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Impending release fans a family's ire

April 8, 2005

While Amadou Diallo has become a touchstone and hot potato for this year's crop of mayoral candidates, another case of police abuse appears to have been forgotten - even though the perpetrator will be released next week after seven years in prison.

Francis X. Livoti was convicted in 1998 in federal court of violating Anthony Baez's civil rights by placing Baez in a department-banned chokehold, which led to his death. Two years before, a Bronx judge acquitted Livoti of criminally negligent homicide.

Livoti's lawyer, Stuart London, said his client, who will be released from federal prison in Butler, N.C., next Friday, wants to "live a low-key life, under the radar."

Others say Livoti views his circumstances as more dire. Unlike the four Diallo cops - two of whom remain in the Police Department after their acquittal by an Albany jury - Livoti fears public retribution.

Judging from the comments of Baez's mother, Iris, his fears may have a certain resonance.

"I'm still very angry. My children haven't recovered. I haven't recovered," she said in a telephone interview this week. "He will be walking the street and my son is dead. They didn't convict him of murder. I have to let the community know he is a murderer."

Despite a dozen civilian complaints, some for excessive force, at the time of the Baez incident, Livoti served as the 46th Precinct's union delegate and was protected at the department's highest levels, owing to his relationship with Louis Anemone, then-chief of patrol.

Shortly after Baez's death in December 1994, Anemone said Livoti was "doing the kind of work that the citizenry of the city and certainly this country are looking for."

Says Iris Baez: "The city was as much at fault as he [Livoti] was. The Police Department knew all about him."

The city tacitly acknowledged this by settling with the Baez family for $3 million.

Whereas the Diallo case became an instant cause celebre, the Baez family has stood largely alone. "At the beginning, there was no one for us," said the family's lawyer Sue Karten. "There were no politicians. And not one black politician. There were no Sharptons. He came later, way after the fact. I was the Sharpton."

One politician who was there was Fernando Ferrer, then Bronx borough president, although Iris Baez says, without offering specifics, "Freddy spoke with a forked tongue." It was Ferrer who noted Anemone's praise of Livoti, alerting this newspaper.

More recently, Ferrer, who in 2001 was the only mayoral candidate to call for the Diallo cops' dismissal from the Police Department, has been criticized by some black politicians for modifying his remarks about Diallo's shooting. Specifically, Ferrer told the sergeants' union last month that the four cops had been "overcharged" and that Diallo's death was a tragedy, not a crime - the longtime refrain of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

So sensitive is the Diallo issue that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sidestepped all questions about it. In police matters, he defers to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who through police spokesman Chief Michael Collins declined to comment.

While Ferrer has slipped in the polls after his Diallo remarks, much of his support has gone to C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president.

She was a city councilwoman when Baez was killed in 1994. Fields' campaign spokesman Nick Charles said, "She recalls having attended a press conference about the case at the time, but she never issued a statement."

Iron curtain. The PBA's leadership is apparently so embarrassed by the election of Richard Neri as a union delegate that it has prohibited its officials from talking about it.

No comment from PBA president Pat Lynch, from trustees Phil Repaci and John Giangrasso of Brooklyn North, where Neri was elected, or from Neri himself, who didn't return phone calls to borough headquarters.

Neri, who remains on modified assignment without his gun, was not charged by a Brooklyn grand jury last year after he accidentally shot an unarmed black teenager, Timothy Stansbury, on a Brooklyn rooftop.

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.