One Police Plaza

From Crown Prince to Joker

February 25, 2013

Under investigation by both the FBI and the IRS, Mount Vernon’s Mayor Ernie Davis recently fired his police commissioner with no credible public explanation and replaced him with — of all people — our old friend, Sir Reginald Ward.

Sir Reginald — or just plain Reggie, as his friends call him — is known to as readers of this column as the Crown Prince of Buff-land.

As a certified police buff, Reggie cuts an annual check to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of around $10,000.

He also runs a non-profit police charity out of his Park Avenue apartment, and answers his phone: “Commissioner Ward.”

His charity, the New York Law Enforcement Foundation, is one of the numerous groups of police buffs that cling to the bottom of the NYPD as barnacles do to a boat.

In return for their contributions, buffs have received such perks as police badges, honorary commissionerships, and permission to have lights and sirens installed in their cars.

More important to the buffs, they are granted access to certain police circles. In return for his checks, Reggie is permitted to sit on the dais at the PBA’s annual convention in Albany.

Generally, though, people at the top of the NYPD try to keep away from buffs like Reggie.

Former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik, now serving four years in federal prison on corruption charges, refused to meet with him. The sensitive Reggie threw a near-tantrum in Kerik’s outer office.

The NYPD’s current commissioner, Ray Kelly, has been kinder, attending Reggie’s annual July barbecue, presenting him with the New York Law Enforcement’s “Leadership Award” at a dinner at the Hyatt Hotel and even issuing Reggie a coveted NYPD parking placard. [The latter is said to have occurred after Reggie consoled Kelly after the NYPD’s overly sensitive commissioner received a smattering of boos at the PBA convention a few years back.]

For the past two decades, Reggie has also served under Mayor Davis as Mount Vernon’s dollar-a-year deputy police commissioner for technology.

During that time, he has filled the police commissioner’s revolving door job with a couple of retired NYPD officials, most notably the two-star Chief Gertrude LaForgia, who Reggie recruited in 1998 but forced out three years later when she objected to his interference in police matters.

In 2006, Reggie recruited NYPD Captain Gerald Mines as commissioner. Mines lasted 15 days.

Reggie also recruited computer consultant Stephen Alster, who was found guilty in a civil suit of sexually harassing Mount Vernon police officer Karyn Anderson. She was awarded $75,000.

Alster was subsequently convicted of detonating a pipe bomb outside the Brooklyn Heights apartment building of NYPD rookie cop Yensey Thomas, and is serving 20 years to life in prison.

Apparently, Reggie has overcome a recent heath scare that landed him in the hospital and sidelined him for much of last year. Although he missed last year’s PBA convention, he made a $12,000 contribution.

He also appears to have overcome the animosity of some of his Park Avenue neighbors. They had objected to his parking a Mount Vernon police car in a no-parking zone outside their apartment building and to his walking around inside the building, wearing his gun.

Davis stated last week that Ward’s appointment was temporary, pending the hiring of a real police commissioner by the end of next week. Sir Reginald, however, wasted no time showing Mount Vernon’s 200-plus officers that he was their boss.

According to a Mount Vernon officer who asked for anonymity, Reggie, accompanied by a uniformed deputy chief, walked from room to room to ensure that all officers stand up and salute him.

Then, Sir Reginald demanded that a patrolman chauffeur him about the city so he could respond to police calls.

So District Court Judge Frederick Block has ruled that a lawsuit by wrongfully imprisoned Jabbar Collins against the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes will be publicly aired in the next few months.

Unless Hynes finds a way to delay it, this could, mercifully, mark the beginning of the end of his 24-year run as D.A.

Hynes is the law enforcement equivalent of A-Rod. He looked great when first elected but has broken down both physically and ethically.

Yet, like A-Rod’s $250 million contract, it is virtually impossible to get rid of him. Being elected district attorney in New York City is virtually a lifetime job.

Now to Jabbar Collins. This is truly an amazing story. It represents not merely the moral decline of a once-idealistic reformer but the courage of a man who, while serving 16 years for the murder of a Brooklyn rabbi, taught himself the law, found an attorney named Joel Rudin who believed in him, then proved to the satisfaction of two federal judges that Hynes’s star prosecutor Michael Vecchione had, as Collins’ $150million lawsuit put it, “orchestrated the 15-year cover-up of the office’s misconduct.”

In overturning Collins’s conviction in 2010, federal judge Dora Irizarry wrote there was “compelling evidence” that the DA’s office “had wrongfully withheld a key witness’s recantation, had knowingly coerced and relied on false testimony and argument at trial, had knowingly suppressed exculpatory and impeachment evidence and had acted affirmatively to cover up such misconduct for 15 years.”

In response to Irizarry’s decision, Hynes maintained Collins’s guilt and announced that his office was prepared to prosecute him again. He also defended Vecchione.

As John Marzulli wrote in the Daily News: “Hynes responded with a press release announcing Vecchione would not be punished because he had done nothing wrong.”

In his decision last week, Block wrote that “Hynes’s response — or lack thereof — to misconduct by Vecchione and other assistants make plausible his theory that Hynes was so deliberately indifferent to the underhanded tactics that his subordinates employed as to effectively encourage them to do so.”

But Hynes, who is up for re-election this fall, is a wily coyote. Back in 2000, this reporter, then hanging his hat at Newsday, sought information about a 1995 office visit Vecchione made to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to subpoena a witness. With him was a female assistant district attorney with whom Vecchione was having an affair. In a letter to Newsday’s then editor Tony Marro, Hynes threatened legal action “in the event Newsday chooses to publish any of the contents or allegations.”

After Newsday sued Hynes for the information in Brooklyn State Supreme Court, Assistant District Attorney Virginia Modest, one of the named defendants in Collins’s lawsuit, added that disclosure about the trip “would endanger the life and safety of a person and would disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation.”

What neither Hynes nor Modest mentioned was that the purpose of Vecchione’s trip was to subpoena one Adrian Diaz, a witness in the Jabbar Collins case. In his lawsuit, Collins claims that Vecchione secretly promised Diaz leniency in return for his testimony.

With editing by Don Forst


Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt