One Police Plaza

Cop to Testify About 'Gestures'

June 4, 2001

Mark Conway, a white police officer from the Street Crime Unit, is to testify in State Supreme Court in the Bronx today about how he interpreted the "furtive gestures" of an unarmed black teenager to mean he had a gun.

Conway shot the youth, Dantae Johnson, May 26, 1999, three months after Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, was fatally shot by four other white Street Crime officers who thought he had a gun.

Fortunately, Johnson lived.

Conway-in uniform after a directive from then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir in the wake of the Diallo shooting-pursued Johnson in an unmarked police car after Johnson and his friend Kyle Thompson ignored orders to stop.

As he drove, Conway unholstered his gun, grabbed Johnson with his left hand through the driver's side window while transferring the gun to his right or "weak" hand. [Conway is left-handed.] As Johnson wriggled, Conway's gun went off-accidentally he claims-seriously wounding the teen.

Conway's attorney, Stuart London, has suggested Conway drew his gun because of Johnson's furtive gestures, to use London's phrase. Conway's partners, Mike Fraterrigo and Kevin O'Toole, testified last week that their suspicions that Johnson and Thompson had guns were based on the fact that they saw Johnson and Thompson move their hands inside their clothes.

Johnson, O'Toole testified, "moved his right hand from the side of his waistband area underneath his jacket." Thompson, O'Toole said, "went with both hands to the small of his back."

If that wasn't furtive enough, O'Toole also told two assistant Bronx district attorneys after the shooting, "One guy had a bulge in his waistband."

Finally, there's Lt. Kevin Cantwell, the first supervisor on the scene after the shooting, who also happened to be the first supervisor on the scene after Diallo was killed. Although no gun was found, Cantwell charged Johnson and Thompson with criminal possession of a weapon.

Cantwell acknowledged that neither Conway, Fraterrigo nor O'Toole had told him Johnson or Thompson had a gun. Still, Cantwell testified, "I had reason to believe a firearm was involved."

Show Me the Money. Although no evidence supports him, Johnson testified Conway shot him at a distance of 10 to 20 feet. This would indicate Conway shot him deliberately.

Is Johnson's testimony related to his $35-million lawsuit against the city, in which he is represented by the Johnnie Cochran, Peter Neufeld, Barry Scheck and Sanford Rubenstein legal combine? Perhaps Johnson has learned he'll receive more money if an officer's gun goes off on purpose rather than if it goes off accidentally.

Redemption? In the world of One Police Plaza, where symbols and gestures can be more meaningful than words, what are we to make of Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik's acceptance last week of the Man of the Year award from the Honor Legion, a group of buffs whose president is Assistant Chief Michael Scagnelli?

Ever since the 1999 Yankee Day parade, Scagnelli has been a non-chief, hidden behind a closed door in a far corner of the Chief of Detectives' office. His non-person status followed the dressing down Scagnelli gave Lt. Don Henne, head of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's Praetorian guard, who barred Scagnelli and the wives and children of slain officers from the parade's city hall ceremony.

Does Kerik's acceptance of Scagnelli's award augur Scagnelli's resurrection? Or is it merely that, as a Kerik aide put it, "The commissioner was graciously presented with the Honor Legion's Man of the Year Award and responded in kind."

In the Buff. It turns out that Stephen Alster, the 64-year-old man accused of detonating a pipe bomb in a Brooklyn Heights apartment building last week, was a hanger-on in good standing with a group of police buffs, The Finest Foundation.

Alster was said to be so close to The Finest's former president, Shelly Goldfeder, that Reggie Ward, of the rival New York Law Enforcement Foundation, recruited Alster as a non-paying computer consultant for the Mount Vernon Police Department, with which Ward enjoys a special relationship.

It was the city of Mount Vernon that paid, however, to the tune of $75,000, after Alster was found guilty of sexually harassing a female officer. Ward was cited for failing to properly supervise him.

Todd the Trigger [Part 3 ]. Penalty for Todd Ciaravino, the newly appointed executive director of the police museum who on Aug. 13, 1998, fired a loaded gun into a desk drawer inside Safir's 14th-floor office at One Police Plaza: Loss of 10 vacation days.

Penalty for Safir's then-chief of staff Al McNeil, whose gun Ciaravino fired:Loss of five vacation days.

Next time the mayor says the Police Department doesn't need an outside monitor, ask him why the department never informed the media of Ciaravino's shooting.

©2001 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.