NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site
Printable versionSend to a friendEmail Leonard Levitt

Mosque Shooting’s 35th Anniversary: Still No Answers

April 16, 2007

On this, the 35th anniversary weekend of the fatal and unsolved shooting of Police Officer Philip Cardillo inside a Harlem mosque, there remains no definitive answer to the question still haunting the New York City police department: Who gave the order to release the dozen Muslim suspects without identifying or fingerprinting them?

In a telephone interview Saturday, Patrick Murphy, police commissioner at the time, says he was kept in the dark about who gave the order.

“I did not learn until years later that it was Chief of Detectives Al Seedman,” he said.

Murphy said that the burly, cigar-chomping Seedman never informed him or Seedman’s direct superior Michael Codd, then the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and later police commissioner.

“I didn’t know. I didn’t realize it was Seedman who did it,” said Murphy, now 87 years old. “I thought it was Ward.”

He referred to Benjamin Ward, who had been at the scene as the Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs and who 11 years later became the city’s first black police commissioner.

“A decision like that, I should have been informed of it as soon as possible,” Murphy said. “For years, I thought it had been Ward. All the time I had that impression, Al never corrected me.

“Even if he couldn’t reach us at the time, you report accurately the next day what you did and why you did it.”

Murphy said that he had never asked Ward. “I never pressed him. It was a delicate thing. It had racial overtones.

“And,” he added, “I was overwhelmed by the news from Mike Codd that we had an agreement with the mosque that I didn’t know a thing about.”

The agreement Murphy referred to was that the department had designated the mosque a “sensitive location.” This meant police agreed not to enter it with their guns drawn.

Cardillo, who had been responding to an anonymous call of an officer in need of assistance on the second floor of a building on Lenox Avenue and 116th Street, had apparently been unaware he was entering a mosque and a “sensitive location.”

The department has never forgotten his shooting. It is again in the news following police commissioner Ray Kelly’s announcement last year of a reinvestigation to find Cardillo’s killer.

The reinvestigation followed publication of a book, “Circle of Six,” by retired detective Randy Jurgensen. The title refers to the six people Jurgensen believes played roles in releasing the suspects. They include Murphy, Codd and Ward as well as then Mayor John Lindsay and Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel.

Seedman is not among them.

But determining who gave the controversial order may prove as difficult as finding Cardillo’s killer.

The shooting, which began with a phony tip, occurred on April 14, 1972. As two officers charged inside, a fracas broke out between them and the mosque’s Muslims, outraged at the cops’ intrusion. Shots were fired. Cardillo was killed.

While police herded a dozen suspects into the mosque’s basement for questioning, some 1000 people gathered outside. They hurled rocks and bottles, overturned a gypsy cab, smashed the windows of a police car and attempted to burn a city bus that the police were using to remove injured officers.

To prevent a riot, the police made a decision to move the investigation to the 24th precinct stationhouse on West 100th Street. The dozen suspects were released amidst promises by local leaders — including Rangel, the police later claimed — that they would voluntarily appear at the stationhouse. None did.

No one was ever convicted of Cardillo’s murder and the repercussions of the decision to release the suspects rippled through the department for the next decade. The bitterness was directed at Ward, who denied giving the order. “Someone else who was very high-ranking at the time made the decision,” he maintained.

The first official explanation came a year after the shooting in a secret police document, known as the Blue Book. Officially entitled “Report and Analysis of Muslim Mosque Incident of April 14, 1972,” it was prepared between March and June, 1973, under James Hannon, who had succeeded Codd when Murphy retired earlier that year.

The Blue book stated that Seedman, aware of the potential for a riot, had made “the reluctant decision” to adjourn the investigation to the 24th Precinct stationhouse at 151 W. 100th. St.

Explaining why he had ordered the suspects’ release, the report said Seedman “stated that the reason for this action was the fact that no police officers at the scene could identify any person remaining in the basement as being involved in the incident.”

Printable versionBut the Blue Book was never made public. According to the case’s grand jury report, it had been “only circulated among the upper ranks of the police department.”

It remained secret for ten years, until New York Newsday reporter Gerald McKelvey and Your Humble Servant reported its existence in late 1983 when Ward was about to be named commissioner.

Reached in 1983 at Alexander’s Department store in Queens, where he was head of security — he had retired two weeks after the shooting — Seedman said he had never heard of the Blue Book. But he acknowledged he had given the order to release the suspects. When asked why he hadn’t owned up to it before, Seedman answered, “What good would it have done?”

But that isn’t the end of the story. Far from it.

In his book, Jurgensen condemns Ward, not Seedman. He maintains that the Blue Book was fiction, designed to protect the bosses.

And now, retired captain Ed Mamet, a Seedman protégé, has come forward to say that although Seedman gave the order to release the suspects, he did so under duress — pressured by Ward and Rangel, after Seedman had unsuccessfully attempted to reach Murphy and Codd.

How Seedman could not have reached Murphy and Codd remains unclear. Murphy says he was at the hospital where Cardillo was taken, with then Mayor John Lindsay. He says he cannot recall where Codd was.

“I can’t accept that,” Murphy said. “We all had two-way radios. You had to reachable at all times.”

According to Mamet:

bulletSeedman was so angered by Ward that in 1983 he gave Mamet a sealed envelope with what Seedman said was his grand jury testimony that he had written from memory.

bulletSeedman instructed Mamet to give the envelope to Chris Borgen, then a CBS reporter and a former detective who had worked for Seedman in the narcotics bureau.

bulletSeedman also said that Ward refused to give the release order himself, saying that as a deputy commissioner he was not in the uniformed chain of command. Instead, he told Seedman, “You’re the highest-ranking person – you order it.”

bulletSeedman also claimed he had accepted Rangel’s word as an elected official that he would guarantee the suspects’ later appearance.

In 1983 Rangel denied to Newsday making any such guarantee. More recently, his spokesman did not return a phone call from this reporter.

Borgen never aired the report. He has since died. Ward and Codd are also dead.

Reached by telephone in Florida late last year, Seedman, who is now 88 years old, said, “I don’t remember anything about the mosque incident. How did you get my number? I have nothing to say.”

« Back to top

Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt