One Police Plaza

Cardillo Case: Coming Closer to the Truth?

April 20, 2015

Thirty-two years after a secret police document was published in Newsday about the fatal shooting of Police Officer Philip Cardillo inside a Harlem mosque in 1972, the New York Post has finally discovered it.

But, in a racially charged case that still haunts the NYPD, the Post ignored the document’s central finding: that it was not then-Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Ward who released 12 suspects in Cardillo’s death, as many in the department believed for decades, but former Chief of Detectives Al Seedman.

The Post’s acknowledgement of the Blue Book’s existence, misguided as its reporting might be, adds another level of intrigue to a case about which the public will probably never know the full story.

Cardillo and a half-dozen officers had responded to a phony call in the late morning of April 14, 1972, that an officer needed assistance on the second floor of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque Number 7 in Harlem. As they rushed inside, they fought with congregants who were outraged at the cops’ intrusion. Cardillo was shot with his own gun. He died six days later. He was 32, and the father of three children.

While the police called for reinforcements, an angry black crowd outside threw rocks, burned a city bus, overturned an anticrime team’s gypsy cab and roughed up a white female reporter.

For the next three hours, a riot raged. To try to contain the situation, the investigation was moved to the 24th Precinct stationhouse on West 100th Street. The dozen suspects were released without being fingerprinted or identified amid promises by Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan and Rep. Charles Rangel that the suspects would voluntarily appear, the police claimed. None did.

No one was ever convicted of Cardillo’s murder. The department’s bitterness over the incident was directed at Ward, who arrived at the mosque in his then-civilian capacity of deputy commissioner of community affairs.

So furious was the police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, that its president, Robert McKiernan, declared in its official publication, Front and Center, that Ward “should either resign or be fired.”

As late as 2006, former Det. Randy Jurgensen labeled Ward in his book “Circle of Six” as one of six people responsible for Cardillo’s death. Others included Mayor John Lindsay, Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy, Farrakhan, Rangel and another top police official, Mike Codd, who succeeded Murphy as police commissioner. Jurgensen never mentioned Seedman.

Yet Seedman’s role was revealed in November 1983 when Mayor Ed Koch prepared to appoint Ward the city’s first African-American police commissioner. The late Newsday reporter Gerald McKelvey read the 1980 Cardillo grand jury report, which mentioned a blue book. So-called for its blue cover, the book was the NYPD’s internal probe of the Cardillo shooting. According to the grand jury report, the Blue Book had been “circulated only among the upper ranks of the department.”

Figuring the Cardillo family had filed a wrongful-death suit against the city, McKelvey sought out the family’s lawyer. There, in six boxes of discovery material, McKelvey found the Blue Book.

Prepared a year after the shooting, between March and June, 1973, under James Hannon, the then-NYPD’s chief of operations, the report began with the phony 911 call and went through Cardillo’s rushing to the mosque, the riot outside and the appearance at the mosque of Ward, Farrakhan and Rangel.

It was then, said the Blue Book, that Seedman arrived “and assumed the responsibility of the investigation.” He then made “the reluctant decision … to move the investigation to the 24th precinct on the promise of Mosque officials to produce the detainees thereat.”

Seedman, who retired two weeks after the shooting and became the chief of security for Alexander’s Department Stores in Queens, acknowledged his role in an interview with this reporter in 1983. Asked why he had never before come forward and allowed Ward to twist in the wind for 11 years, he said, “What good would it have done?”

Yet the Post’s acknowledgement of the Blue Book — in a story last Sunday by Micah Morrison, whom the Post described as “the chief investigative reporter for the watchdog group Judicial Watch” — makes no mention of the Ward-Seedman controversy.

Instead, its story focuses on who made the false call, suggesting the FBI.

Maybe that’s true. A more likely scenario, though, is that it came from the mosque. A similar call was made in January 1994 as Rudy Giuliani became mayor and Bill Bratton police commissioner. Again, police rushed to the Number 7 Mosque. This time, no cop was killed.

The city’s officialdom — as well as this reporter — may have dismissed as fiction Post reporter Larry Celona’s unattributed story of Bratton’s storming out of a meeting with a top mayoral deputy over the issue of 1,000 more cops.

Still, Celona has his supporters. Here are two of them. From retired Sgt. Tucker De Graw: “I knew Larry when I was on the job. He was always a straight shooter and never exaggerated or added anything to what I had said to him. I trusted him as a reporter and respected him to keep my confidence.”

From NYPD newsletter editor Mike Bosak: “Larry told me, he has two sources that are really solid. One at City Hall and the other NYPD. He’s standing by his story. I believe him. Bratton might have been having a bad day.”


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt