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The powerful say little about probes

January 22, 2001

Judge for yourself the meaning of the following events.

Aug. 18, 1997. A week after police officer Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse in Brooklyn, Zachary Carter, then the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, announces an investigation into the "patterns and practices" of the Police Department. If such patterns and practices as systemic brutality are established, the Justice Department can sue the Police Department and establish a federal monitor.

Aug. 18, 1997. Public Advocate Mark Green, an expected mayoral candidate this year, sends a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno requesting a broader investigation to determine whether the Police Department has engaged in a "pattern of conduct that violates the legal and constitutional rights of New Yorkers."

Jan. 5, 1999. Reports circulate that Harlem congressman Charles Rangel is trying to convince Hillary Clinton to run for the United States Senate.

March 18, 1999. Six weeks after the fatal shooting of unarmed Amadou Diallo in the Bronx by four plain-clothes officers from the Street Crime Unit, Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, announces her office will join the Eastern District's investigation to include the Street Crime Unit.

March 27, 1999. Police Commissioner Howard Safir orders the entire Street Crime Unit into uniform, in effect disbanding the unit.

July 6, 1999. Hillary Clinton declares her Senate candidacy.

Jan. 17, 2000. At the Rev. Al Sharpton's annual Martin Luther King Day celebration, Hillary Clinton sends her condolences to the Diallo family and calls the shooting "murder." She says federal involvement will begin the next week with a meeting between the Justice Department and the Diallo family. She adds, "If there is a role for the federal government beyond the meeting I will certainly...encourage that to occur."

Feb. 25, 2000. The four Street Crime officers are acquitted of murder in the death of Diallo.

March 2, 2000. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, the No. 2 man in the Justice Department, meets with Rangel, former Mayor David N. Dinkins, Sharpton and the Diallo family to discuss trying the four officers on federal civil rights charges. Robert Conason, an attorney representing the Diallo family who attended the meeting, says no fewer than 25 deputy attorney generals, including seven division heads were present. After the meeting, Holder announces the case is a priority and that a decision will be made expeditiously.

Nov. 7, 2000. Hillary Clinton is elected to the Senate. Black voters provide the backbone of her support.

Nov. 21, 2000. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani meets for two hours in Washington with Holder, Attorney General Janet Reno and Loretta Lynch, who has succeeded Carter as U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. After the meeting Giuliani says Reno "has to make a decision on whether to bring a lawsuit."

Jan. 11, 2001. City Councilman Sheldon Leffler writes to Lynch and President Bill Clinton urging them to decide whether to wrap up negotiations with the city over the Justice Department's findings. "Given the change of administration on a national level that will occur on Jan. 20, I believe that if anything fruitful is to come out of the negotiations between the city and U.S. attorney general, a decision must be reached by Jan. 20 as to whether to make a deal or pursue a federal suit against the city."

Jan. 15, 2001. Dinkins tells Newsday he is "damn disappointed" over the federal investigation. "We had our best shot ever with the two U.S. attorneys. The fact that there is a new administration is no excuse."

Jan. 15, 2001. Mark Green says the federal investigation has succeeded in forcing Giuliani to make reforms. A Green aide says complaints against officers have fallen and the number of lawsuits filed against the city has fallen as well.

Jan. 16, 2001. The Republican nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft, testifies before the Senate. No one raises the issue of the NYPD.

Jan. 16, 2001. Conason writes to Holder, saying: "The seeming lack of courage displayed by the failure to either seek an indictment or formally close the investigation could be taken by many as an example of 'politics' at its worst...The inaction of the Department of Justice is a further injustice to not only the family of Amadou Diallo but the citizens of the City of New York."

Jan. 17, 2001. Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, says the investigation is "continuing" and that White has no comment.

Jan. 17, 2001. William Muller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, says the investigation is "pending."

Jan 19, 2001. Neither Holder, Justice Department spokeswoman Karen Peterman, nor Lynch returns phone calls to Newsday.

Jan. 19, 2001. Rangel's office says the congressman has been traveling in Asia with top House Democrat Richard Gephardt and has no comment.

Since being elected to the Senate, Hillary Clinton has said nothing about the Diallo case.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.