The Chief
October 17, 2003

BCB Hits P.D. For Smearing Delegate

Called ‘Subject’ of Probe

By Mark Daly

The Police Department retaliated against a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegate when it publicly and wrongly identified him as a target of a corruption probe nearly four years ago, the city’s Board of Collective Bargaining has ruled.

The board’s decision came as a reputation-clearing victory for Walter J. Liddy, the PBA’s financial secretary for Manhattan South and a former delegate for the Midtown South Precinct. He found himself caught up in a wide-ranging investigation of wrongdoing in the precinct in December 1999 after a Sergeant from the Internal Affairs Bureau called him a “potential witness” and barred him from attending the interrogation of two officers.

Centered on Brothel

The probe of the precinct, which resulted in the transfer, conviction or arrest of nearly two dozen officers, arose amid allegations that a generation of Midtown South cops had protected a brothel in exchange for access to a rent-free apartment where they could “coop” during their shifts.

When the PBA complained about Mr. Liddy’s exclusion from disciplinary interviews, an NYPD spokesman called the delegate a “subject” of the probe in an interview with THE CHIEF-LEADER. The department later admitted it never formally identified Mr. Liddy as a subject of the investigation.

In a stinging ruling, the BCB said it found “no evidence” that the department would have publicly named Mr. Liddy as a “potential witness,” “witness” or “subject” of its investigation if he hadn’t been a union delegate. The NYPD’s assertion that Mr. Liddy might be a witness simply because he worked in the same precinct targeted in the probe “strains credulity,” the board said.

The board also noted that while NYPD said it never formally designated Mr. Liddy as a subject of the probe, it never corrected its earlier statements to THE CHIEF-LEADER.

A PBA spokesman said the case “demonstrates, in our mind, the culture of retaliation that pervades the NYPD.” The union has complained in recent years of delegates being unfairly disciplined for objecting to actions by department commanders.

The ruling set a key precedent for the PBA, according to Michael Murray, the union’s general counsel. “This decision demonstrates that the NYPD can’t simply designate a union representative as a witness in order to deprive a member of their right to representation,” he said.

‘Feel Vindicated’

“I feel totally vindicated,” Mr. Liddy said last week. “My only regret is that I didn’t sue the department for libeling me in print.”

A spokesman for the NYPD didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The BCB declined to characterize the incident as an attempt by the NYPD to “dominate or interfere” with the union. Since an attorney sent by the PBA was allowed to sit in when the two officers were questions, it was unclear that they or the union had been harmed, the board said.

The Internal Affairs probe of the Midtown South precinct came to light in 1998 amid allegations by prosecutors of a 15-year collaboration between a number of officers and the operators, authorities said, several 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.

By the time Mr. Liddy was barred from attending interrogations at the end of 1999, as many as 20 Midtown South officers had been placed on modified duty, two had pleaded guilty to criminal changes, and two had been arrested in connection with the probe. The BCB noted in its decision that while the internal probe began as early as 1996, the first time Mr. Liddy learned he might be called as a witness was when he attempted to help the two officers who were being questioned.

In February 2000, a PBA attorney sent a letter to the Chief of Internal Affairs to complain that Mr. Liddy was being illegally excluded from disciplinary interviews of officers. The next day, the NYPD officially notified Mr. Liddy that he was a “witness” in the ongoing probe. The notice, which set an April date for Mr. Liddy’s interrogation, came from the same Sergeant who had barred the delegate from the December interview, OCB said.

That March, this newspaper published an article quoting an NYPD spokesman, Chief Thomas Fahey, who said of Mr. Liddy, “He is being questioned as a subject in the case.” Chief Fahey then added, “He was told from the get-go that he might be called and couldn’t sit in on the interrogations.”

Mr. Liddy denied getting prior notice of his possible role as a witness, and Internal Affairs didn’t hold the interrogation as scheduled. While it waited for BCB to decide the case, the PBA went to court and succeeded in enjoining the department from questioning officers if Mr. Liddy was barred.