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Slain officer gets ‘hero’ label late

July 24, 2000

John Kelly, the Staten Island police officer killed last week in a car chase, may be a hero to the Police Department now. But when he was alive, the department sure didn't treat him like one.

For the past three years, he had been denied days off, assigned for five months to a modified midnight tour from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.-supposedly because his arrest numbers were lacking-and rejected by the Emergency Service unit, where he wanted to transfer.

For those reasons, says Kelly's attorney Jeffrey Goldberg, Kelly's wife, Officer Patricia Duffy, hesitated before reluctantly accepting condolences from Staten Island borough commander Gene Devlin.

"The family," says Goldberg, quoting Duffy, "made a decision to be 'bigger people' and not tarnish John's image." Devlin did not return a call, and department spokesman Chief Tom Fahey declined to comment.

Why had Kelly been targeted? According to Goldberg, it was because Kelly filed a sexual harassment complaint for his wife's sister, Officer Virginia Duffy, in July, 1997. Virginia Duffy had said that she had been molested by a lieutenant while driving him in a police van. The department found her claim "unsubstantiated."

Nonetheless, Virginia Duffy's complaint has so infected the department that last month the city agreed to pay $1.2 million to former Equal Employment Opportunity Deputy Commissioner Sandra Marsh.

Marsh sued the department and its top brass in federal court, saying she was forced from her job last year after refusing Police Commissioner Howard Safir's order to rewrite her report. The report accused Devlin of being "evasive" and his subordinate, Chief Phil Erickson, of "lying" about their actions after Virginia Duffy's complaint.

Goldberg, who also represents Virginia Duffy, said she feared retaliation by officers in the 123rd Precinct where she worked and hesitated to file the complaint. Instead, Kelly filed it for her with his boss, Sgt. Greg Cafaro, the integrity officer of the Staten Island task force.

Goldberg says Kelly was then denied such courtesies as taking a day off without formal five-day notice. When Patricia Duffy gave birth, and Kelly tried to return to a day tour so they could share baby-sitting duties so she could continue to work, his transfer was denied.

Patricia Duffy was forced to take a month's leave without pay. Goldberg says Kelly never filed a complaint against the department for retaliation because he feared further problems.

Meanwhile, the department's exposure over his sister-in-law's complaint has not ended with Marsh's settlement. Virginia Duffy and five other Staten Island officers, as well as the commanding officer of Marsh's office, who was transferred after Marsh refused to rewrite her report, have also sued in federal court.

On Wednesday, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters George Grasso is to testify in the federal suit. On Friday, outgoing First Deputy Patrick Kelleher, whose province was departmental discipline, follows. Then comes Safir.

Big Meet in Philly.
Philadelphia's police commissioner John Timoney did something last week he could never do in New York City when he served as a first deputy in the NYPD.

He met with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The meeting concerned the videotaping of brotherly love cops kicking and beating a serial robbery suspect while arresting him.

Timoney said Sharpton "expressed his concerns about the video. I laid out the guy's history, that he was wanted on 11 priors and wanted on a robbery warrant and that all the women he robbed were African-Americans."

Sharpton didn't return calls.

Meanwhile, New York City's mayoral front-runner, Public Advocate Mark Green, complained to Your Humble Servant that he never stated he would make Timoney his police commissioner. Green said his jocular reference at a party at Elaine's restaurant to Timoney's future appointment, to which this column referred last week, was only a "joke."

The Long Good-bye (Continued). Kelleher, "the greatest first deputy in the history of the Police Department," according to Safir, is said to be "contemplating" applying for a tax-free, line-of-duty disability pension as did his predecessor, Tosano Simonetti.

At a Captain's Endowment luncheon a month after Simonetti's appointment, Safir called him "the greatest first deputy in the history of the department."

Simonetti got his line-of-duty "three-quarters" pension-which gives him about $100,000 a year tax free-through the "heart bill," a sharp piece of legislation holding that officers' heart problems are job-related, medical evidence to the contrary.

The "disabled" Simonetti now gloms an additional six figures, doing security for billionaire Ronald Perelman.

Kelleher, who will pull down six-figures as head of worldwide security for Merrill Lynch, isn't saying what disability he is contemplating, except to say it won't be his heart.

Sources familiar with the department's pension board say that since 1992, when the department cracked down on abuses, only one top chief has been awarded a line-of-duty disability pension unconnected to his heart.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.