NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site
Printable versionSend to a friendEmail Leonard Levitt

For Safir, ruling is a sad coda

December 4, 2000

It has been nearly four months since Howard Safir resigned as police commissioner, but as last week's decision by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein reveals, Safir remains very much with us.

In ruling on a lawsuit filed against Safir and the department by Officer Yvette Walton, Hellerstein concluded that Safir fired Walton in retaliation for testifying before the City Council on April 19, 1999, and in effect called him a liar.

This may come as no surprise to many at One Police Plaza; not for nothing did Your Humble Servant once offer Safir a Bible before he began a news conference (he didn't take it). A reading of Hellerstein's decision provides a sorry coda to the career of the man the mayor has called "the greatest police commissioner in the city's history."

Safir fired Walton, who wore a hood to hide her identity, 30 minutes after she criticized the Street Crime Unit at a council hearing, shortly after the Amadou Diallo shooting. Safir maintained he fired Walton, who was on probation, for sick leave abuse. Safir's spokewsoman Marilyn Mode was quoted in The New York Times on April 26 saying, "We have no idea who the hooded person was. We did not know whether it was a male or female even."

In his ruling, Hellerstein concluded the department knew Walton's identity when she testified. "The police department's denial of this knowledge is not credible," Hellerstein wrote. "Walton's probationary status was pretext for her dismissal...She would not have been dismissed had she not spoken out publicly...on an issue of immediate and substantial concern to the Department. "

Although Walton wore a hood during her testimony, Hellerstein wrote that she was identifiable as a spokeswoman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, a group that accompanied her to the hearing and whose activities the department had secretly monitored. That monitoring, the department explained when it was revealed last summer, stemmed from a complaint that the group supposedly pressured black cops within the Street Crime Unit to speak out against the NYPD. The charges were determined to be unfounded. Hellerstein also wrote that the decision to terminate Walton "was made at the highest level of the department, by...Safir and deputy commissioners working directly under him."

Although Walton was dismissed without a hearing or trial, Safir, Hellerstein wrote, "testified Walton could be dismissed without a hearing or a trial because she was in a status of dismissal probation when she committed her sick leave infraction." Her infractions, Hellerstein continued, "were regarded by the department as minor infractions of the type that would normally have led to command discipline, not dismissal, even of an officer in probationary status."

Hellerstein then noted that the city's Administrative Code and the department's own regulations "do not mention a status of 'dismissal probation'...No policy directive or other writing reflects such a status; none was produced and none could be found..."

The city is appealing the decision.

Some Party.
The department held Marilyn Mode's formal retirement party last Tuesday, although she remains on the police department payroll, with her $113,000 salary, city car and no apparent duties other than to continue to serve as Safir's spokeswoman.

Outside Moran's on the West Side, police placed "no parking" signs and assigned a five-man detail to help ease guests' entry.

Safir appeared with eight of his security detail, which Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says he needs because of threats to his life that no one we talked to at One Police Plaza believes exist.

Mode thanked many guests but did not mention her office's former commander, Inspector Mike Collins, who did the heavy lifting while Mode disappeared for hours. Mode dismissed Collins without explanation after last year's media Christmas party.

Your Humble Servant was asked not to attend because, as Collins' successor, Deputy Chief Tom Fahey, put it, "Safir would be uncomfortable."

Back on the Mark.
In September, Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik ordered a last-minute review of outgoing Chief of Personnel Michael Markman's tax-free, line-of-duty disability pension application after this column reported his injury occurred seven years ago and his examination was conducted in secret in the office of the department's chief surgeon, Robert Thomas.

Well, guess what? The same doctors who approved Markman's injury -Arsen Pankovich, Stanley Spellman and Leon Lefer-have done it again. Markman faces the Pension Board next month for final approval.

The Tables Turned. Perhaps the premier attorney representing cops for disabilities, Jeffrey Goldberg, has filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn's federal court seeking $2 million in damages from Capt. Ernie Naspretto of the department's Medical Division. Goldberg alleges that on Dec. 3, 1999, cop client William Kessler told him that Naspretto had informed him his disability application had been rejected because Goldberg was his attorney. No comment from Naspretto or the NYPD.

Staff writer Graham Rayman contributed to this column.

« Back to top

© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.