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Group's pride, even after the fall

July 2, 2004

It seemed almost brazen. There in plain view next to the 13th-floor elevator at One Police Plaza was a flier announcing the 30th anniversary reunion of the once vaunted, but now disbanded, Street Crime Unit.

"Thirty years of pride and tradition will be celebrated," the flier read.

Said Lt. Glen Hallahan, one of the organizers, "There's a lot of pride still."

Despite a department-wide recognition that the unit was in the forefront of lowering the city's crime rate by taking guns off the streets, Street Crime will forever be defined by one incident: the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo in the vestibule of his Bronx home by four unit members after one mistook the unarmed Diallo's wallet for a gun.

The shooting occurred Feb. 4, 1999, two years after then-Commissioner Howard Safir, in a blitzkrieg effort to dramatically reduce crime, tripled the unit's size over the warnings of senior police officials, including the unit's then-commanding officer.

That October, as fury intensified over the shooting, especially from black New Yorkers, Safir ordered the virtually all-white plainclothes unit into uniform, in effect dismantling it. Shortly after taking office in 2002, Commissioner Ray Kelly formally disbanded it.

The department now finds itself balancing legal and political realities in preventing the two officers in the Diallo shooting still in the department from getting back their guns.

As a lawyer with knowledge of the case put it, "The department is faced with an unprecedented situation. Politically, it is not expedient to give them their guns back, but departmentally, you don't have a violation of any rules or procedures."

Both Sean Carroll, the officer who mistook Diallo's wallet for a gun, and Kenneth Boss, one of his three partners that night, were acquitted by a jury in February 2000. No departmental charges were brought against them under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Both were placed on modified assignment and only recently returned to full-duty status after State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman ruled that Kelly could not keep a cop on modified assignment indefinitely.

But Stallman also ruled that Kelly does not have to return an officer's gun. Boss' lawyer, Ed Hayes, is appealing that decision.

The department faces a similar situation with Mark Conway, another white street-crime cop, who, three months after the Diallo shooting, shot and wounded an unarmed black teenager, Dantae Johnson. In June 2001, a Bronx judge found him guilty of criminally negligent assault, a misdemeanor.

While departmental charges have been brought against him, they have not been acted upon, pending an appeal of his conviction. He, too, has remained on modified assignment.

"Kelly is not looking to fire him," said an attorney familiar with his case. But the attorney says he was cautioned by a top police official "not to push it" in getting Conway's gun back for fear that Kelly could be forced to react politically and dismiss him.

Conway is now at the Queens Warrant unit, Carroll and Boss at the aviation unit at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Reached by Newsday, Carroll said he hadn't heard about the reunion. The unit's last commander, Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka, who will attend it, says, "I believe all former members are welcome."

Said Carroll: "I'm hanging in there. I'm no longer on modified. I come to work every day and do the best I can."

Shhh ... In a public ceremony at One Police Plaza last week, George Corey was promoted to first-grade detective, less than a month after Kelly publicly cited Corey's role in the apprehension of an al-Qaida operative in London. Kelly got so carried away, he provided enough information about Corey that reporters and photographers camped outside his house on Long Island. His wife concluded that if the media could find them, so could al-Qaida, and she demanded her husband return from London forthwith.

The day of his promotion, Corey informed the department's public information office he wouldn't be granting interviews.

The Morg and Leslie show . Here's a fund-raising letter from James Gill for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, the 30-year incumbent who's running for re-election next year and turns 85 this month.

"As you are aware," Gill wrote, "D.A. Bob Morgenthau will be seeking re-election in 2005 and may have opposition in the Democratic primary. [That's where Leslie Crocker Snyder comes in.]

"I know Bob well and can attest that he is just sharp as ever and then some."

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.