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Shooting triggers union squabble

June 11, 2001

Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir's coat-holder, Todd Ciaravino, is not the only city official firing his gun in places he shouldn't.

Over at the Department of Correction, the former residence of current Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Officer Ronald Moore recently fired his gun on a bus filled with prisoners.

While Safir successfully covered up Ciaravino's shooting, which occurred in 1998 in Safir's 14th-floor office at One Police Plaza, Moore's shooting has started an internecine union firestorm, leading to 84 reported acts of vandalism to Correction Department vehicles and allegations that the administration covered up the incidents.

According to internal Correction Department documents obtained by Newsday, Moore's "accidental discharge," as it is described, occurred April 25.

When Assistant Deputy Warden Terrence Skinner, the commanding officer of the transportation division, ordered Capt. Richard Stuss to question Moore's partner, a union official interceded.

Israel Rexach, the first vice president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, even cursed Stuss, telling him to "Get the --- out of here."

At Rexach's direction, Moore's partner, Benjamin Domenech, then refused Skinner's order to report to his office.

Sidney Schwartzbaum, the president of the assistant deputy wardens union, said last week that Skinner tried to suspend Domenech and Rexach but was prevented by higher-ups. Instead, Rexach offered Stuss an apology.

This prompted a letter on May 2 to Chief of Department Robert N. Davoren from Peter Meringolo, president of the union of correction captains.

"You should carefully consider the ramifications of allowing apologies to replace discipline for violation of the rules and regulations of the department," Meringolo wrote. "This is a disgrace and sends a terrible message to the hardworking people of all ranks."

Davoren did not return a call from Newsday.

Also on May 2, according to a memorandum from Skinner to Catherine Raymond, the Correction Department's chief of custody management, Norman Seabrook, who heads the correction officers union, telephoned Skinner.

"He stated that he felt the captains and [deputy wardens] union were teaming up against him," Skinner wrote. "The conversation ... ended with the following statements: 'I have to come at you very, very hard because you came after my first vice president. I'm in a box. Now I gotta do all kinds of stupid --- to defend my first vice president. I will do this for as long as it takes, a week, two weeks, a month to win this battle ... I gotta stand up and fight for Rex.'"

In a telephone interview Thursday, Seabrook said, he did have a conversation with Skinner in regards to writing up Rexach.

"If anyone in the Department of Correction feels he is going to abuse the first vice president of this organization without me standing up, they are seriously mistaken," Seabrook said. "I will not allow anyone to try to hurt any member of this agency."

According to the documents obtained by Newsday, the correction officers union began a work slowdown that led to vandalism.

On May 11, Skinner wrote to Raymond that Dominick Barbaro, administrative director of fleet maintenance, "indicated that his analysis of repair orders and inspections" revealed that about 30 incidents of vandalism occurred from May 1 to May 11 on Correction Department vehicles at Rikers Island.

"An additional 40 incidents," Skinner wrote, are under review."

From May 2 to May 21, Skinner documented 70 instances of vandalism to vehicles on Rikers Island, including 40 broken windows, locks glued, gouged tires, cracked mirrors, fluid leaks, broken front-door glass.

Skinner was notified not to report any of those incidents, Schwartzbaum said.

In a memo dated May 22, Skinner wrote that as of that date, the transportation division had expended about 500 hours as a result of the union's activities.

Barbaro, he said, "has indicated it appears that 84 busses have been vandalized [40 with broken windows, 14 with broken mirrors and 30 with various other items vandalized.]"

Skinner also noted that on May 21, union activity at the transportation division ceased amid rumors that he would soon be transferred.

Correction Commissioner William Fraser, who is a protege of Kerik, declined to comment through department spokeswoman Sandy Smith.

Smith said the allegations of vandalism were first made April 25 and that the administration responded the same day by installing cameras. The department also reported the incidents to the appropriate agencies, Smith said.

"This administration would never not respond to such allegations of vandalism," she said, adding, "The investigation is continuing."

On June 1, Skinner was transferred.

Smith said his transfer "was not related to a union problem. We were doing him a favor by sending him to a preferred command."

Skinner was said to be out of the country and unavailable for comment.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.