|From:||Jon Good <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|Sent time:||Saturday, October 29, 2011 8:40:05 AM|
|Subject:||[september17discuss] Cops rally to support cops accused of misconduct|
As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.
The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.
The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.
Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.
The case, troubling to many New Yorkers because of its implication that the police officers believed they deserved special treatment, is expected to have long tentacles. Scores of other officers accused of fixing tickets could face departmental charges. Some officers have already retired. Moreover, the indictments may jeopardize thousands of cases in which implicated officers are important witnesses and may be seen as untrustworthy by Bronx juries.
The contentious scene in the Bronx concluded a week of deep embarrassment for the New York Police Department and Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who at a news conference acknowledged the difficulty of having “to announce for the second time this week that police officers have been arrested for misconduct.”
Federal agents earlier in the week arrested eight current and former officers on accusations that they had brought illegal firearms, slot machines and black-market cigarettes into New York City. Recently, other officers have been charged in federal court with making false arrests, and there was testimony in a trial in Brooklyn that narcotics detectives planted drugs on innocent civilians.
Of the 16 officers arraigned on Friday, ranking as high as lieutenant, 11 were charged with crimes related to fixing tickets. All of them pleaded not guilty, and all but two were released without bail. Officer Ramos was held in $500,000 cash bail. Jennara Cobb, a lieutenant in the Internal Affairs Bureau, was released after posting a $20,000 bail bond. She was accused of leaking information about the investigation to other officers.
Five civilians were also arrested in the case. Among them was Officer Ramos’s wife, charged with participating with Officer Ramos in an insurance scam.
The outpouring of angry officers at the courthouse had faint echoes of a 1992 march by off-duty officers on City Hall to protest Mayor David N. Dinkins’s call for more independent review of the police. And it raises unsettling questions about the current mind-set of the police force.
“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”
The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”
Mr. Kelly said he did not witness the officers’ courthouse conduct, but added, “I think it’s understandable that officers rally around when there’s a time of trouble.”
A police official said Mr. Kelly did not condone the hostile comments made by some officers. Particularly disturbing, the official said, was a news report that said some officers chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up at a benefits center across the street, referring to electronic benefit transfer, the method by which welfare checks are distributed. The people had apparently chanted “Fix our tickets” to the officers.
“To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye,” said the official, who spoke on the condition anonymity so as not to be heard directly criticizing members of the force.
The charged officers, accused of extending favors, seemed to have received a favor of their own from the authorities. They were spared a “perp walk,” the ritual in which suspects are walked to their booking or arraignment while photographers and videographers document their shame.
Instead, the officers were loaded into black vans at the Central Booking garage, then driven into a garage in the courthouse.
The ticket-fixing investigation began serendipitously in December 2008, after investigators began looking into accusations that Officer Ramos allowed a friend, Lee King, to sell drugs out of two barber shops named Who’s First that the officer owned in the Bronx. A wiretap was placed on Officer Ramos, which yielded conversations about fixing tickets.
The authorities said Officer Ramos provided Mr. King with an apartment, a cellphone, a car and a parking placard. He was one of the civilians arrested.
Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of thePatrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.
As the investigation unfurled, the union played down its significance and consistently referred to ticket-fixing as “professional courtesy” inscribed in the police culture.
Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said in a news conference that the officers had been arrested on something “accepted at all ranks for decades.” He did distance himself from those charged with graver offenses. He said he would have turned his back on Officer Ramos if he could have done so without insulting the court.
Mr. Kelly said that those who tried to rationalize ticket-fixing as part of the culture “are kidding themselves, especially if they think the public finds it acceptable.”
During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.
The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said the tickets fixed had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million.
While the union’s highest echelons were untouched by the indictments, the timing was troubling for the organization. It faces various labor issues, like the loss of members because of the department’s shrinking size and efforts by public officials to reduce their expensive perquisites.
Stephen C. Worth, a lawyer for the union who with his partner represented 11 of the defendants at the arraignment, criticized the case as “prosecutorial overcharging” for “relatively minor administrative misconduct at best.”
On Thursday afternoon, the police union sent a text message to 400 delegates urging them to show up at the court. Scores of police officers began filtering in around midnight on Thursday, when some of the accused officers arrived for booking. Some off-duty officers wore dark-blue T-shirts with the message on the back, “Improving everyone’s quality of life but our own.”
Forming a wall four deep in the main foyer, they applauded as the defendants appeared. The indicted officers waved and pumped their fists. A court official who came out to calm the crowd drew insults. A woman told the officers to return for the arraignments.
On Friday morning, on the street outside the courthouse, some 350 officers massed behind barricades and brandished signs expressing sentiments like “It’s a Courtesy Not a Crime.”
When the defendants emerged, many in the crowd burst into raucous cheers. Once they had gone and the tide of officers had dispersed, the street was littered with refuse.
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