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Feds to probe Busch’s death

June 12, 2000

With no public announcement, the federal government is investigating the death of Gideon Busch, the young, emotionally disturbed Orthodox Jew who was shot by police after he allegedly attacked them with a hammer last August, Newsday has learned.

A "preliminary review" is being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District, William Muller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney confirmed.

The case is the fourth federal investigation of a fatal, high-profile incident involving city police in the past four years. In each of the previous cases, local officials have either failed to convict or declined to prosecute the police officers on charges of wrongdoing.

After a Bronx judge in 1996 acquitted police officer Francis Livoti of criminal charges in the death of Anthony Baez, who was choked by Livoti during a confrontation stemming from an argument over a touch-football game, the feds convicted Livoti of violating Baez' civil rights. Livoti is serving 7 years in prison.

After Abner Louima was sodomized with a stick in the 70th Precinct bathroom in 1997, the feds took over the case from Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes and convicted police officers Justin Volpe and Charles Schwarz. Volpe is serving 30 years. Schwarz is to be sentenced later this month with two other cops convicted of conspiracy.

Earlier this year, after an Albany jury acquitted four officers in the killing of Amadou Diallo, the Justice Department announced a civil-rights investigation into the shooting. So far, no charges have been brought.

Last week, FBI special agent Cynthia Leonardotos contacted police officials in the Internal Affairs Bureau, seeking information about the four officers in the Busch shooting. Busch was wielding a hammer at the time, though the police account differs from that of several witnesses in describing how close Busch was to the officers.

Deputy Chief Tom Fahey, a police spokesman, said he was unaware of the federal investigation. Leonardotos did not return a phone call.

Busch's death brought protests from many in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, where some consider Busch "the Jewish Amadou Diallo." Hynes did not indict anyone in his death.

A police official familiar with the case said, "I see the Busch case as different from the others. He had a weapon. He struck them."

Of the federal investigators, he said, "They do this from time to time, especially the ones that cause the most public outcry."

Myth and Reality. A high-powered panel on the subject of "Aggressive Policing" produced plenty of misconceptions at Brooklyn Law School last week.

Myth: Attorney Sanford Rubenstein suggested the reason that people sue the city and NYPD is because of a lack of confidence in the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Reality: People sue for money.

Rubenstein acknowledged having filed a "significant" number of suits against the city. One, on behalf of Bronx teenager Dantae Johnson, who was shot accidentally by police officers in 1999, is for $65 million. Another on behalf of Louima is for $155 million.

Myth: Attorney Susan Karten, who won $3 million from the city for the family of Anthony Baez, said blacks don't join the Police Department because of discrimination within the department. Reality: Blacks have historic and cultural aversions to joining police departments, as former police commissioner Ray Kelly put it in an interview. In addition, background checks keep out some black males because of criminal records. After Kelly lined up 60,000 blacks to take the police exam in the early 1990s, the largest number in city history, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani added a two-year college requirement for applicants, disqualifying many who had passed the test under Kelly.

Myth: Former Mayor David Dinkins said it was irrelevant that Kevin Cedeno, 16, on probation after a robbery conviction, was carrying a concealed 18-inch machete when Officer Anthony Pellegrini fatally shot him in the back in 1997. Reality: According to the grand-jury report by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Cedeno was shot as he turned toward Pellegrini, who mistook the machete as a sawed-off shotgun.

Shut Down.
Except for what department officials say are "exceptional" cases, the police trial room is closing later this month to clean up its backlog. The department is said to be bracing for a harsh report from the mayor's own Commission to Combat Police Corruption.

The commission doesn't know the half of it. Last week, a lieutenant with 19 years was dismissed for allegedly making false statements. The officer who initially caused the lieutenant's problems was herself found guilty of making false statements last week in an unrelated case-and penalized only 20 days. Tune in next week for full details.

That Dog (Again).
Deputy Commissioner Marilyn Mode's cute little dog Lil stole another lunch from a detective in the public information office that Mode allegedly supervises. Mode thinks she is being cute by notifying One Police Plaza about the incident.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.