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Kelly's take on the truth

June 2, 2003

Does Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's 24-page report on the raid that killed Alberta Spruill reflect his accountability and frankness or his wizardry at public relations?

Note the following:

Last Oct. 15, police broke down the doors, and with guns and shotguns drawn, rushed into the Springfield Gardens home of Robert and Marie Rogers. Rogers is a retired housing cop; his wife, a retired corrections captain. The police placed guns to the couple's heads before realizing they had entered the wrong house, according to Robert Rogers.

The Rogers raid came a day after a similar one on the St. Albans residence of Michael Thompson, a licensed nurse. That, too, was the wrong house.

On Oct. 21, Kelly met Rogers at a community meeting at the 113th Precinct. "He said he was aware of my incident and was sorry and that he was going over all the procedures to do with search warrants and where changes needed to be made, he would make them," Rogers told Newsday last week.

Two days later, on Oct. 23, a memorandum issued by Chief of Patrol Nicholas Estavillo entitled "Verification of Search Warrant Information" was sent to All Patrol Boroughs, SATCOM Brooklyn North and the Special Operations Division (SOD).

It was the procedures outlined in Estavillo's memo that Kelly maintained police failed to follow when they set off a flash grenade and rushed into Spruill's Harlem apartment.

Kelly's report did not mention that Estavillo's memo was a response to the two botched raids seven months before. The report made no mention of whether Kelly had ordered a review of procedures as he had promised Rogers. Nor did it discuss the reasons why Estavillo's memo was not followed up and whether that reflected a failure of leadership at the highest level of the department.

As former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel, an attorney representing Rogers and other alleged victims of similar raids, puts it: "While everyone is praising Kelly for his candor in regard to Spruill, the real question is what happened last year. Despite his unqualified praise, Kelly still has to respond to what he did do or not do in 2002. He had notice of the problems. If he didn't do anything then, that is part of the story that has to be told."

Here are three questions the report fails to address.

One: Did the cops who rushed into Spruill's apartment have their guns drawn and place them to her head, as they did in the Rogers and Thompson raids? If so, might not that, as much as the grenade, have caused the poor woman's heart attack?

Two: Why did Kelly announce he was discontinuing the use of flash grenades right after Spruill's death but reinstated their use less than a week later? Did he conduct an investigation during that time? If so, what were the conclusions?

Three: What was Kelly's rationale for disciplining the Emergency Service lieutenant who ordered the grenade thrown, and not his direct superior? What was his rationale for transferring Assistant Chief Thomas Purtell of SOD, the division that supervises the Emergency Service Unit? How does Kelly justify those actions when the commanding officer of ESU, Insp. Steven Bonano - who is above the lieutenant and below Purtell in the chain of command - is not disciplined? What is it about Bonano and his abilities that is so special?

Finally, let's see how quickly Kelly delineates the department's failures in the shooting death of Ousmane Zongo, the African immigrant mistakenly shot to death in another botched undercover action.

The Spook and the 'Shock.' So David Cohen, the former CIA official turned NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence, did know that arrestees protesting the war in Iraq would be asked questions about their political affiliations and beliefs - their responses immortalized on what was known as a "Demonstration Debriefing Form."

The Cohen revelation comes in an affidavit from Insp. John Cutter, commanding officer of the Intelligence Division. Cohen, said Cutter, "was aware of the fact that arrestees would be asked questions similar to those on the debriefing form; he [Cohen] was unaware of the form itself."

Kelly discontinued the form when the New York Civil Liberties Union revealed its usage. Kelly said at a news conference then that neither he nor Cohen had been aware of it. No reporter was clever enough to ask whether he and Cohen knew of the questions that were on it.

Chris Dunn of the Civil Liberties Union said, "This recent disclosure about Cohen shows Kelly's original statement was disingenuous if not intentionally misleading."

Kelly's sophistry prompted Federal Judge Charles Haight Jr. - who presided over a hearing in Manhattan where Cutter's affidavit was cited - to compare Kelly's apparent surprise at the form's discovery to the "shock" of the character played by Claude Rains in "Casablanca" when Rains is told there was gambling in Rick's Cafe - just as Rains' character is handed his nightly winnings.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.