One Police Plaza

Kelly to Homicide Expert: You're Out!

June 9, 2008

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s ego has become so fragile that disagreeing with him equals professional suicide.

Just ask homicide expert, author and teacher Vernon Geberth.

For nearly 30 years, Geberth, a retired Bronx homicide commander, had lectured at the Chief of Detective’s homicide seminar, which is held at the Department of Health’s state-of-the-art forensic center in the Chief Medical Examiner’s office on First Avenue. Geberth’s book “Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques” is considered the homicide bible.

Twice a year since 1980, he has given a four-hour homicide investigator’s course to 250 detectives, which was always well-received, bringing Geberth a standing invitation to return year after year. In January, he completed his 70th session.

Earlier this month, Geberth — who retired from the department in1987 and who lectures at the homicide school for no fee — learned he had been removed from the program’s faculty. It was a rude cut-off, with no explanation. He couldn’t even get his calls to the Chief of Detectives’ office returned.

Geberth says he knows why he was ousted. He says Police Commissioner Ray Kelly directed the commanding officer of the homicide training unit to banish him because of critical remarks he made to the media back in January about the investigation into the death of Heath Ledger in his Soho apartment, apparently from a drug overdose.

Geberth’s comments contradicted Kelly’s.

As Geberth put it: “This decision was supposedly based on comments I made in the news media, which the police commissioner did not appreciate.”

According to news accounts at the time, detectives failed to question actress Mary Kate Olsen after the masseuse who discovered Ledger’s body called her in California and she directed private security guards to the apartment before the police were notified.

The masseuse, Diana Wolozin, found Ledger unconscious in his apartment, where he had spent the past five months. Wolozin called Olsen in L.A. four times. In the first call, which lasted 39 seconds, Olsen said she would send her private security guards to the apartment. Wolozin did not call 911 until nine minutes after contacting Olsen.

Witnesses said they saw people carrying things in their arms out of Ledger’s apartment before the police arrived.

Protocol — as described in Geberth’s textbook — is that anyone at the scene of an unintended death should be interviewed. In Ledger’s death, he said, the situation “was exacerbated by the fact that the person who found the body made four separate calls before she called 9/11. What was purpose of those calls? Why did this person she called feel the necessity to send private guards before calling the police? The substance of that conversation should have been the subject of a detective investigation.”

It is common for private security guards who work for celebrities to “clean up” crime scenes before police arrive to avoid bad publicity for their clients.

Geberth told the Post that the NYPD’s failure to question Olsen violated department procedure.

“Since I am a recognized authority on homicide and death investigations, I am frequently contacted by a number of news organizations and media across the United States for professional opinion or comment,” he said in a statement sent to Your Humble Servant. “I always provide my most professional and honest opinion.” He added, “I teach detectives, I don’t care if you are a billionaire or a bag man, the same rules apply.”

The Post in a front-page exclusive stated that detectives had planned to question Olsen, presumably to ask what she had told the security guards. The department has never explained why it failed to interview Olsen or who made the decision not to question the actress.

In fact, department denied it had even planned to question Olsen in the first place. But the Post stuck by its story, saying in its next day’s front-page headline: “The cops are afraid to ask Mary-Kate Olsen some simple questions. WE ARE NOT! WHY?”

The same day, a Post editorial began: “What is about the elfin Mary-Kate Olsen that has caused the NYPD to misplace the common sense and good judgment that characteristically informs its investigations? Is police Commissioner Ray Kelly scared that she’s going to beat him up?”

Kelly, as everyone at Police Plaza knows, cannot accept criticism — any criticism. Says Geberth: “No one can criticize him without retaliation. He can’t take on the Post. So he picks on me. And in penalizing me, he is also penalizing the NYPD’s detectives.”

The department did not respond an e-mail message for comment.

Tacopina's New Tack. For years, former police commissioner Bernie Kerik and his attorney Joe Tacopina were tight as ticks. Not only did Tacopina represent Kerik in his plea deal in Bronx State Supreme Court, in which he admitted he had accepted $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment from an allegedly mob-linked company while Corrections Commission, but Kerik later used Tacopina’s office to start his international consulting business. He also served as Kerik’s spokesman. Criticize Bernie, as Your Humble Servant occasionally did, and you got a mouthful from Joe.

Then something happened. As the feds moved to indict Kerik, Tacopina withdrew from his old friend and client. The feds said he withdrew because Kerik had lied to him during negotiations for Kerik’s plea deal in the Bronx and that Tacopina had passed on those lies to Bronx prosecutors to obtain Kerik’s plea deal. The feds also said that Tacopina had acted “honorably,” and that they planned to call him as a witness against Kerik.

Kerik was furious — both at the feds and at Tacopina for what he felt was Joe’s betrayal.

Explained Tacopina in an e-mail back in March: “The government said I had a conflict. I can’t help it that I was conflicted out of a case. …The law is the law. The rules are the rules.”

Last month, an item appeared in the Daily News, quoting Vanity Fair writer John Connolly saying that Kerik and Tacopina were once so friendly that “the feds allegedly came across a $25,000 payment that Kerik made to a BMW dealer so that Tacopina could trade in his car for a newer model.”

When we asked Tacopina about this, we received, instead of an answer or a no comment, the following e-mail from attorney Jean-Marie L. Atamian, a partner of Mayer Brown LLP, 1675 Broadway.

“We represent Joseph Tacopina, Esq. It has come to our attention that you intend to write and publish in NYPD Confidential, within the coming week, an article about Mr. Tacopina that may contain false and defamatory statements that threaten to damage his personal and professional reputation.

“As you may know, Mr. Tacopina is a well-respected attorney and businessman. Any publication of a defamatory article maligning his reputation would clearly cause him to suffer immeasurable loss and damage both on a personal level, and in terms of the repercussions that any such malicious statements would inevitably have upon his career, his business relationships and his economic interests.

“We write to advise you that we are prepared to take any appropriate action on behalf of Mr. Tacopina to prevent damage to his reputation and economic interests by you and NYPD Confidential. Although we trust neither you nor NYPD Confidential will libel Mr. Tacopina by intentionally and recklessly publishing an article containing false and defamatory statements, Mr. Tacopina is fully prepared to seek judicial redress should that prove necessary . Accordingly, we hereby reserve Mr. Tacopina’s rights and remedies relating to this matter without limitation.”

When we e-mailed Atamain, asking about the BMW, there was no reply.