One Police Plaza

No charges for cops in Queens melee

June 25, 1996

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced yesterday that he lacked sufficient evidence to bring charges against three cops who the department said instigated a melee at a Queens church last summer.

That melee, at the Universal Calvary Church in South Jamaica, led to the arrest of seven parishioners and injuries to 28 parishioners and six cops.

In a statement released by his office after a meeting with church members, Brown suggested that the officers' actions "may justify departmental administrative or disciplinary action." But a top department official said he did not know what the officers could or should be charged with.

Last week, the church announced it had filed a $900-million lawsuit against the police department and the city, accusing the police of brutality in the incident.

"I'm glad to see DA's office wasn't pressured into making the wrong decision by the frivolous lawsuit brought by the church members," said Marvyn Kornberg, an attorney for one of the three cops, Chuck Barbieri of the 103rd Precinct. "Those police officers did nothing wrong."

Last week, Kornberg had criticized Brown, saying his dilatory investigation had encouraged members of the congregation to file the lawsuit. Brown had earlier dropped the charges against the seven church members.

Others familiar with the case had suggested that the normally pro-cop Brown, who delights in turning up at police crime scenes, had continued his nearly year-long investigation into the cops' action at the church because, as a lawyer familiar with the incident put it, "There are votes in South Jamaica."

The church's pastor, Emanuel Osei-Acheampong, who has had a contentious relationship with the police department but who Brown said had been "cooperative," did not return a telephone message left at the church.

The incident began with a 911 call from a parishioner about a man with a gun. The gunman, Clifford Warsop, a retired detective, allegedly interrupted a church service to confront his estranged wife. Police said church members beat him and took his gun. Brown has charged Warsop with menacing and disrupting a religious service.

An internal police report by Deputy Insp. Patrick Devlin accused Barbieri and two other officers who responded to the scene of using "poor judgment" in attempting to effect an arrest in front of church members.

©1996 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.