One Police Plaza

The Trouble with Schneiderman

July 13, 2015

Gov. Cuomo’s appointment of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor to examine police-related killings of unarmed civilians is but a short-term political fix. That means trouble ahead.

Cuomo’s decision stems from the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a tragedy on every possible level: for Garner and his family, for the police, and for what little credibility remains of our so-called criminal justice system.

That there was no indictment of Pantaleo, whose apparent choking of Garner was caught on camera; that Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan offered no explanation and hightailed it out of office to run for Congress; that a judge then refused to release the grand jury minutes — all this further alienated the city’s African-American community from a justice system that for the past 400 years has been used against them.

Cuomo’s decision supports the wishes of the Garner family and others killed by the police. “It was the consolidation of the families that actually got this done,” said Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother.

Unfortunately, these families are of the benighted opinion that a special prosecutor can better respond to such police killings than local district attorneys, who, they say, have a built-in conflict over indicting cops. This may well have been true in the past. During the Knapp Commission hearings on police corruption of the early 1970s, it was revealed that Manhattan D.A. Frank Hogan — “Mister District Attorney,” as he was known — had an arrangement with First Deputy Police Commissioner John Walsh to look the other way regarding crooked cops.

But in the four decades since then, district attorneys in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan have all indicted cops who killed unarmed civilians. Think Anthony Baez and Amadou Diallo in the Bronx; Sean Bell in Queens; Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, Michael Stewart in Manhattan, to name a few.

That none of them was convicted in state courts is another matter. Judges acquitted the cops of Bell’s and Baez’s deaths [although in the latter case, a federal jury convicted the cop responsible and he served seven years in prison.] A Manhattan jury acquitted six cops in Stewart’s death. An appellate panel of judges removed the Diallo case from the Bronx to Albany, where a jury acquitted them. We’ll have to see what occurs in the Gurley case. As for Staten Island’s Donovan, he’ll have to answer to his conscience.

Moreover, appointing a special prosecutor can be dangerously political, as Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, the state’s first black district attorney, can attest. Largely because he opposed the death penalty, Johnson was labeled “anti-cop” in certain law enforcement circles. Following the shooting death of police officer Kevin Gillespie in 1996, then Gov. George Pataki took the extraordinary step of removing the case from Johnson and appointed a special prosecutor to try Gillespie’s alleged killer. Pataki’s decision became moot when, while awaiting trial, the man hanged himself in prison.

Johnson, who opposed Schneiderman’s appointment as special prosecutor, has praised his “integrity.” Still, Schneiderman is a politician. At some point, he’ll probably seek higher office, maybe governor.

Acting as an aggressive special prosecutor in a police-related death involving an unarmed civilian could be his winning ticket.

BO DIETL:  IT’S ALL ABOUT RAO’S.  Irrepressible and irreverent [some might say irrelevant], ex-NYPD detective Richard Beau [A.K.A. Bo] Dietl says he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore —   in this case from the Nassau County District Attorney and the Long Island media.

Sixty-four-years-old, 30 years out of the NYPD [though he still wears his gun on his hip], Dietl — the celebrity, commentator, sometime actor and Republican politician — says of Acting Nassau DA Madeline Singas, a Democrat: “She is using me as a punching bag to support her election bid and I’m not going to stand for it. I’ve got 30 years in the security business. I run a $20 million company. I hire top people. Do you think I’d risk my reputation for a $25,000 contract? And you know what else? I haven’t even been paid.”

That contract. It was awarded by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican — and came in just under $25,000, which is the legal threshold requiring legislative scrutiny.

Exactly what that contract called for Dietl to do remains a mystery. According to Nassau County police spokesman Inspector Kenneth Lack, Dietl was “to provide technical and strategic services as a special advisor to public safety.” Readers can decide for themselves what that means.

Dietl came up with a plan: to merge the police departments of Freeport and Hempstead with Nassau County’s. The problem was that Freeport and Hempstead officials knew nothing about it.

“They weren’t going to do this,” said Nassau County PBA President Jim Carver. “So why the report?”

Asked what position the Nassau PD had on the merger, Lack did not respond.

 Meanwhile, Singas announced she was investigating Dietl’s contract as part of “a broader contract review,” according to her spokesman, Shams Tarek. That review stemmed from the federal indictment of former L.I. State Senate Majority [Republican] leader Dean Skelos. Mangano had allegedly awarded a $12 million contract to a company that promised a job for Skelos’s son.

Mangano’s spokeswoman, Kitty Grilli-Robles, did not return phone calls or emails.

 What especially pained Dietl were allegations of plagiarism in his report, and cronyism. As a Newsday editorial, headlined “Nassau GOP cronies feed at the public trough” put it: “What Dietl and his best friends — like former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato, whom he runs into at the clubby Rao’s restaurant in East Harlem — know best is how to get paid.”

Another Rao’s patron turns out to be Nassau County’s Acting Police Commissioner Thomas C. Krumpter. Spokesman Lack acknowledged that while Krumpter did eat at Rao’s, it was only once and “he was not at Mr. Dietl’s table nor did he ever eat with Mr. Dietl.”

Asked at whose table Krumpter ate, Lack did not respond.

Welcome, Brandon del Pozo to Burlington, Vermont, the political hometown of Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders.

Del Pozo has just been appointed to head the Burlington police department. Opposition is building, though. [His confirmation hearing is Monday night.], The reason: In 2001, while a beat cop, he wrote an academic paper in which, in one of the more strangled sentences ever written by a cop, he indicated that racial profiling can be a useful and ethical policing tool.

“While crafting policy that works against harmful and counterproductive generalizations with only marginal benefits,” del Pozo wrote, “police departments and politicians must also recognize that there are ethical applications of racial profiling which, if neglected, would do more than merely encumber police officers: the neglect would wreak unnecessary harm on all sectors of the citizenry.”

Besides the difficulty of making any kind of sense of this, there is the problem of exactly what “racial profiling” means. Like the term “community policing,” no one has defined what it is or when it could effectively be used.

One has to wonder whether the opposition to del Pozo over this is indicative of a political correctness that we can expect of Sanders’s supporters?

By any measure, del Pozo’s career has been extraordinary. Of Jewish and Cuban descent, he graduated from the elite Stuyvesant High School high school and Dartmouth College. He was a fair-haired boy under former commissioner Ray Kelly, who stationed him in Jordan as part of the NYPD’s overseas spy service, then sent him to Mumbai after the terrorist bombing there.

A more interesting question [at least to this reporter] is why Bill Bratton has mothballed del Pozo under Bratton’s crony, Deputy Commissioner Zack Tumin, for the past year and a half.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt