The Chief

March 3, 2000

 

PBA Suing P.D. in Grilling of Official

Privilege in Peril?

By William Van Auken

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association is preparing a lawsuit over the Police Department's order that a PBA official submit to a departmental interrogation in connection with the Midtown South brothel case, union officials revealed.

The department's action, they charged, has infringed on their members' right to representation and threatens to undermine the longstanding recognition of confidentiality in the PBA's dealings with rank-and-file cops.

Can't Sit In

Walter J. Liddy, the PBA's Manhattan South financial secretary, has been barred from so-called GO-15 interrogations of officers in his command. Union sources said that he was told that he cannot represent the other cops because he is to be "GO-15'd" himself. Under these procedures, officers are compelled to testify truthfully on pain of dismissal from the department.

Four cops pleaded guilty to bribe-taking and other misconduct and were fired by the department for their involvement in what authorities say was a 15-year collaboration between a number of Manhattan south officers and a brothel located on West 39th Street.

In return for protecting the operation, these cops allegedly enjoyed use of a rent-free apartment where they consorted with prostitutes or simply hung out when they were supposed to be working.

The scandal over the brothel exploded in July 1998 after some cops began to cooperate with an Internal Affairs probe. A spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office said that a criminal investigation is still ongoing.

Fifteen officers have been stripped of their guns and badges and placed on administrative assignment in connection with the Manhattan south investigation. They have yet to be charged either criminally or administratively.

Mr. Liddy was barred from the first interrogations involving two cops who faced charges of unauthorized off-duty employment. The two played in a band known as "The Nines" which included the Manhattan South commanding officer, who was transferred out of the precinct and given a command discipline.

One union source said that the band's public performance was a one-time event for a party thrown to celebrate a PBA delegate's election, and came under scrutiny only because of the investigation into the brothel case.

"This is one more attack, one more union-busting technique that the department is using against the PBA," said the union's president, Patrick J. Lynch. "They've targeted Walter Liddy for being an effective representative of his members."

Claims No Knowledge

Mr. Liddy, who was elected to the PBA board last June, insists that he knows nothing about the brothel case outside of what Police Officers told him while seeking his assistance as a precinct delegate. He was never questioned in the Manhattan DA's probe, nor called as a grand jury witness. Union officials expressed concern that the department is preparing to question him about information he acquired while counseling other cops.

A Police Department spokesman denied that mr. Liddy would be questioned about matters he dealt with while discharging his duties as a PBA delegate. "He is being questioned as a subject in the case," said Chief Thomas Fahey. "He was told from teh get-go that he might be called and couldn't sit in on the interrogations."

At the time of the brothel protection racket, Officer Liddy was on duty as a cop in the precinct, Chief Fahey said. He added that departmental interrogations of delegates are not unusual.

'A Subject of What?'

"I'm a subject, I'm a subject of what?" Mr. Liddy said when asked about the department's explanation for excluding him from the interrogations. The PBA financial secretary said that the first inkling he had that the department was connecting him to the investigation was on Dec. 21, when he was stopped by a Sergeant at the Hudson St. headquarters of the Internal Affairs Bureau from going into an interrogation room with the two cops facing the off-duty employment charge.

"First they told me I was a potential witness," he said. "Then, after out lawyers wrote them a letter protesting my exclusion, thjey said I was a witness. Now they say I'm a subject." Angrily denying any knowledge of the brothel case, Mr. Liddy added, "I'm not naive about this thing; my personal integrity is involved here."

PBA officials indicated that the union is preparing legal action that will challenge the exclusion of Mr. Liddy based on Section 75.2 of the State Cigil Service Law guaranteeing employees subjected to disciplinary hearings the right to representation, and will charge the department with interference in the functioning of the union.

Attorneys for the union sought an informal resolution of the matter through the Office of Collective Bargaining, but the department rebuffed these efforts. With the Board of Collective argaining out of action due to the Giuliani administration's delay in seating two labor members, union officials say the PBA's only option is to challenge the department's policy in court.

Mr. Liddy said that bothy cops who underwent the first interrogation protested his exclusion and told the IAB officer that they were not satisfied with the representation.

While the PBA provides lawyers for officers questioned by the IAB, these attorneys are not equipped to handle the cases without the assistance of a union representative, Mr. Liddy said.

"Attorneys are called in at the last minute for these interrogations," he said. "They meet the officer for the first time at the elebvator and are handed a file at the last minute." The presence of a union official known by the cop is essential in the "threatening and intimidating environment" of an IAB interrogation room, said the Manhattan South representative.

'Put Them At Ease'

Estimating that he has handled as many as 1,000 interrogations between IAB cases, command discipline hearings and shooting investigations during his 10 years as a PBA official, Mr. Liddy said he is far better versed in "the nuances of police work" than an attorney, and is able to talk to his members "cop-to-cop, making them feel at ease." That ability works to the department's advantage, he added. he said he has occasionally been asked to serve as a "liaison" in the sometimes-sensitive task of removing officers' weapons when they are placed on modified assignment after acrimonious interrogations.

The PBA's apprehension that the Manhattan South representative could be interrogated about his conversations with the officers is bound up with wider concerns within the union that the recognition of confidentiality in relations between union rtepresentatives and Police Officers is under attack.

These fears were heightened in the just-completed Federal obstruction-of-justice trial stemming from the assult on Abner Louima in the 70th Precinct bathroom.

A central thrust of the prosecution's case was aimed at implicating the PBA erecting a so-called "Blue Wall of silence" around one of the cops who allegedly participated in the assault. Brooklyn Trustee Michael Immitt and a former precinct delegate were called by the prosecution as hostile witnesses.

When Federal prosecutors subpeonaed Mr. Immitt and two other union officials in February 1998 in connection with teh Louima case, the union filed a court challenge, arguing unsuccessfully that PBA representatives [played a similar role to that of paralegals in determing the legal needs of their members and therefore should enjoy a form of attorney-client privilege.

While U.S. District Court Judge Reena Raggi rejected this contention in reference to the criminal investigation, she acknowledged that existing case law did recognize the confidentiality of communications between union officials and members in the context of internal disciplinary proceedings.

Meanwhile, the PBA and other police unions have resubmitted a bill in the State Legislature that would var prosecutors of department interrogators from compelling union officials to disclose information probided by their members.

Bill's Substance

"When a police union official receives a communication from a member in the course of his or her official durites and after the member has requiested the assistance of counsel," the bill states, "the police union official shall not be required to disclose the communication, or advice given ... in any action, proceeding or disciplinary proceeding against a member."

The bill excludes this privilege, however, in cases in which a police union member reveals plans to commit a future crime.

Passed by the State Senate last year, the legislation died in the Assembly in January, and was resubmitted. Governor Pataki vetord an earlier version of the bill in 1996.