Monday, March 23, 2015 5:00 pm

Editorial: Fusco’s False Indictment

By Richard Steier

Election campaigns, whether for political or union office, are rarely decorous. Small matters are blown out of proportion or innocuous statements or choices are distorted in hopes of swaying people to cast votes for or against a particular candidate.

And so we aren’t shocked that Brian Fusco, a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association trustee, in trying to topple four-term incumbent President Pat Lynch is making an issue of the union leader’s having endorsed Ken Thompson for Brooklyn District Attorney in 2013 now that Mr. Thompson has indicted four police officers on various charges. Mr. Lynch has responded that Mr. Fusco was part of the union leadership that unanimously made that choice; Mr. Fusco denies actually having cast a vote at the time and claims he said that the union should remain neutral.

We think it’s important that cops consider the circumstances that produced the four indictments before making any judgment about whether, in hindsight, Mr. Fusco might have a valid point.

The most-publicized case involved Officer Peter Liang, who faces charges including manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in the stairwell of an East New York housing project last November. There are two possible explanations for Officer Liang’s shot —either he lost his balance or he panicked at the unexpected sound of Mr. Gurley and his girlfriend walking on the stairs a landing below. In his press conference following the officer’s arraignment, Mr. Thompson emphasized that the cop allegedly failed to contact his supervisor for four minutes despite his partner’s urging him to do so, and when he finally descended the staircase to find the stricken Mr. Gurley, did nothing to medically assist him.

Ironically, the one prominent official to raise questions about the fairness of the indictment was a lawyer who frequently represents PBA members, Stephen Worth, who said he did not have Mr. Liang testify before the grand jury because he believed the DA had an agenda. Once it was learned, however, that Mr. Liang’s partner had testified, a second possible reason loomed large: that his testimony would have produced an indictment no matter what Mr. Liang would have told the grand jurors, and so Mr. Worth was making a sound tactical move in preventing him from making any statements he might later regret at trial.

Based on the circumstances, Mr. Thompson would have been negligent if he hadn’t brought an indictment, regardless of whether Officer Liang is ultimately found guilty or not.

The indictments of Police Officers David Afandor and Tyrane Isaac for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old boy while making an arrest in Crown Heights were a similarly obvious call: just look at the online videotapes of the incident.

The final indictment, of Police Officer Joel Edouard on assault charges for allegedly stomping on the head of a suspect who was face-down on the ground while being arrested by other cops has a small bit of ambiguity: a video of the incident showed Officer Edouard lifting his leg into what might be called stomping position, but it’s hard to see whether he actually completed the maneuver. The exclamations of horror by other people at the scene might lead you to draw the inference that he did. Presumably they testified to what they saw, and that may have been enough to lead the DA to draw the conclusion that there was enough to merit an indictment, with the full facts to be sorted out at trial.

We’re hard-pressed to see how any of those indictments could be claimed to show a bias against cops on Mr. Thompson’s part.

In an interview with this newspaper’s Mark Toor, Mr. Fusco cited one prior case that he believed should have been held against Mr. Thompson in deciding on an endorsement: the prosecution of Justin Volpe and four other cops in the savage assault on Abner Louima in a bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse in 1997. Mr. Thompson was a junior member of the prosecution team and gave the opening statement in that case, which resulted in the conviction of Mr. Volpe and a 30-year prison term, as well as a 5-year sentence for Charles Schwarz, who Mr. Louima alleged held him down while Mr. Volpe rammed a broken stick into his rectum.

Mr. Schwarz has long claimed that he was not in the bathroom, with others saying another cop had been or that Mr. Louima imagined someone was restraining him while Mr. Volpe committed his brutal assault.

As we’ve said in the past, even if this was true, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for Mr. Schwarz. He had the chance to tell what he knew about the incident and instead hunkered down behind the Blue Wall of Silence and took his chances at trial.

Whatever reluctance cops may have to give evidence against their colleagues, there are some acts that go so far beyond the bounds that to fail to speak up is a sin: it was Mr. Volpe who betrayed what being a cop is about.