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More Zeigler Shuffling

May 12, 2008

Poor Doug Zeigler. And not for the reasons you may think.

The only thing the NYPD’s highest-ranking black chief wanted to do was to slip quietly in and out of Lefrak City for some personal business.

Instead, he is now smack in the middle of the Sean Bell case. The Rev. Al Sharpton is using him as an example of how the police mistreat African-Americans, and the media is portraying him as an example of the department’s racial ills.

It all began Friday evening, May 2 about 7 P.M. while Zeigler, in civilian clothes, sat in his black department SUV with tinted windows, parked at a fire hydrant outside the department’s Health Services office in Lefrak City.

According to police sources, two passing cops ran the plate number, which came back to a rental agency. When they asked Zeigler to identify himself, he hesitated. As he seemed to move his hands towards his waistband, one of them shouted “Gun,” while the other ordered him out of the car.

“Don’t you know who I am?” Zeigler screamed.

Police sources say the cops apologized. All three shook hands. No boss was called, as is required for confrontational situations. No written was report made. Zeigler alerted Chief of Patrol Robert Giannelli by cell phone and the incident seemed forgotten.

During the following week, neither of the two cops was questioned. Internal Affairs’ Group One — which is supposed to investigate cases involving high-ranking officers — was not notified. Nor was the case assigned an IAB log number.

Someone, though, tipped off the Daily News. Last Friday, May 9, its police bureau chief Alison Gendar called Chief Mike Collins of the department’s Public Information office, asking about the confrontation.

That confrontation comes at a sensitive moment. It followed the acquittal of the three officers in the Bell case. It also followed growing criticism of the department’s record number of “stop and frisks,” the majority of which are directed against African-Americans.

There is further sensitivity because of the lack of blacks in top positions at the NYPD. Things are so bad on that front that Zeigler, its highest-ranking black officer — whose wife Neldra is the Deputy Commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunity — is often dissed throughout the department, even by Kelly.

In 2003, Kelly promoted him to head the Organized Crime Control Bureau, one of the department’s most prestigious positions. At news conferences announcing arrests, the mild-mannered Zeigler often stood off to the side, apart from OCCB’s other top uniformed officers.

 

In January 2006, Kelly replaced him with a subordinate, Anthony Izzo, the two-star chief who headed the Narcotics Division. As a high-ranking department official put it at the time, Zeigler and Izzo “clashed constantly. They were fighting over how to run the operation. The job supported Izzo.”

A master of public relations, Kelly, with great fanfare, gave Zeigler a grand title — Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs.

 “No one is better qualified nor better experienced to tackle the task at hand than Doug Zeigler, who,” said Kelly in a press release, “has a proven track record of outstanding management performance and leadership in his oversight of the Organized Crime Control Bureau….”

But the practical result of Zeigler’s shuffle was this: Kelly had turned the department’s top black chief into a civilian.

Fast-forward to the Daily News’s call to Collins last Friday. Collins alerted Kelly’s office. Kelly was said to be furious at both Giannelli and Zeigler for not having informed him of the confrontation.

Zeigler now maintains he was a victim of discrimination. According to the News, he told Kelly the cops had no reason to stop him, never yelled “Gun,” and ignored his identification..

According to the News, he also told Kelly he went to Lefrak City “to drop off a package.”

Meanwhile, the AP quoted Sharpton as saying, "You can't make this stuff up! The problem isn't that they didn't recognize him. It is that they don't recognize our rights!"

Last Friday, Giannelli placed one of the two cops, Michael Granahan, on modified assignment for what the department termed discourtesy to a superior officer.

In a story about the department’s hurdles in promoting blacks, The Times wrote: “A high-ranking black police official got firsthand knowledge recently of the way officers in routine operations can treat minorities.”

It quoted department spokesman Paul Browne saying that Granahan was placed on modified duty for discourtesy to Zeigler, “after the chief had already identified himself.”

Zeigler could not be reached for comment, Collins didn’t return a call.

One more thing: sources say the confrontation between the cops and Zeigler may have been captured on police videotape.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt