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Serpico's Back: Run, Crooks, Run

August 5, 2013

Frank Serpico may have thought his battles with the NYPD ended 40 years ago with the establishment of the Knapp Commission, which vindicated him and his allegations of police corruption, changed the course of NYPD history, and made him an inspiration for cops.

Instead, 40 years later, he finds himself in the middle of another police scandal.

Now 77 years old, living a semi-reclusive life upstate near Albany, Serpico opened his mail last Friday and discovered that city lawyers had subpoenaed him as part of a $50 million lawsuit filed against the city, the police department and Jamaica Hospital by police whistle-blower and/or malcontent Adrian Schoolcraft.

In 2009, Schoolcraft, a patrolman in the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, secretly recorded roll calls, at which the commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello, ordered cops to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors so that the precinct would appear safer than it actually was.

That Halloween night, after Schoolcraft departed the precinct before his tour ended, a police posse, led by the Brooklyn Borough Executive Officer, Deputy Chief Michael Marino, forcibly transported him from his Queens apartment to Jamaica Hospital, where — against his will — he was incarcerated for five days in a psychiatric ward.

Serpico became Schoolcraft’s defender, comparing Schoolcraft’s ordeal to his own. After Serpico came forward in 1970 to report corruption, department officials — and Mayor John V. Lindsay — cited his long hair and hippie friends to claim that he was crazy.

“The department wants to undermine all that they [the Schoolcrafts] stand for by painting them as malcontents, nuts, psychos,” Serpico said of Adrian and his father Larry.

Serpico told Adrian: “Don’t try to explain to anyone what you went through. Don’t expect anybody to understand. I can’t explain to anybody what I went through.” [See NYPD Confidential, Nov. 12 and Nov. 19, 2012.]

Serpico’s subpoena, signed by Assistant Corporation Counsel Suzanna Publicker Mettham, seeks his communications about Schoolcraft with governmental agencies, including the police department, the mayor’s office, the city’s Inspector General, the FBI and the Justice Department.

The subpoena also seeks Serpico’s communications with this reporter; with Graham Rayman, who has written extensively about Schoolcraft in the Village Voice and authored a book about him, due out this month; with the late David Durk, Serpico’s old police pal who, in 1970, helped bring Serpico’s charges of police corruption to public attention and who played a minor role in the Schoolcraft case; and with Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who says that Serpico “has asked us help him fight the subpoena and we have agreed to do so.”

And, in what appears to be a loopy bit of legal language, Serpico’s subpoena calls for his communications regarding ”any damages allegedly incurred by Frank Serpico personally and/or on behalf of his son Adrian Schoolcraft to date as a result of alleged wrongful acts concerning the defendants.”

“What’s their angle?” said Serpico in a telephone interview with this reporter. “It sounds like this is bigger than Snowden,” a reference to the accused leaker of government secrets, Edward Snowden, who fled the country and who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Referring to the subpoena’s identification of Schoolcraft as his son, Serpico said, “I love orphans but I’m not looking to adopt any of them.”

City law department spokeswoman Elizabeth Thomas declined comment.

It is not clear whether Serpico’s subpoena — which seeks his correspondence as far back as 2007 — is a fishing expedition as part of the wide legal net typically thrown out by attorneys, or an indication that the city believes Serpico egged Schoolcraft on as a whistle-blower. [Serpico says he did not know Schoolcraft until news accounts of his forced hospitalization appeared in 2010.]

But the subpoena does reflect the city’s largely unsuccessful efforts to deal with the fallout from Schoolcraft’s forced hospital incarceration.

One bizarre attempt at resolution occurred in 2010 after Schoolcraft filed his lawsuit. While he was hospitalized, his father reached out to Durk, then long retired from the police department. Durk contacted Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, then a captain in the Internal Affairs Bureau. Del Pozo tried to fashion an agreement whereby Schoolcraft would return to the department and be assigned to the canine unit because Schoolcraft loves dogs. [He and his father are said to own four.]

According to Jon Norinsberg, Schoolcraft’s attorney at the time, del Pozo told him that the offer had the approval of Deputy Commissioner Julie Schwartz, the Department Advocate, and of “people in the office of Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives, Michael Farrell.” [See NYPD Confidential, Aug. 23, 2010.]

Nothing came of the offer, however, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was forced to scramble.

In 2005, following complaints by the presidents of the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants’ Benevolent Associations that police were systemically downgrading crime statistics, Mark Pomerantz, the chairman of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, requested departmental crime statistics from Kelly. Kelly refused to provide them. Because Mayor Michael Bloomberg said and did nothing, Pomerantz resigned.

In 2010, after Schoolcraft’s tape-recordings became public, Kelly began a departmental investigation into the 81st precinct, which he said corroborated Schoolcraft’s charges of downgrading crimes. Under pressure from Brooklyn politicians, he transferred Mauriello and disciplined other precinct commanders.

Amidst a growing furor, Kelly, in January 2011, announced the appointment of three former federal prosecutors to serve as members of a Crime Reporting Review Committee to determine whether such downgrading was citywide.

“The integrity of our crime reporting system is of the utmost importance to the Department,” Kelly said at the time.

Last month, the commission announced its findings, confirming, in effect, that the downgrading was citywide.

The Schoolcrafts, meanwhile, have become increasingly difficult to deal with.

After Adrian was released from Jamaica Hospital, he and his father fled the city and moved upstate, saying they feared police retaliation.

“They [the police] are here every day, trying to convince my son to go back on the payroll,” Larry Schoolcraft told NYPD Confidential in 2010.

According to Adrian’s Notice of Claim against the city, the NYPD had “on more than a dozen occasions” sent NYPD detectives “to harass and intimidate [him] by pounding on his door shouting, ‘NYPD. We know you’re in there, open up,’ and honking car horns during all hours of the day and night.” [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 8 and Aug. 9, 2010.]

The NYPD also solicited the help of the Johnstown N.Y. Police Department. A Johnstown police official told NYPD Confidential that Johnstown officers had been to the Schoolcraft’s home three times.

“We had a request from a Lieu. Hudnell and a Captain Perez of the NYPD to serve Schoolcraft with paperwork that he appear for a court hearing in regards to his suspension,” the official said. “But he never answers the door.” [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 15, 2010.]

The Schoolcrafts have also run through a series of attorneys. Last November, they fired Norinsberg and hired Peter Gleason. It is not known whether Gleason, who did not return a text message, still represents them.

After his firing, Norinsberg said, “We’ve had a complete communications breakdown. The father wants us to go after Kelly, Bloomberg, the FBI, everyone under the sun. They have disappeared three times in the last six months. We literally had to have Serpico involved to track them down.” [See NYPD Confidential, Nov. 12, 2012.]

Both Adrian and his father have refused to cooperate with Rayman, whose book, The NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover up and Courage, portrays Adrian Schoolcraft sympathetically.

Most recently, the Schoolcrafts have disappeared from their home.

Even Serpico doesn’t know where they have gone.

Edited by Donald Forst

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