One Police Plaza

Richard Haste and the NYPD's Communication Problem

March 6, 2017

Sometime this month, the NYPD is expected to formally discipline NYPD Officer Richard Haste.

Haste was tried on departmental charges in January in the 2012 shooting death of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black Bronx teenager. Haste, who is white, pursued Graham into the teenager’s apartment and fatally shot him. No weapon was found.

Police sources say Mayor Bill de Blasio told former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who retired in 2016, that he wanted Haste fired. In his six months as commissioner, James O’Neill has mostly adhered to the mayor’s wishes.

A Bronx grand jury indicted Haste for manslaughter in June 2012 but a judge dismissed the charge, citing improper instructions to jurors from the Bronx district attorney. A second grand jury voted not to indict Haste in 2013. The Justice Department cleared him of federal charges.

A Firearms Discharge Review Board Report by former Chief of Department Philip Banks — which was rejected by Bratton — placed the major burden of guilt on Sgt. Scott Morris. Banks said Morris should have prevented Haste from rushing pell-mell into Graham’s apartment building without waiting for backup.

But how will the NYPD communicate its verdict on Haste to the world? For the past four decades or so, the department made public the verdicts of internal police trials, which are open to the public. But last year, Larry Byrne, the NYPD deputy commissioner for legal matters, determined that releasing the information violated a 1976 state law known as 50-a, which prohibits the release of information related to an officer’s disciplinary record.

Instead of telling Byrne to mind his own business and keep his legal opinions to himself, Bratton, perhaps distracted by thoughts of the millions of dollars he would make in his next job in the private sector, went along with him. So did de Blasio who, despite claiming to believe in transparency, had the city appeal a state court’s decision calling for the release of such records.

O’Neill, who could have charted his own course, has gone along with de Blasio.

Department officials say they will inform the Graham family of its ruling on Haste. But if the department does that, it would be going against Byrne’s interpretation of 50-a. [Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the NYPD will release the recommendation of Trials Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado, who heard Haste’s case.]

 Meanwhile, the Graham family, which settled a suit against the city for $3.9 million in 2015, has denounced de Blasio’s and O’Neill’s lack of transparency. Last week, Ramarley’s mother, Constance Malcolm, said she had been given a “blanket denial” of information she sought about the case through a Freedom of Information Law request.

This includes the status of Sgt. Morris and the two cops at the scene of the 2012 fatal shooting, and what Malcolm said was information about the detention of her mother, Patricia Hartley, who was in the apartment when Ramarley was shot. Malcolm said Hartley was detained for questioning for seven hours at the 47th Precinct before she was released.

Speaking at the New York Irish History Roundtable over the weekend, Daniel Czitrom, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and the author of “New York Exposed,” a readable account of the 19th century Lexow police corruption scandal, described some legendary early leaders of the NYPD. He spoke of inspectors Thomas Byrnes and Alexander “Clubber” Williams, and Superintendent Big Bill Devery, all of them corrupt and brutal officers who retired with small fortunes. (Devery made enough money to purchase the New York Highlanders — today’s New York Yankees.)

The Lexow commission, named after State Sen. Clarence Lexow, delineated the widespread and systemic police corruption exposed by the Rev. Charles Parkhurst. Parkhurst, a couple of colleagues and a seedy private detective spent four nights in disguise at police-protected after-hours joints, concluding with a visit to what Czitrom described as the 19th-century equivalent of a gay bar where men dressed as women and played a nude game of “leapfrog.” 

How far we have come today in certain respects. Police brutality and systemic corruption are no longer tolerated. But what was considered deviant sexual behavior in the 19th century is an accepted part of modern life [although playing nude games at a bar might get you arrested.]


Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt