The Case of DSK: Tragedy or Farce?
July 4, 2011
How bad does the imploding case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn look for law enforcement in New York City? Let us count the ways.
It all began when police coaxed the head of the International Monetary Fund [and at the time the front-runner to become France’s next president] off a Paris-bound plane the night of May 14 and, despite his claim of diplomatic immunity, arrested him for trying to rape a cleaning woman at the Sofitel Hotel.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that the NYPD detectives who had interviewed the cleaning woman, a Guinean immigrant, found her “credible.”
Once again, the city’s longest-serving police commissioner was apparently not in command of the details as his micromanaging personality might suggest.
Then, there was poor Cy Vance, the newly elected Manhattan District Attorney, who resembled a deer caught in the media’s headlights.
Despite warnings from at least one top staffer to thoroughly investigate the cleaning woman before accepting her story, Vance indicted DSK five days after his arrest.
That staffer, Lisa Friel, had been the head of the DA’s Sex Crimes Unit. However, apparently due to internal office politics and perhaps the recommendation of at least one campaign supporter, Vance had lessened her authority.
Instead, Vance apparently put the case in the hands of prosecutors with less expertise in sex crime cases.
At DSK’s arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Artie McConnell said that the victim “provided very powerful details consistent with violent sexual assault committed by the defendant…
“She made outcries to multiple witnesses immediately after the incident, both to hotel staff and to police.”
And at the bail hearing, McConnell stated, “The victim was given a complete expert forensic examination and the findings from that examination are consistent with her account. The Crime Scene Unit processed the hotel room and the scene and … the preliminary indications are that forensic evidence that supports the victim’s version of events may be found.”
Then last week we learned the incredible: that the hotel cleaning woman may have been lying to police and prosecutors from the start, beginning with her 2004 application for asylum, where she claimed to have been gang raped and genitally mutilated.
While many immigrants lie on their asylum applications [even Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Guinean immigrant shot 19 times by police who mistook him for a criminal, lied in his application] the hotel cleaning woman repeated those lies to prosecutors and to the grand jury.
In addition, the Times reported, she lied about her relationship with a drug dealer who, along with others, made multiple cash deposits totaling $100,000 into her various bank accounts.
Finally, the Post — that beacon of ethics and rectitude — reported that, not only was the cleaning woman a prostitute working out of the Sofitel, but she was hooking out of the building where the D.A.’s office had recently placed her in protective custody.
Can this become any more ridiculous, readers? You bet it can. When the media becomes invested in a high-profile case such as this, anything is possible.
Already, civil libertarians like Norman Siegel are rushing to the accuser’s defense, crying that just because she lied about other events doesn’t mean she is not telling the truth about the alleged rape. [Where is the money coming from to pay him?]
While Vance has yet to drop the charges against DSK, the cleaning woman’s attorney, Kenneth Thompson, is accusing him of abandoning her and being afraid to bring DSK to trial. [How you can bring DSK to trial on rape charges with a witness who lacks credibility is a question Thompson has yet to answer.]
All that remains is the entrance of Al Sharpton to claim the cleaning woman isn’t getting proper consideration from Vance or the media because she is black.
Then for his buddy, attorney Sanford Rubenstein, to file a lawsuit against the Sofitel and the District Attorney.
And finally for the alleged victim to be charged with perjury or deported for lying on her asylum application.
While all this may sound discouraging for New York law enforcement, there is good news.
It was Vance’s office that discovered the accuser’s lies, albeit belatedly.
Say what you will about his competence, he runs an honest shop, which is a district attorney’s most important quality.
Contrast Vance, who quickly came forward with information damaging to his prosecution, with Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes, whose office framed Jabbar Collins for murder, and then deliberately ignored exculpatory information that kept him in prison for 16 years. And while the city’s newspapers have focused on the recent high-profile cases that Vance has lost, and perhaps mishandled, his famed predecessors lost and mishandled high-profile cases too — cases bigger and more important than DSK’s.
