One Police Plaza

IAB leaves one stone unturned

November 13, 2000

Your Humble Servant finally caught up with the owner of the Brooklyn body shop in which Chief Judy McGinn landed her police vehicle after striking a garbage truck and five parked cars.

Somehow, the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, which is said to be investigating the accident, failed to interview him.

"Nobody from the Police Department ever questioned me," said Sal Gambino, of Lando Diagnostic at 9013 Fourth Ave. in Bay Ridge. He said the only explanation he received from the police came from a captain on the scene who told him only that the incident was "an accident."

Gambino said McGinn's unmarked police car not only crashed through his building's brick facade but knocked down a steel door behind it and a wooden door behind that. He said his insurance company is reimbursing him for $30, 000 in damage McGinn allegedly caused. The insurance company, he said, is suing the city for that amount.

Gambino, who arrived at his body shop two hours after the incident occurred at 9:49 p.m. July 27, said an eyewitness told him McGinn tried to back out of the garage but was unable to because her car was pinned by a 36-by-24-inch concrete block she also hit.

"She tried to back up when she was halfway through the building," Gambino said. The eyewitness confirmed this account to Newsday last week.

Gambino said McGinn, who was barely conscious when police arrived, had to be cut out of her car.

"They had to cut a door to get her out," he said. "The place was full of smoke. The cops didn't know what they had. When they pulled her out, they had their guns drawn."

He said employees discovered a high-heeled shoe from McGinn's car in a supply pit about 30 feet from where the car landed.

"It was like Cinderella's slipper," said employee Manny Figueroa. "We waited for Cinderella to return and pick it up, but she never did."

The Police Department kept details of the accident so quiet when it occurred that its public information office did not learn of it until three days later. The department has also refused to release the accident report. Commissioner of Public Information Tom Antenen said last week that an accident report is not a public document.

Top police officials have told Newsday that McGinn's blood-alcohol level was never tested when she was treated at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn and have maintained there was no evidence she was drinking. The officials have suggested that her striking the five parked cars without stopping may have been due to her airbag inflating and disorienting her.

Despite IAB's open investigation, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik promoted McGinn to chief of Brooklyn detectives in September. Police sources say her promotion was pushed by First Deputy Joe Dunne and Chief of Department Joe Esposito, both of whom worked with McGinn in Brooklyn Patrol Borough North.

Antenen said Kerik was briefed about McGinn's accident before he promoted her. "He felt she deserved the promotion," Antenen said. He declined to say who had briefed Kerik or what they told him.

The Way It Was: Three dinners last Thursday night provide a snapshot of the Police Department.

One: The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association-sponsored dinner in honor of former trustee Gary Lavelle, who died of cancer earlier this year. The dinner was to raise funds for a foundation founded by Lavelle's wife, MaryEllen, to help defray medical costs for police officers in similar straits.

Two: Former Deputy Commissioner Sandra Marsh's dinner for two dozen supporters to celebrate her $1 million retirement from the department. That's the amount the city paid Marsh to settle her lawsuit against the department and former Police Commissioner Howard Safir for demoting her after she refused his order to rewrite her report critical of a top chief. Guests included at least three department bigwigs, whose names we'll omit.

Three: Safir's $130-a-head farewell dinner at the Marriott Marquis, which because of a contract glitch, was celebrated without music because the band failed to appear.

In brief remarks, Safir praised television reporters Mary Murphy and Jonathan Dienst as "representing the finest in journalism."

The two composed a video of Safir's life and times. The video featured Hollywood Howard's appearance on "NYPD Blue" in which he played himself; Dunne saying Safir warned him that if crime numbers rose, Dunne would be removed; Safir lackey Richie Sheirer, now the city's Emergency Management commissioner, calling Safir "the kindest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever met in my life."

©2000 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.