One Police Plaza

Cop slay fuels battle with DA

January 26, 1998

The word that most politely describes relations between the New York City Police Department and Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is mistrust.

Last week Johnson indicted Maurice Bolling, a paroled felon, on second-degree murder charges in the fatal shooting of Sean Carrington, an undercover narcotics cop. Johnson's spokesman, Stephen Reed, said the charges were brought "in consultation with the NYPD."

One of those consulted was Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who in his spare fashion, told reporters at his weekly news conference, "I expressed my opinion." Asked whether he was satisfied with the second-degree murder charge, Safir responded, "No."

Safir then criticized Johnson for not indicting Bolling on first-degree murder charges, which could result in the death penalty. To do that, prosecutors must prove Bolling knew that Carrington, who was dressed in street clothes during the drug bust, was a cop when Bolling allegedly opened fire. Naturally, Bolling denies knowing it.

Safir said he believed Bolling knew he was firing at a police officer. He refused, however, to specify what evidence, if any, he had to support this. Nor would he say whether he communicated this to Johnson.

Reed noted that while Johnson had consulted with Safir and other police brass - believed to be chiefs in the detective bureau - before bringing the charges against Bolling, "no one in the police department ever asked for a charge of murder in the first degree in this case."

Apparently not to be outdone, a person close to Safir pointed out that when the department began its so-called consultations, one of Johnson's assistants wanted to charge Bolling with only the relatively minor charge of criminal possession of a weapon.

Bullies and cowards. So what's the reason for the mistrust between Johnson and the NYPD? Safir, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki have been merciless in attacking him, regarding him as a patsy, unable or unwilling to fight back.

After the slaying of Police Officer Kevin Gillespie in 1996, Johnson expressed reservations about the death penalty and said he would seek life imprisonment for Gillespie's alleged killer, Angel Diaz. Amid blood-lusting howls from Giuliani and Safir, Pataki removed the case from Johnson before Diaz hanged himself in prison.

After the death of Police Officer Vincent Guidice from a severed artery after being pitched into a broken mirror while trying to settle a domestic dispute, Johnson indicted Anthony Rivers on a charge of criminally negligent homicide. Giuliani and Safir howled that Johnson should have indicted Rivers on a second-degree murder charge.

Contrast this with Pataki's, Giuliani's and Safir's deafening silence toward Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who recently refused to seek the death penalty for Scott Schneiderman, who is charged with killing Police Officer Anthony Sanchez while he was in uniform. Instead, Morgenthau sought life in prison.

The graduate. Safir feels so strongly about the death penalty for cop-killers that he said last week through his spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, "I believe that any crime involving the death of a police officer should be treated as murder in the first degree and a grand jury should be given the opportunity to make that decision."

Safir's remark demonstrated yet again why after three years in law school, he never graduated. As one DA official put it, "As legal advisers to the grand jury, we cannot ask them to vote a charge for which there is insufficient evidence."

Safir might consider the case of Federico Pereira, who in 1991 died from a chokehold during a fight with five cops attempting to arrest him. Queens District Attorney John Santucci, another brilliant legal mind, said precisely what Safir did - let the grand jury decide.

Santucci - whose relationship with the NYPD was so bad the department sabotaged his investigation into Pereira's death - allowed the grand jury to consider second-degree murder charges against the cops. The grand jury then indicted them. Judge Richard Brown's first decision as Santucci's successor was to dismiss the charges as unfounded.

Taking Flack. Overlooked in all this is Johnson's successful prosecution of the notorious Larry Davis, who in 1986 shot six cops in a Bronx apartment. Despite repeated acquittals under his two predecessors, Johnson convicted Davis of second-degree murder.

Now in Carrington's case, he has assigned the veteran prosecutor Bill Flack. Flack, who growls at witnesses like a junkyard dog, was so feared by the Davises that Larry's late mother purchased six pit bulls - named Bullet, Linda, Lady, Duplex, Terra and Sparkles - to protect the family when Flack and police officers came by to photograph them.

©1998 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.