July 25, 2002

Cops Rip Ruling to ID Undercovers

By Karen Freifeld and Sean Gardiner STAFF WRITERS

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly assailed a Manhattan judge's ruling to force cops testifying in a drug case to identify undercover officers by name.

"We find the request deeply disturbing," Kelly said at a news conference yesterday, joined by union representatives for police.

"Revealing the name of our undercover officers has the potential to put their lives and the lives of their families in immediate danger," he said.

Manhattan Acting State Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Cropper ruled Friday that officers in the drug case must name at least two of the three undercover officers who helped them arrest the defendant during buy-and-bust operations in Washington Square Park last year.

Assistant District Attorney Jamie Pukl argued the officers should be allowed to identify themselves with only their shield numbers for the purpose of testifying. The undercovers still work in the park.

But the judge disagrees with Pukl.

"I don't see that a sufficient showing has been made in this case for me to abrogate the right of this defendant to a public trial," Cropper ruled, according to a transcript. "There are no threats shown here ... and the ruling is that the name[s] will be used."

She did rule that one co-defendant would not be allowed in the courtroom, and agreed to delay the trial until next month so prosecutors could appeal.

Judges generally allow undercover officers to use only shield numbers or offer a fake name as protection, particularly if they're still working under cover in the same area, several judges said.

"What she did is outrageous," said one legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There are judges who won't seal a courtroom because of the constitutional right to a public trial. But there's no reason the cop has to give out his true name. It just puts him in danger needlessly."

Cropper declined, through a court spokeswoman, to respond to the criticism.

Staff writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this story.