's right to know." This from an administration that refuses to reveal the most elemental information to the public, such as the cost of walling off City Hall, fortress-like, from the public, supposedly for security purposes because of a terrorist threat, or the cost of renovations to the top brass' private elevator at Police Plaza, also supposedly for security purposes, so that when Safir enters, those already on it must exit at the next floor.
A four-paragraph Police Department bio lists McNeil's accomplishments with the federal marshal's service, where he and Safir met. No mention is made of his three years with the NYPD, where he has worked on the 14th floor of One Police Plaza. Nor could his name be found in the police roster. Nor could anyone be located to explain what he did for those three years.
In his new job, McNeil will have another big empty suit to fill: that of Safir's former Fire Department crony Richie Sheirer, now director of Emergency Services.
© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.