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Focus on Kelly, race after raid

May 19, 2003

Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after cops set off a flash grenade during a drug-and-gun raid on her Harlem apartment, is the fifth person since the fall to be caught in a wrongful "no-knock raid." All are black.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly can send detectives to fight terrorism in Kandahar and Timbuktu. He can watch Al-Jazeera Arabic television until he is blue in the face. But when the final score is written, he may be judged by how he deals with an old New York City problem - the Police Department's relationship with its black citizens.

According to former New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Norman Siegel, who represents victims in two of the raids, police broke down the door of Willemae Mack in Brooklyn in September with an explosive device. Mack was asleep with her twin 13-year-old sons. One boy hid under the bed. Police pulled him out and put a gun to his head, Siegel said. No drugs or weapons were found.

On Oct. 15, retired housing cop Richard Rogers and his wife, Marie, a retired correction captain, both 62, were watching television when cops broke down the door of their Queens home. Rogers grabbed his licensed gun, prepared to shoot what he thought was an intruder. Seeing the cops, he dropped his gun and dove to cover it with his body.

"If they'd seen my gun, I'd be dead," Siegel said Rogers told him.

On Oct. 22, police broke down the Queens door of Michael Thompson, a licensed private nurse, and put a gun to his head. Same story. Searching for drugs. Address correct on warrant. Wrong information.

On paper no one is more qualified to deal with these situations than Kelly. He knows the NYPD perhaps better than any man. No one can question his integrity. He has a reservoir of goodwill with the city's black community from his tenure as commissioner under David Dinkins and his Sunday visits to black churches to recruit black officers.

"It's a tragedy that cannot be undone, but I'm pleased with the police commissioner's reaction," Dinkins said yesterday. "He apologized, which is a departure from how the previous administration reacted."

But others say there is a difference between what Kelly was like as police commissioner under Dinkins and what he is like now.

"He can't live off his reputation," said Eric Adams, the head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. "Everyone knows it but no one wants to say it."

Up to now, Kelly's priority has been terrorism. Citing al-Qaida "chatter," he told the City Council last week that police efforts have made New York safer.

A micro-manager as Kelly I, Kelly 2 is now an island unto himself within the department. His regard of the top brass was evident at Friday's news conference to discuss the Spruill tragedy. With him was Chief of Department Joe Esposito, the department's highest ranking uniformed officer. Esposito stood behind Kelly, his opinion never sought, silent and as invisible as a ghost.

On Saturday, Siegel and Adams stood outside Spruill's apartment building. After last fall's incidents, Siegel said, Kelly met with Rogers and promised a full investigation. "What happened to it? Who wrote the report? Where is it?" Siegel asked.

Adams said: "Back in October Kelly said he would do something but it was never done. Just as he did now, he apologized and offered condolences. Was it merely a public relations tactic?"

In response, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Michael O'Looney released a three page memo from Chief of Patrol Nicholas Estavillo dated Oct. 23, 2002, and titled "Verification of Search Warrant Information." The memo listed a series of precautions for supervisors before issuing a no-knock warrant, such as whether there were any active investigations on the subject's location.

On Friday, Kelly promised a full investigation of the Spruill incident. One issue might be why parts of Estavillo's memo were ignored in the raid on Spruill's apartment.

New York-Is-a-Tough-Town Department. The day Louie Anemone was fired by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who should call but Howard Koeppel? He wanted to offer the former chief of department a security job at his Queens Volkswagen dealership.

Koeppel is also a friend of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. When the former mayor split with his wife, Donna Hanover, Koeppel invited Giuliani to bunk with him and his roommate.

Giuliani appointed Koeppel an honorary police commissioner and on Oct. 23, 1996, Koeppel attended the funeral of Lt. Federico Narvaez and made the mistake of sitting in the first pew reserved for top brass. Anemone, then chief of department, became so exercised, he began shouting at Koeppel, who literally burst into tears.

So what security job was Koeppel offering Anemone at his dealership?

"Night watchman," Koeppel said.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.