Prosecutor must break bad habit
February 26, 2001
A Staten Island prosecutor has been reprimanded for writing that enough reason existed to arrest a man who wrote a critical letter to Borough President Guy Molinari.
Assistant Staten Island District Attorney Vincent Antonucci wrote on the official complaint form against Terence Hunter on Jan. 12, the day after Hunter's arrest, that "there was probable cause for the arrest."
Apprised of Antonucci's wording by Newsday, Staten Island District Attorney William Murphy said Antonucci inappropriately used this wording on every complaint he filed.
He called the wording "an after the fact assessment. It has nothing to do with this case.
"Somewhere, he learned this was a desirable sentence to put in every complaint he ever wrote," Murphy said. "He has since been specifically instructed to cease and desist from doing this again."
Asked who had instructed him, Murphy said, "I did."
Earlier in the week, Police Department officials peddled the line that the decision to arrest Hunter was made by four police officers and their sergeant. After Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik met with Chief Charles Campisi of Internal Affairs, police officials, unaware of Murphy's explanation, said the department's first priority was to determine whether probable cause existed to make the arrest.
Police sources say Kerik's concern is how to protect the five arresting officers without implicating higher-ups who either ordered or approved Hunter's arrest.
Indications are that the officers won't accept a minor penalty like a command discipline.
"Especially the two Intel guys," said a police source. "It could hurt their chances of promotion." Two of the five arresting officers are said to be detectives from the Intelligence Division, the others from the 120th Precinct squad detectives from S.I.
Hunter, a black city worker employed as a budget analyst for the Brooklyn borough president's office, had accused Molinari in a letter of a "high-tech lynching" in closing a black youth center in the borough.
Hunter included three historical photographs of lynched black men. For that, he was charged with aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor, and jailed overnight.
Molinari, an ally of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who has had a police bodyguard since 1995 because of a threat on his life believed by authorities to be by a man now serving a life sentence for murder, said he passed Hunter's letter to the Police Department.
But he has denied prior knowledge of Hunter's arrest. Murphy dropped the case after determining there was no threat, therefore no crime.
A person familiar with police practices on Staten Island said Hunter's arrest could not have occurred without the involvement of either Staten Island's borough commander Gene Devlin or his executive officer, Tony Marra.
Marra, appointed executive officer nine days before the arrest, was observed at two Molinari fund-raisers within the past couple of months, one for Molinari's Republican club, the second for the borough's Conservative Party boss, James Molinaro, who is running for borough president.
Marra is expected to succeed Devlin, who is nearing retirement. Neither returned calls to Newsday.
Police officials add that Hunter's arrest could also not have occurred without the concurrence of the highest levels of the Intelligence Division, which is headed by a newly appointed inspector, Edmund Harnett. Former commissioner Howard Safir placed Intel under the commissioner's direct command. It remains so today.
First, longtime member Doug King, after he was allegedly threatened by board member Big Mike Emmerman regarding King's questioning by the feds concerning the sale of federal badges and shields. King says he knows nothing.
Second, Emmerman's Wall Street buddy Steve Raphael after a call from Your Humble Servant asking about a complaint against Raphael filed by a Bronx contractor with the 50th Precinct. The complaint alleges Raphael threatened to "bury" the contractor for ripping him off while renovating Raphael's Old Brookville home.
Still hanging on: Dennis Schur, despite his subpoena last week to appear before the same feds investigating any connection between those badges and shields and the law-enforcement foundation Schur chairs.
Leffler is New York's version of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who walked the streets barefoot in search of an honest man. He performs his duties with no bravura and virtually no staff, all of whom, as per council practice, belong to Speaker Peter Vallone.
Staff writer Dan Janison contributed to this column.
© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.