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One out of jail, one out of work

June 10, 2005

Ex-cop Francis X. Livoti's recent release after seven years in prison seemingly marked the end to a police brutality case that became a cause célèbre.

But in the murky netherworld of internal cop justice - where there is often no black or white but merely shades of gray - Mario Erotokritou is considered "collateral damage."

Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Trials Michael Sarner, who dismissed Erotokritou from the department, described him as a peripheral figure in the tragedy of Livoti and Anthony Baez, the 28-year-old Bronx man who died after Livoti placed him in a choke-hold.

Sarner, considered perhaps the department's fairest trial judge, found Erotokritou guilty of making false statements at Livoti's federal trial. Specifically, Erotokritou testified he saw Baez take two or three steps after Livoti released him, thus trying to mitigate Livoti's role in Baez's death.

Sarner based his decision on the opinion of Dr. Charles Hirsch, the city's medical examiner. Although Hirsch said he did not perform Baez's autopsy, he testified Baez never regained consciousness.

Last month, Erotokritou approached this reporter to tell his story. Speaking at his Long Island home, where he lives with his wife, Loriann, and 6-year-old son, Mario Jr., he maintained that he told the truth and was a political pawn.

Erotokritou, a 12-year veteran and college graduate with a previously unblemished record, lost his police pension, but his greatest loss has been emotional. His Greek immigrant parents, he said, are "shamed and devastated. My mother says, 'They took away your dignity.'"

What sustains him, he said, is his belief in God and his certainty that he did nothing wrong. "I am not a personal friend of Livoti," he said, "but I told the truth."

About midnight on Dec. 22, 1994, Erotokritou, who was assigned to the 46th Precinct in the Bronx, and his partner, Daisy Boria, responded to Cameron Place outside the Baez home. Minutes before, Livoti had provoked the fatal confrontation with Baez, who was playing touch football with his brothers.

In 1996, State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin, who heard the case in lieu of a jury, acquitted Livoti, concluding that Baez had resisted arrest.

The day before his decision, Sheindlin created a storm when he referred to the police testimony as "a nest of perjury." After the trial, he said he was referring only to Boria, who testified that Erotokritou and other cops at the scene had met in the parking lot of the 46th Precinct station house to plot their accounts. Before becoming a cop, Boria had been indicted - and acquitted - of perjury in an unrelated civil case.

In 1998, with Erotokritou testifying in his behalf, Livoti was convicted in federal court for violating Baez's civil rights and sentenced to 7 years. The city paid the Baez family $3 million.

A police source who asked for anonymity said that after the verdict, former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White wrote to then police Commissioner Howard Safir that the feds did not have enough evidence to charge Erotokritou with perjury. The source - who said he saw the letter - urged Safir to prosecute Erotokritou departmentally, where the burden of proof is less stringent. The department charged Erotokritou with making false statements.

Herb Hadad, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said no letter from White to Safir exists in the public record. White declined to comment.

Such letters are not uncommon, however. Also in 1998, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn persuaded Safir to charge Det. John Wrynn departmentally for leaking confidential information to mobsters after the feds were unable to make a case against him. Because Wrynn's father was an inspector, Safir allowed the son to resign.

Erotokritou remained on modified assignment for five years while neither Safir nor his successor, Bernard Kerik, prosecuted him. Not until February 2003, when Ray Kelly became commissioner, was he tried.

Erotokritou said he will not appeal his dismissal. "I wish the commissioner would look into this, but I know it will never happen," he said. "It's time for me to move on.

"I told the truth. I testified to what I saw. Livoti used to say he was a trophy case for the feds. He said the feds couldn't try me for perjury because if they lost, they would lose their trophy."

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.