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The Wrath of Ray

October 29, 2007

It looks like Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is coming down full-force on road-rage cop Sean Sawyer, who vanished for 19 hours after he shot and killed a civilian.

Kelly suspended Sawyer without pay, saying there is “an affirmative responsibility on the part of any officer who uses his or her weapon to stay on the scene and immediately notify the department.”

But Kelly hasn’t always followed this policy.

And it may be that his new “breathalyzer” rule spurred Sawyer to take it on the lam.

Let’s begin with the free pass Kelly gave Inspector Robert Wheeler for doing something mighty close to what Sawyer did. On Dec. 9, 2005, Wheeler shot a teenager while visiting Washington, D.C. Wheeler then fled, and called local police by telephone to say the teen had tried to rob him. Wheeler, however, failed to mention he had shot the teen or that he was a New York City police officer.

The next day, Wheeler returned to New York. A day later he notified Internal Affairs of the incident — nearly 48 hours after the shooting.

And what did Commissioner Kelly do? For three weeks he did nothing. He never suspended Wheeler. In fact, he only acted against Wheeler on December 28, nearly three weeks after the shooting incident and five days after this column reported some of Wheeler’s more egregious lapses. Kelly still didn’t suspend him. Rather, he removed Wheeler’s gun, placed him on modified assignment and reassigned him to the office of Transit Chief James Hall. There Wheeler remained for more than a year, drawing a paycheck until his retirement.

Why didn’t Kelly suspend Wheeler? He’s never explained. Some believe he gave Wheeler a pass because Wheeler was one of the department’s few ranking black officers. Others believe his treatment of Wheeler reflects Kelly’s reluctance to discipline his top brass.

Just recall the road-rage of former Deputy Commissioner of Operations Garry McCarthy on the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey over his daughter’s parking ticket. Admittedly, it was his wife, not Garry, who grabbed his pistol back from the Palisades Parkway Police after they arrested the battling McCarthys for creating a public ruckus. Again, Kelly took no action. His spokesman Paul Browne said at the time the incident did not rise to the level of departmental discipline.

Now let’s return to Sawyer.

His tour ended at 7 P.M. Saturday, October 20. According to news reports, he admitted having a couple of drinks but denied being drunk.

He left for home at 5.A.M. Sunday, then got into his road-rage confrontation with Jayson Tirado. Sawyer, who has been on the job four years, shot Tirado, claiming self-defense because Tirado supposedly indicated he had a gun.

But then Sawyer disappeared for 19 hours. One reason for that may be Kelly’s new breathalyzer rule, which he put in place following the fatal police shooting of civilian Sean Bell last November. The rule requires officers who wound or kill someone to take a breathalyzer test to determine whether they were drinking.

Other than pandering to the public for his possible mayoral run, the rule’s purpose escapes this reporter. The undercover who shot Bell had been drinking — as the department expected him to do — inside the after-hours joint that Bell and his friends frequented shortly before the shooting.

Kelly’s new policy may explain why Sawyer fled after shooting Tirado. Sawyer wanted to beat the breathalyzer. The longer you wait, the less alcohol shows in your system.

Tough Love. What’s up with the Post? In the past week, the police-adoring, “hero-cop” paper has run two critical stories on the NYPD. Ten days ago, it ran a Page 3 color photo of Deputy Chief Mike Marino as “Supersperm,” following allegations that Kelly was practicing his usual double-standard when it came to disciplining bulked-up cops suspected of steroid use.

Then last Monday the Post ran a front-page story on the Internal Affairs Bureau’s 2006 secret annual report. According to the Post, the report showed:

BulletThat arrests of officers rose 25 per cent from 91 to 144 over the previous year.

BulletThat the number of drug-using cops jumped 138 per cent, from eight to 19.

BulletThat fraud allegations involving insurance, credit card and welfare swindles rose 85 per cent from 27 complaints to 50.

BulletThat the number of cops stripped of their guns and badges and placed on modified assignment jumped 55 per cent from 137 to 212.

Such is the state of the city today and such is the respect — and fear — Kelly engenders that the article drew no follow up.

Kelly dismissed it, saying corruption complaints were down 53 per cent since 1994, and that, while there were small spikes, the trend was downward and he was on top of it.

Nobody asked Kelly to support his assertions. No one asked him why, if what he is saying is true, he doesn’t release IAB’s annual reports to the public.

According to the Post article, the department had demanded the Post put in writing its requests for specific cases. The newspaper said it did so back in August. The department, it said, didn’t respond.

Despite Mayor Mike’s 2001 campaign promise of more transparency than existed under Rudolph Giuliani, the police department is more closed to public scrutiny than it has been in the past 25 years.

No outside agency exists anymore whose job is to monitor the department. In 1994 — the year Kelly used as his baseline — the Mollen Commission on police corruption wrote in its final report: “The only two times in the past 20 years that fighting corruption has been a priority in the Department was when an independent commission publicly reviewed and disclosed the Department’s failures to keep its own house in order.”

On page six of its report, it stated: “This is because, in the words of former police commissioner Ray Kelly… outside oversight ‘keeps the department’s feet to the fire.’”

That was Kelly more than decade ago. He sings a different tune today.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt