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Almost impossible to shed 'the taint'

February 11, 2002

Having been awarded half a million dollars and promotion to deputy inspector in his lawsuit against the Police Department, Capt. Tim Donovan might be considered a winner.

But according to the Rules of Payback as cited by the salty dog former chief Aaron Rosenthal, Donovan's chances of departmental redemption appear slim to none.

Rosenthal's $250-an-hour, 17-page report to Donovan's attorney paints a portrait of cowardice and sycophancy at the top of the department's greasy pole, which Rosenthal describes as "small cliques of closely knit, very high-ranking commanders who have known, socialized and worked with each other for many, many years."

Let's examine how these commanders dealt with Donovan.

Donovan was "dumped," Rosenthal said, as the commanding officer of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity after he refused an order from former Commissioner Howard Safir to rewrite a report criticizing two chiefs cited in a sexual harassment and retaliation suit on Staten Island. Donovan's boss, Deputy Commissioner Sandra Marsh, was forced to resign. She also sued the department and was awarded $1.2 million.

Specifically, the report described former Staten Island Borough Commander Gene Devlin as "evasive" in his response to the transfer of a lieutenant, and it described Devlin's aide, Chief Phil Erickson, as making a "false statement."

Under Safir, lying was a fireable offense. Safir was big on firing low-level cops for such. Chiefs were different.

In her lawsuit, Marsh says she and Donovan defended their report before Safir, First Deputy Commissioner Pat Kelleher, the commanding officer of Safir's office Lowell Stahl and Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs George Grasso.

"Grasso in particular," Marsh's suit said, "interrupted the presentation to question her and her staff about whether they 'understood' that the ... report implicated the conduct of 'chiefs' and men with 30-year careers.

"Grasso became increasingly agitated and combative when Marsh and her staff persisted in presenting the evidence implicating Devlin and Erickson," the suit said.

Donovan was transferred to the 108th Precinct in Queens as executive officer to another captain. In the next four years, he was transferred twice as executive officer in different precincts.

Here now is Rosenthal's Payback Rule No. 1:

"In such circumstances, the individual is removed from his command and sent to a position that is clearly subordinate, with little chance for promotion. ... The perception is one of 'damaged goods.' Even those who played no role in the dump are reticent to help him for fear that 'the taint' will rub off on them. It's as if the individual has had a scarlet letter added to his uniform."

One person who tried to help Donovan was Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi. Kelleher blocked the transfer, saying Donovan's options were limited to patrol.

 

.Another was Inspector Artie Storch of Manhattan North Narcotics.

One person who tried to help Donovan was Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi. Kelleher blocked the transfer, saying Donovan's options were limited to patrol.

Another was Inspector Artie Storch of Manhattan North Narcotics.

Storch's boss, Assistant Chief Nicholas Estavillo, put in Donovan's papers. Again, Kelleher rejected them. Donovan, said Rosenthal's report, "later learned from Estavillo's assistant that the chief 'felt bad about it.'"

Donovan was then selected by Joe Esposito, then SATCOM chief of Brooklyn North, to command an investigations unit.

"What Esposito did not do," wrote Rosenthal, "was to legitimate the assignment by submitting Donovan's name for approval to One Police Plaza. The manner in which Esposito used invisible ink to avail himself of a talented officer ... while concealing that fact from One Police Plaza vividly demonstrates the shock effect of the dumping. Esposito, a two-star chief, 'was willing to use Donovan's talents without associating himself with him in any way.'"

When Kelleher learned of the arrangement, however, he contacted then-Chief of Department Joe Dunne to demand Donovan be removed, saying the formal paperwork had never been approved.

He reprimanded Dunne for not filing the proper paperwork and reminded him that this was "Timmy of OEEO."

Meanwhile, Rosenthal said, a number of his [Donovan's] former colleagues, including Esposito, did "not speak to him in official settings, including social events where other high-ranking members [were] present ... He was invited by a colleague to ... a dinner benefiting a local community group, which a number of high-ranking NYPD officials were to attend. After his colleague submitted Donovan's name ... he was disinvited."

Here now is Rosenthal's Payback Rule No. 2:

"As long as those involved with the original transfer or their close associates are in positions of power in the NYPD, he [Donovan] has absolutely no chance of promotion or further advancement."

Grasso is now first deputy. Esposito is chief of department. Stahl runs the office of Commissioner Ray Kelly.

When asked about Rosenthal's assessment, Grasso said, "I call them as I see them." Efforts to elicit responses from others named by Rosenthal were unsuccessful.


That's Entertainment.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to have a sharp sense of humor. Friday, he attended the Asian Jade Society's "Man of the Year" racket for Chief Thomas P. Fahey.

"What does the P stand for?" Bloomberg asked Fahey.

"Patrick," Fahey answered.

"Another Jew," Bloomberg said.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.