One Police Plaza

Boss Promotion: Bratton's Dilemma

December 21, 2015

Since Commissioner Bill Bratton has said the primary goal of the NYPD has been to heal its relationship with black New Yorkers, how does he explain the promotion of Officer Kenneth Boss?

He doesn’t.

His silence — and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s apparent acquiescence — suggests the most painful fractures between the department and that community cannot be mended.

Top department officials say off the record that Bratton had no choice because of civil service rules. But no one could explain his thinking on the promotion.

De Blasio’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, did not return a call about the mayor’s positon on the promotion.

In 1999, Boss was one of four cops who fired 41 shots, killing the unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo. The case is perhaps the most wanton act of brutality in the NYPD’s often brutal history.

Diallo was standing inside the vestibule of his Bronx apartment when Officer Sean Carroll, a member of the now-disbanded Street Crime Unit, mistook Diallo’s wallet for a gun and opened fire. In what is known as a “contagious shooting,” the three other cops opened fire. Nineteen bullets struck Diallo. Boss, who stood farthest from the target, fired five times.

The shooting provoked world-wide outrage. In New York City, the Rev. Al Sharpton led month-long demonstrations outside Police Plaza, where black politicians across the country — from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to former mayor David Dinkins — vied to get arrested.

The four cops were indicted on murder charges in the Bronx. But they were acquitted by a jury in Albany after the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association convinced an appellate court to move the trial there. The union argued that the four could not get a fair trial in NYC — even if tried by a judge.

The feds didn’t charge the four officers with civil rights violations. Nor were they tried in a department hearing, apparently on orders from then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to then-Commissioner Howard Safir. For years, the department line has been that Diallo’s shooting was a “tragedy, not a crime.”

While Carroll and two other cops left the NYPD (two joined the fire department), Boss remained a cop, his gun taken from him.

In 2012, with no public explanation and little public outcry, then-Commissioner Ray Kelly restored it.

Three years later, Boss’s promotion to sergeant has opened old wounds. Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou Diallo, has asked Bratton to meet with her and Sharpton.

“I think he owes the respect of the community and the respect of the parents to sit with us the same way he was there to promote Kenneth Boss, shaking his hand and smiling,” Diallo, who had received a $3 million settlement from the city and has become the face of fatal police shooting victims, said at a Sharpton-led rally last week.

Despite the case’s notoriety, department officials maintain there are valid reasons to promote Boss.

“He passed the sergeant’s exam,” says a top department official. “He was acquitted of all criminal charges and he is entitled to the same due process as anyone else.”

Said another: “Can you think of a way to not promote a guy who was acquitted in court? We are an organization of rules and laws, even when it’s inconvenient. When the moral questions conflict, following the law and the rules is the fairest way to solve a dilemma where one side or the other would not be happy with the outcome.”

To the contrary, two former top police officials say Bratton did not have to promote Boss. “He could have found a way not to do it,” said the first. If he [Boss] sues, so what?

Another former top official said:“Where are they going to put him? He can’t go back on the street. Should another incident like that happen, the city would be sued for millions.”

Apparently recognizing this, Bratton has assigned Boss to the Aviation Unit.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt