One Police Plaza

Cops may yet want monitor

November 17, 1997

Ever since the Mollen Commission, there's been talk of the need for an outside monitor to investigate corrupt cops.

But if what occurred last week in the police department's trial room is an indication, cops may need an outside monitor to protect them from Bronx District Attorney Rob Johnson.

In 1995, Johnson indicted 16 cops from the 48th Precinct's midnight tour on charges related to robbing drug dealers, breaking into homes and beating witnesses. Six others were referred to the police department for administrative charges.

Johnson's star witness has been Officer Richard Rivera, a swaggering admitted thief and perjurer, and the subject of 30 brutality complaints. Rivera turned informant after an Internal Affairs Bureau videotape caught him stealing $1,100 from a Bronx apartment.

Unfortunately for Johnson, Rivera has proved a poor witness. Only three cops have been convicted, though a dozen have been forced out. "Yes, the conviction rate is low," says Chief Assistant District Attorney Barry Kluger. "But the bottom line is the Bronx is safer without these cops on the street."

Johnson, like each of New York's five district attorneys, has a distinct style. Manhattan's Robert Morgenthau is the city's gray eminence. Queens' Richard Brown is known for his judicial temperament as much as his penchant for racing cops to crime scenes. Staten Island's laid-back William Murphy has a lifetime lock on his job, while Brooklyn's Joe Hynes - who has recused himself from no fewer than 97 cases - has become a shill to his gubernatorial ambitions.

The mild-mannered Johnson, the state's only black district attorney, in an African-American and Latino borough, won a murder conviction against Larry Davis in the killing of a drug dealer. Davis' conviction came after he had been acquitted of wounding six cops under Johnson's predecessor. Johnson is similarly determined - some might say stubborn - about detering police abuse. After a judge acquitted ex-police officer Francis X. Livoti of fatally choking Anthony Baez, Johnson got Livoti convicted of assaulting 15-year-old Steven Resto. After another judge dismissed a murder indictment against Officer Richard Molloy, who allegedly shot to death an unarmed civilian, Johnson appealed, and last week the indictment was reinstated.

Now in the 48th Precinct scandal's endgame, he and the NYPD are taking their final shots. The department is prosecuting the acquitted officers administratively. Despite a misdemeanor conviction being set aside and two subsequent hung juries, Johnson is about to prosecute Officer John Lowe a fourth time for allegedly making a false statement.

Last week, in the trial room at One Police Plaza, Rivera performed again as star witness, this time at the administrative trials of Sgt. Michael McCarthy and Officer Michael O'Callaghan. The charges relate to the beating of a 37-year-old Bronx man, Oliver Jones.

McCarthy's attorney, Marvyn Kornberg, charged prosecutors with ignoring exculpatory evidence - a statement by Jones' father that Rivera was one of the officers who had beaten his son. Asked by Kornberg why prosectuors never put Rivera in a line-up for Jones to identify, Assistant Bronx District Attorney Stephan Zander answered lamely, "We concluded Mr. Jones was wrong."

"You are not here to embarrass the Bronx District Attorney's office," police trial judge Ellen K. Schwartz admonished Kornberg. Kornberg answered: "That's exactly why we are here."

Rivera, who has remained on the NYPD payroll for the past three years, assigned to the Mounted Unit, testified he had been promised "leniency" by Bronx Assistant District Attorney Tom Leahy, who ran the investigation.

"They told me they don't know if they'll charge me with a felony or misdemeanor or anything," he testified. "They told me everything was going to be all right. I'm hoping for the best." The best for Rivera means no prison time.

The swimmers. Like sharks smelling blood, top NYPD predators are circling the department's transportation bureau chief, Kenneth (The Duke) Donohue. The reason: a 13 percent rise in subway crime under his leadership.

Sensing danger at a recent crime-strategy meeting, The Duke lashed out at a Queens sergeant who'd supervised robbery squad detectives in a joint patrol with anti-crime subway cops. The sergeant's boss, Chief of Queens Detectives, Lugubrious Larry Loesch, interceded and he and The Duke went at it. Chief of Department Louis Anemone, Donohue's rabbi, separated them.

Holding the bag. A week before Election Day but with no explanation, Police Commissioner Howard Safir canceled his reservation and those of other top police officials at the International Association of Police Chiefs' conference in Orlando, Fla. This left the city and the Police Foundation, which together paid for plane fare and hotels, out $3,000.

©1997 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.