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Graham Rayman's Schoolcraft Tapes

September 2, 2013

Graham Rayman’s “The NYPD Tapes” is sub-titled: “A Shocking Story of Cops, Coverups and Courage.”

Courage applies to Adrian Schoolcraft, the whistle-blowing police officer at the center of one of the NYPD’s more bizarre — and frightening — ongoing scandals.

Courage also applies to Rayman, who wrote about Schoolcraft and his father Larry, even after they reneged on their promised cooperation. Rayman is nothing if not an honest reporter. He nonetheless completed this important book about them and the NYPD.

Here’s the story as Rayman tells it: Police Officer Schoolcraft, who worked in the relatively high-crime 81st precinct in Brooklyn, was not a happy camper. Some might call him a malcontent.

In 2009, he began to secretly tape-record precinct roll calls at which commanding officers ordered cops like himself to refuse to take robbery victims’ crime complaints. Cops were also ordered to downgrade felonies — which are serious crimes — to less serious misdemeanors so that the precinct would appear safer than it actually was.

Schoolcraft’s secret tape recordings might well have been ignored, had not the police department then done something shocking.

On Oct. 31, 2009, Schoolcraft left his tour early, saying he felt sick, and returned to his apartment in Queens. A few hours later, a police posse, led by Brooklyn Deputy Chief Michael Marino, entered his apartment and, saying he needed medical help, forcibly brought him to Jamaica Hospital.

Despite his protests, the hospital admitted him and held him for six days. For part of that time, he was kept in its psychiatric ward.

Whether this was retaliation for leaving his tour without permission, or for his secret tape recordings, the department left a paper trail that they have yet to explain.

Four years later, neither Police Commissioner Ray Kelly nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered any reason to justify a police action that seems more appropriate to the old Soviet Union and its KGB than to New York City and the NYPD.

After six days, Schoolcraft was released from the hospital. He and his father then left the city for upstate Johnstown, where Larry Schoolcraft had grown up.

Meanwhile, Larry Schoolcraft alerted the media to what the department had done to his son.

The Schoolcrafts then hired an attorney, who sued the NYPD in federal court for $50 million, claiming that Adrian’s forced hospitalization was retaliation for his having blown the whistle on his precinct commanders.

Amidst the media’s hue and cry, the department was forced to address Schoolcraft’s allegations about the 81st precinct.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced an internal investigation, which determined that Schoolcraft’s precinct commanders had indeed downgraded crimes. The precinct’s top commanders were all transferred and disciplined.

Similar allegations had been voiced years before by the presidents of the Sergeants’ and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Associations. Those allegations were not confined to the 81st precinct but were said to be city-wide.

But when Mark Pomerantz, the chairman of the Mayor’s Commissioner to Combat Police Corruption, sought to investigate, Kelly refused to turn over department records. Mayor Bloomberg did and said nothing, and Pomerantz resigned.

This was not merely a crime-reporting problem. Misclassifying crimes has consequences. In Upper Manhattan, as Rayman reported for the Village Voice and notes in his book, police downgraded an attempted rape to “criminal trespassing,” a misdemeanor.

The police then did not give the crime a high priority, which allowed the predator to commit a half dozen more sexual attacks before he was caught and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

With the publicity increasing over the Schoolcraft case, Kelly announced the appointment of a three-man, blue-ribbon panel to examine the department’s crime reporting. This time he promised to cooperate.

The investigation continued for two years. By the time the panel issued its report, concluding that the downgrading was indeed city-wide, one of the panel’s three members had died and interest in Schoolcraft had waned.

During this time, the NYPD sent officers upstate to Johnstown to bring Adrian back to work. They also enlisted the help of the Johnstown police. The Schoolcrafts viewed this as harassment and refused to allow the authorities inside their home.

Clearly, the pressure was getting to them. They were running out of money and fighting with each other.

They fired their first attorney, hired a second attorney, and then fired him.

“The father wants us to go after Kelly, Bloomberg, the FBI, everyone under the sun,” said the first attorney, Jon Norinsberg. “We’ve had a complete communications breakdown.”

He added that Adrian had disappeared for weeks on end and that he had enlisted the help of the legendary NYPD cop, Frank Serpico, who lived near the Schoolcrafts, to find him.

Serpico, who had come forward about police corruption 40 years before and who lived near the Schoolcrafts, identified with Adrian and befriended him. He knew firsthand the pressures that a large and powerful agency like the NYPD can exert upon an individual who goes against the system.

As Serpico put it: “The department wants to undermine all that they stand for by painting them as malcontents, nuts, psychos.” That, he said, was precisely what they had done to him four decades ago.

Rayman recounts all this in his book, even as the Schoolcrafts, for reasons that remain unclear, turned against him. Yet Rayman remains scrupulously fair. He does not pull his punches and portrays the Schoolcrafts not as saints but as human beings in torment. Most importantly, Rayman worries that their message may be lost.

Yet their lawsuit continues. Facts have begun to emerge. Although the Queens District Attorney — a pro-police department office — ruled that the department committed no crime in hospitalizing Schoolcraft, Federal Judge Robert Sweet ruled last week against Jamaica Hospital, which had sought to prevent Schoolcraft from publicly discussing his forced incarceration.

This story is not over as the police department has hoped. It may be just beginning.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD. NYPD Confidential sought to push the re-set button with the NYPD’s Public Information Office, which since 2003 has refused to return a single phone call or provide a single bit of public information to this reporter.

We attempted to speak with John McCarthy, the new head of DCPI, but he declined to come out of his office. Nor did he respond to a telephone call.

Among other things, we sought to ask him about Valerie Salembier, the former chairwoman of the non-profit Police Foundation, whom Commissioner Kelly recently appointed an Assistant Commissioner at DCPI.

So we’ll pose our question here: Is Salembier working pro bono or is she receiving a salary? If so, what is it? [TO BE CONTINUED]

Edited by Donald Forst

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