One Police Plaza

Some Similarities In Police Shootings

May 29, 2001

It was deja vu all over again in the Bronx last week with white police officer Mark Conway of the Street Crime Unit on trial for shooting Dantae Johnson, an unarmed black teenager.

The shooting occurred around midnight on May 26, 1999, just three months after four other white Street Crime officers fatally shot unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo.

As it turns out, there is another link to the shooting that sparked a debate over race and policing that still rages in this city.

Conway will testify this week that while investigating a taxi robbery pattern, he encountered Johnson and Kyle Thompson, both of whom, says Conway's lawyer Stuart London, "were making furtive gestures to the waistband area."

Translation: He feared they had guns.

Johnson and Thompson ran, London says. Conway, in uniform, pursued Johnson in his unmarked car, drawing his gun while behind the wheel and shouting, "Stop, police!" London says. Conway pulled up alongside Johnson, then grabbed him with his left hand, switching the gun to his right, the lawyer said.

Johnson twisted, inadvertently reaching into Conway's car and grabbing Conway's right hand, London says, then jerked free and tried to wriggle out of his jacket. Conway's gun went off, accidentally, he claims, striking Johnson, who spent the next six months in Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center and the Rusk Institute, undergoing surgeries and learning to walk again.

Let's give Conway the benefit of the doubt and say he's telling the truth. How to account for the fact that after the shooting, Johnson and Thompson were both charged with "criminal possession of a weapon," when no weapon was found?

They were charged ("with no input from Conway," says London) by Conway's supervisor, the Street Crime Unit's Lt. Kevin Cantwell, the first supervisor on the scene.

The ubiquitous Cantwell also happened to be the supervisor of the four officers who shot Diallo shortly before midnight on Feb. 4, 1999, and was the first supervisor on the scene then.

Trigger Todd [Part 2]. Here's the department's official report on Todd "The Trigger" Ciaravino from Assistant Chief Lowell Stahl, commanding officer in former commissioner Howard Safir's office.

Ciaravino, Safir's professional coat-holder whom Safir recently appointed executive director of the police museum, fired a gun inside Safir's 14th-floor office at One Police Plaza at 4:05 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1998 after Safir chief of staff Al McNeil left his loaded, licensed gun inside his desk drawer.

"Ciaravino...was the sole occupant in room 1400B and was utilizing a department desk telephone [when] Ciaravino opened the desk's upper right hand drawer where he observed an unholstered revolver," Stahl writes. "Picking the weapon up in his right hand, while continuing his telephone conversation, Ciaravino pulled the trigger, causing one round to discharge into the desk drawer."

Stahl's investigation says McNeil "was negligent in leaving his weapon in an unsecured desk drawer in an unattended room" and says that Ciaravino "was negligent in handling a weapon that he had no familiarity with nor any prior training in its safe handling."

"The investigation," Stahl concluded, "indicates the firearm discharge was intentional and outside department guidelines. I recommend that both McNeil and Ciaravino be appropriately disciplined."

The Real Carnegie Deli Mystery. The day after detectives of the Midtown North squad obtained Andre Smith's confession in the Carnegie Deli marijuana murders, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik axed their squad commander Roger Parrino.


Theory number one, offered by top department officials: Kerik was angered that Smith's Monday night confession appeared in print before Kerik learned of it.

The implication was double-edged: Parrino and his squad leaked the confession while not informing their superiors, the recently promoted Deputy Chief Pete Pulaski and Chief of Detectives William Allee.

Reasons theory is probably false: Department spokesman Chief Tom Fahey says he didn't know whether Pulaski or Allee had been informed of the confession. And Allee, who refused to discuss the incident, is said to have been at the station house shortly before Smith confessed.

Theory number two, offered by lower-level officials: Kerik was angered by Parrino's disparaging remarks after Kerik arrived at the crime scene the night of the murders, where he was joined by Fahey, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tom Antenen and Ralph Smith, a Corrections Department photographer on loan to the department and assigned to the public information office.

Smith's job, says Antenen, is to shoot "generic pictures" of officers.

Antenen says Smith was permitted to accompany Kerik to the Carnegie Deli building's sixth floor where the slayings occurred, but was not permitted inside the crime scene. Nor, says Antenen, was Smith permitted to photograph the crime scene.

So just what was he doing there, Parrino is said to have asked out loud, since the department has its own photographers?

Antenen denied Smith was photographing for Kerik's soon-to-be-written autobiography.

©2001 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.