One Police Plaza

It’s payback time

September 2, 1997

If revenge is a dish best eaten cold, Walter Mack is savoring a dessert he has kept on ice for two years.

In 1993, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly appointed Mack, a straight-laced former federal prosecutor, as the first-ever civilian deputy commissioner of the Internal Affairs Bureau after the unit had dissipated under Kelly's predecessor Lee Brown. Commissioner William Bratton sacked him in 1995.

Publicly, Bratton cited no reason for his action. But last week, no less an authority than The New York Times did, although as usual when it comes to police matters, the Times got it wrong.

"Mr. Mack was forced to resign in 1995 over his efforts to have a unit ready to respond instantly to brutality complaints," the Times wrote.

That's not the way it occurred, however. While Mack did push for a separate brutality unit - which Bratton vetoed - he had larger philosophical problems with Bratton, who wanted IAB run more collegially, sharing investigative information with commanders outside it.

Bratton's first deputy, John Timoney, viewed Mack as a zealot. "Timoney saw Mack as an elite, white-shoe prosecutor, blinded to the realities of a cop's travails," said a former chief. And it was Timoney who had Bratton's ear.

What precipitated Mack's firing had nothing to do with police brutality but everything to do with how Mack viewed his job. Specifically, Mack failed to alert Bratton to the identity of a key informant for the Mollen Commission on police corruption, who testified before it wearing a hood and whose identity Mack had promised to protect. The officer, code-named Otto, was himself forced to resign after he was discovered to have committed perjury.

In light of the Abner Louima brutality incident, the Times' assertion that Mack was sacked for recommending a brutality unit that Bratton rejected resonates. It also demeans Bratton, and he and his former aides have been burning up the phone lines to correct it.

And Mack - not unlike Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover, who in refusing to deny the rumor of her husband's involvement with communications director Cristyne Lategano gave it added life - is not denying the Times story, allowing Bratton to twist slowly in the wind.

Even before the Louima incident, federal prosecutors preparing to try ex-cop Francis X. Livoti on civil-rights charges over his choke-hold killing of Anthony Baez had asked Mack for his files on the brutality unit, including all memoranda between him and Bratton. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and her assistants sense that the brutality against Baez and Louima is not isolated. Ditto U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, who is preparing to take over the prosecutions in the Louima case and who has said his phones are ringing off the hook with tales of police brutality.

Equally embarrassing for Bratton and his successor, Howard Safir, these prosecutors also sense that without a zealot like Mack, IAB is unable to cope.

Say it ain't so, Marilyn. Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode, who's best known for offering no information to anyone, sunk to a new low last week when she offered the criminal record of James Schillaci, who blew the whistle on a traffic light speed trap in the Bronx. Included in Mode's rap sheet of Schillaci was a sodomy charge, which turned out to be inaccurate.

"It was unfortunate," Mode said.

Giuliani appeared satisfied with Mode's actions, crowing that the Daily News, which printed Schillaci's allegations, had been duped by not knowing of his criminal past.

But Mode, who didn't have the wit to have an aide leak her dirty work without attaching her name, had better hope that no one begins digging up her own past indiscretions.

Seen: Phil Caruso, at last week's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association convention. When asked about a Daily News report that the union's law firm pays him $200,000 a year, he said, "Anything I've ever done has been for the betterment of the people in the union."

©1997 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.