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Cops, Cameras, and Lies

February 23, 2009

The omnipresent surveillance camera appears to have caught the NYPD in yet another lie — this one about an alleged police pursuit of a speeding driver in Staten Island who crashed his car into a livery cab, killing a middle-aged couple.

The police have maintained they did not pursue 24-year-old Theodore Ricks, the unlicensed driver of a black Mercedes Benz, which struck the livery cab, resulting in the deaths of 50-year-old Mohamed Elnahal and his 52-year-old wife, Mervat Saad Ibrahim.

In denying a police chase, a department spokesman acknowledged that a passing patrol car had sought to pull Ricks over because the tinted windows of his Mercedes were too dark. When the patrol car turned on its lights and made a U-turn, Ricks then sped away, the spokesman said.

“At no time was this vehicle pursued,” the spokesman told the Staten Island Advance.

Last week, the Advance reported that an 11-second video taken by a home surveillance camera “appears to show a police van flashing its overhead lights and closely following a vehicle that matches the death car just before the crash a half-mile away. If the vehicle in the video is indeed the Mercedes, the footage would support witness claims that the driver … was tailed on four nearby residential streets right before the crash, something the police have denied.”

So here we go again, with the police denying something that is apparently refuted by a citizen’s video camera.

Making this seeming lie all the more unnecessary is that, even if the police had followed Rick’s car, there is no indication they acted improperly as the crash apparently occurred a half-mile away. Even while the NYPD has taken the lead in swearing off high-speed pursuits as dangerous to both civilians and police officers, there was no indication of a high-speed chase here.

So why lie?

Explained a knowledgeable observer: “They may have been following him but were not in close pursuit when the accident occurred. They just want to deny everything.”

Coincidentally, this story appeared the same week that police officer Patrick Pogan — who was caught by a camera knocking a cyclist off his bicycle after Pogan claimed the cyclist had attacked him — resigned or was dismissed from the department.

It’s not even certain who was telling the truth about his exit. Pogan’s lawyer, Stuart London, said Pogan resigned. Police spokesman, Paul Browne, said Pogan was fired.

London represents the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a group whose word, when defending cops, is always suspect. Browne is simply Browne.

Lying, as the omnipresent camera continues to reveal, appears to be second nature to the NYPD — not just to its cops but also to top officials.

A classic case of this occurred 25 years ago when a deputy commissioner’s son, celebrating his graduation from the Police Academy, was arrested on the West Side of Manhattan after allegedly pulling a gun on a prostitute. His explanation: he was driving home to Staten Island from a bar in Queens but missed the turn-off on the Long Island Expressway and mistakenly took the midtown tunnel into the east side of Manhattan, somehow ending up on West 38th Street and 11th Avenue, a prostitution zone.

His deceit was just the beginning. More followed, at a higher level. The department’s spokeswoman then alerted the in-house press and persuaded them not to write about the arrest. She argued that the arrest of any other probationary cop similar circumstances would not merit a story.

That may have been true. But any other probationary cop would have been summarily dismissed.

With no story written, the deputy commissioner’s son was able to remain in the NYPD. The department allowed him to plead guilty to drunkenness, the least serious of his charges.

Of course, such legerdemain is hardly the sole province of the NYPD. In fact, it is part and parcel of all law enforcement.

In 1994, after the arrests of crooked cops in the 30th precinct, three of the city’s top law enforcement officials held a news conference to project a sense of unity. As the news conference ended, Judge Milton Mollen appeared to shove Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

These two white-haired gents had been feuding over turf ever since former Mayor David Dinkins named Mollen to head a police-corruption commission.

The petite Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White — who stands barely five feet tall — had to step in and separate them.

Watching this charade of law enforcement harmony, then Deputy Commissioner of Operations Jack Maple and Chief of Department John Timoney began to laugh. The Morgenthau-Mollen bout inspired Maple to coin a new word.

It was based on the term that described how police officers lie when testifying on the witness stand — “Testi-lying.” Maple’s term for the press conference’s spectacle of law enforcement unity was “Presti-lying.”

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