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Anger simmers over jogger case

December 16, 2002

Two weeks after Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau released a report that recommends voiding the convictions in the Central Park jogger case, top police officials accuse him of scapegoating the department through his silence.

Some of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also criticize the muted response to Morgenthau's report by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who they say has allowed criticism of the department to go unchallenged.

Specifically, the officials cite Morgenthau's refusal to state that there was no evidence of coercion or collusion on the part of the detectives who secured videotaped confessions from four of the five youths convicted of the rape a dozen yeas ago. No physical evidence connecting the five was ever found, making their convictions contingent on their statements.

"The case is over," said a police official, expressing the view of others at One Police Plaza. "The kids already did their time. Who gets hurt by this? Only the Police Department. We're always the ones who take the blame."

Morgenthau has refused all comment about his report, written by Assistant District Attorney Nancy Ryan. The report lays the attack on the jogger solely at the feet of Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist whose DNA was found at the crime scene.

Morgenthau refused last week to discuss the department's concerns with this reporter. His assistants noted that the district attorney's office has no responsibility to the Police Department.

"We are not responsible for what newspapers print or others say," an assistant prosecutor said.

Some high-ranking police officials dispute Ryan's conclusion that Reyes acted alone. Last week, a police official, citing the department's ongoing internal investigation, told Newsday that Reyes admitted being high on angel dust during the rape, perhaps blurring his memory. The official also maintained Reyes had told a prison inmate a different version of events.

Kelly has chosen not to criticize Ryan's report - or to offer an endorsement of the original detectives' work on the case. In a guarded statement the day after the report was released, Kelly said: "I am encouraged that the district attorney's report has neither exonerated the defendants, nor found collusion or coercion on the part of the police."

What will Kelly do with the findings from the department's investigation?

"Stay tuned," says an official, indicating Kelly will soon speak out forcefully.

But another police official says that as far as public perception is concerned, whatever defense of the department Kelly offers now may be too late.

More Trouble in Buff-land.
After forcing the Finest Foundation to cancel its Chief's Night dinner because of a perception that money provided access to top cops, Kelly last week took off after the Centurions.

"It has come to our attention that your organization has been distributing shields that resemble those worn by uniformed members of the NYPD," read a letter the department's Legal Bureau sent to Centurion Foundation treasurer Robert Fagenson.

"It is unlawful for any person to have, use, wear or display without specific authority of the police commissioner any uniform, shield, buttons, wreaths or other insignia or emblem in any way resembling that worn by members of the police force," the letter continued. "We therefore must insist that your organization immediately stop distributing any replica shields and make every effort to retrieve those that you have already distributed."

Buff-land sources say the crackdown furthers Kelly's squeaky-clean image. But how does Kelly handle the Police Foundation's annual $300-a-head bash at One Police Plaza, which the foundation acknowledges comps top brass for table-hopping with its benefactors?

Pleading Poverty.
While Mayor Michael Bloomberg tells transit workers the city is broke, he refuses to explain why Rudolph Giuliani, now earning $10 million a year as a private citizen, still has a police detail.

Some say the decision to provide the detail, more than a year after he left office, is not that of Kelly, who despises Giuliani because the former mayor dismissed Kelly's accomplishments in his last go-round as commissioner.

William Cunningham, who is paid $150,000 as Bloomberg's director of communications, didn't return a call asking about Giuliani's police detail. Bloomberg's press secretary, Ed Skyler, merely stared straight ahead when asked the same question.

Meanwhile, Kelly's predecessor, Bernard Kerik - Bloomberg's supposed first choice as police commissioner who now works for Giuliani - volunteered that Giuliani "deserves police protection because he is an ambassador for the city and the country."

Kerik, who has visited Mexico City in furtherance of Giuliani's $4.3-million contract to reform that city's police department, said he has no police protection. Kerik has told people he'd "rather be kidnapped than give Kelly the satisfaction of asking." Last Friday, Kerik's aide John Picciano left New York for Mexico City.

Asked whether he had police protection, Picciano said, "Are you nuts?"

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.