Frank Hogan — “Mr. District Attorney” — worked hand in glove with the NYPD’s First Deputy Commissioner John Walsh, who, as the Knapp Corruption Commission revealed in the early 1970s, stonewalled federal investigations of corrupt NYPD cops.
In 1971 at the height of another terror scare — this one internal, from the Black Liberation Army which was targeting and killing cops at random both across the country and in New York — Hogan indicted 21 Black Panthers on charges of conspiring to blow up buildings in the city. After a two- year investigation and trial, jurors acquitted all 21 Panthers in 45 minutes.
Even the revered Robert Morgenthau botched high-profile cases — most notably, the 1989 rape and near-fatal beating of the Central Park jogger.
The D.A.’s Sex Crimes Unit convicted five black teenagers, who spent 13 years in prison. In 2002, another man confessed to raping her, and the D.A.’s office discovered that his DNA matched semen found on the jogger’s body. At least on the rape charge, the five black teenage youths were innocent.
A month ago, this reporter was interviewed by three French journalists about the DSK case. The meeting took place at the scene of the alleged crime — the Sofitel Hotel.
Shortly after DSK’s arrest, this column had noted the close relationship between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Commissioner Kelly.
For his efforts to fight terrorism, France honored Kelly with its highest award, one rarely given to Americans: the Legion of Honor. It was personally bestowed by Sarkozy, then France’s Interior Minister.
Sarkozy subsequently became France’s president and the rival of DSK who, until his rape arrest, was favored to unseat him.
In a May 30th column, “Ray Kelly’s French Connection,” Your Humble Servant noted the early police leaks in the DSK case, which were extremely damaging to the defendant — and the meek response by Kelly, infamous for draconian measures to stop leaks not spread by his own mouth and press apparatus.
Those observations attracted the attention of French journalists. Three of them — Le Nouvel Observateur’s New York Bureau Chief Philippe Boulet-Gercourt; its Paris-based reporter Marie-France Etcheaoin; and Le Figaro’s Paris-based chief investigative reporter Marie-Amelie Lombard-Latune — all expressed skepticism of the charges against DSK.
Considering the speed with which the case had been brought, they questioned whether a conspiracy existed.
Your Humble Servant told them a conspiracy was unlikely, if not impossible.
Now, considering how quickly the case has unraveled, who is to say that those three skeptical French reporters might not have been right?
Still, at least at this time, a more likely explanation may lie in a saying uttered two decades ago by the NYPD’s wise former spokeswoman, Alice T. McGillion: “Never underestimate incompetence.”
How else to explain his policy of allowing an 85-year-old auxiliary police officer to drive an NYPD police van? Last week, the driver, Auxiliary Deputy Chief Shuck Seid, lost control of the van next door to the Fifth Precinct stationhouse in Chinatown, hit a parked car, mounted the sidewalk and fatally struck a 55-year-old man.
According to the Daily News, William Rivers, president of the 300-member auxiliary police supervisors, had been warning NYPD brass since July 2007, of the dangers of elderly auxiliary members driving police vehicles. He had urged that they be tested for driving ability but said the top brass ignored his warnings.
Meanwhile, Kelly is awash in scandal. First, there is the longstanding crime-downgrading. Kelly has failed to explain why the police whistleblower who brought to light these abuses in the 81st precinct, where he worked, was then forcibly incarcerated in the psych ward of Jamaica Hospital for six days.
Nor has Kelly released the conclusions [if there are any] of the three-man commission he appointed to investigate whether such crime downgrading is systemic across the city’s precincts.
Then, there is the burgeoning ticket-fixing scandal whose dimensions are reminiscent of the pre-Knapp corruption days.
So perhaps it was not surprising that Kelly chose to duck questions about the auxiliary elderly.
Instead, here is the incomprehensible response from his spokesman, Paul Browne, known in this column as “Mr. Truth,” as reported in the News.
"Auxiliary volunteers perform an ‘eyes and ears’ function that does not have anything close to the requirements, contrary to Rivera's suggestion, as police officers who have law enforcement authority." Huh?
Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt