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Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

October 19, 2009

The Daily News seems unable physically, emotionally and intellectually to place blame where it belongs when something goes wrong inside the NYPD.

Take its editorial last week, headlined “Thrown to the Wolves,” about a police lieutenant who committed suicide after top police officials publicly — and unfairly — ostracized him in words that in essence threatened him with prison and financial ruin for merely doing his job.

Lieutenant Michael Pigott had been a decorated 21-year veteran, head of an elite Emergency Service Unit team, with a successful career that ended when he handled an emergency last fall in Brooklyn. A naked, emotionally disturbed man, Iman Morales, was perched on the second floor ledge of his building, waving an eight-foot long, fluorescent light bulb at the two officers trying to rescue him.

According to Pigott family lawyer Rodney Lapidus, Pigott had radioed for a protective cushion to protect Morales if he fell, but the police truck carrying that equipment had been delayed in traffic. Worried for his men’s safety, Pigott ordered a sergeant to Taser Morales before the cushion arrived. When Tasered, Morales fell head-first to the pavement and died.

Eight days later, on the morning of Morales’ funeral, Pigott — who had been transferred from ESU to a desk job in the Motor Pool in Queens and told by city lawyers that the city might not defend or indemnify him if the Morales family sued him civilly [which it subsequently did] — secretly returned to his former unit at 4 AM, broke into a fellow officer’s locker, grabbed a gun from inside it, and fired a bullet into his head.

Alongside pictures of his three children, he wrote in a hand-printed note, “Dear Sue, Rob, Mikey and Liz, I love you all. I am sorry for the Mess! I was trying to protect my guys that day! …I can’t bear to lose my family and go to jail.”

O.K., so who threw Pigott to the wolves? The Daily News doesn’t tell us that crucial information.

Instead, its editorial says that his anguished suicide note “stands as a wrenching, eloquent expression of the terrible toll that an all-too-prevalent anti-police mentality exacts on the city’s cops.”

The editorial added, “Fingers pointed at Pigott from every direction. Cop haters screamed for his scalp. The brass noted that he had broken rules....”

So let’s get real and examine who the “wolves” actually are.

Pigott’s widow is not afraid to name them.

In her recently filed legal action, Susan Pigott blames Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne and other unnamed top brass — one of whom sounds suspiciously like Pigott’s supervisor, Asst. Chief Charles Kammerdener — for her husband’s suicide.

Her notice of claim states that, days after the Taser incident, Kelly and Brown “made defamatory statements to the public and the press that Michael Pigott made a ‘mistake,’” and that “the order to employ the Taser … appears to have violated guidelines.”

Her lawyer Lapidus added, “Kelly was on TV, making statements to the news media all the time about how he ‘screwed up.’

“Rather than supporting their own officer,” he added, “they went on TV, radio and in the newspapers saying he [Pigott] was wrong, that he never should have done that. They didn’t say that he was a police officer with more than 20 years experience who had given meritorious service, who had always conducted himself in an exemplary fashion and lived for his job at ESU. Instead they threw him under the bus.…”

Kammerdener, said police sources, gave the order to transfer Pigott from his unit, isolating him from his support system.

And, as anyone familiar with the NYPD knows, no transfer, no matter how insignificant, occurs without Kelly’s specific assent.

Police sources said at the time that the Pigott family held Kelly personally responsible for the lieutenant’s death and requested that he not attend the lieutenant’s funeral.

The News editorial mentions none of this — not even the recent and newsworthy fact that Susan Pigott had just filed her notice of claim that specifically names Kelly and Browne.

Nor is this the only time the News has dithered when it come to placing blame where it belongs in the police department.

Check out its Sept. 29th editorial following the FBI’s arrest of suspected terrorist Najibullah Zazi after the NYPD’s Intelligence Division botched the investigation by confiding in an informant, who tipped off Zazi.

“Dialing into a top-security briefing by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, President Obama had high praise for the NYPD’s role in busting up the latest terror plot hatched by Al Qaeda,” the News wrote. “The plaudits were deserved.

 
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“They should also put to rest both the excessive attention given to supposed missteps in the investigation and the overheated speculation about friction between the FBI and the city’s anti-terror specialists.”

Excessive attention given to supposed missteps in the investigation? Well, how would the Daily News characterize it when the Intelligence Division confides in an informant who tips off the suspect, causing him to flee and forcing the FBI to scramble into making premature raids and arrests?

If all was hunky-dory, why the well-publicized transfer of a deputy inspector from Intel? (Not that he did anything wrong; it was to protect Intel’s higher-ups.)

As for the “overheated speculation” about friction between the two agencies, where shall we begin?

With Intel’s Deputy Commissioner David Cohen’s out-of-state investigative adventures, where the NYPD lacks legal authority, without informing local authorities or the FBI?

With the NYPD’s mad scramble after the 2004 Madrid train bombings to beat the FBI to be the first to interview Spanish law enforcement authorities?

With the former FBI New York Bureau chief Mark Mershon saying in 2006 that he had been sent here with specific instructions from FBI Director Robert Mueller to get along with Ray Kelly? This followed the public fallout between Kelly and Mershon’s predecessor, Pat D’Amuro, who, sources say, had been sent to New York three years before specifically to “rein in” Kelly.

Finally there is this from the News’ editorial: “What matters is that Najibullah Zazi will not be boarding a subway or commuter train with a backpack full of powerful explosives cooked up with supplies ready available at hardware and beauty supply stores. Thanks to the NYPD. Thanks to the FBI.”

True as far as it goes. But it should not be the last word.

We, the public, still do not know whether the FBI — which had been tracking Zazi from his home in Colorado to New York City — was aware that detectives from the Intelligence Division were showing its informant a picture of Zazi, or whether Intel was up to its old tricks by launching a competing investigation.

That question must be answered to assure Americans — and New Yorkers — that the city’s safety was not compromised by competing law enforcement agencies.

In addition, we, the public, have no idea what the Intelligence Division has actually accomplished in its eight years under Kelly.

Is Kelly’s revamped agency merely an intellectual exercise, with its study of “homegrown” terrorists and its so-called “scholar in residence” program? Or does it include achievements that are more than publicity stunts, such as the London-based detective phoning Police Plaza after the 2005 London subway bombings, or Kelly’s dispatch of detectives to Mumbai, India after last year’s terrorist attack there?

What we have learned so far does not bode well.

Besides the Zazi mishap, there is, as this column has reported, Intel’s misguided investigation into who was following Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman in late 2004 and the question of whether he and Cohen dreamed up the notion (apparently to justify the investigation) that Zuckerman might have been pursued by “terrorists.”

Perhaps the best insight into the Intelligence Division will come from the lawsuit filed by the Civil Liberties Union concerning Intel’s spying on protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Despite two judicial decisions ordering Intel to turn over documents relating to its spying, Kelly and Cohen, backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s law department, continue to appeal those rulings.

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that editorials in the Daily News support the cover-up.

Just think: newspapers used to be in the business of disclosing information, rather than supporting those who suppress it.

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