January 6, 2004

PBA Protests Possible Parole of Cops' Killers

Diane Piagentini and Pat Lynch    
PBA President Patrick Lynch (right), accompanied by Diane Piagentini, the widow of Police Officer Joseph Piagentini, who was killed in 1971 by Black Liberation Army member Herman Bell, appears in front of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem to oppose the parole release of Bell. (Newsday Photo/Moises Saman)  

Diane Piagentini puts the poisoned memories in a box. She takes them out when she has to, but if she had her way, she would never have to open the box again.

It was 1 a.m. on May 21, 1971. Homemade pasta fagiole was sitting on the stove of her Suffolk County home. An easy meal for her husband, city Police Officer Joseph Piagentini, to warm up when he got home from his patrol in Harlem. A bottle of milk was warming next to it for their daughter Mary.

There was a knock. Diane answered the door to find a priest and police officers blasted by flashing lights.

She did not know during that long drive to Harlem Hospital that her husband was dead, that he and another police officer, Waverly Jones, had been assassinated by members of the Black Liberation Army.

Piagentini, 28, and Jones, 34, had responded to a domestic call at a Harlem public housing complex where they were ambushed and shot 17 times.

Herman Bell, Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington, admitted members of the Black Liberation Army, were convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Tuesday, Piagentini picked through her past in a room of the 32nd Precinct station house, the same room where her husband stood for roll call before his last patrol.

She spoke, her husband's badge pinned to her blouse, after participating in a rally in front of the precinct house to keep Bell and Bottom, who are up for parole this year, in prison permanently. Washington died in prison.

"It opens up all these wounds," she said. "It brings me back to that night in 1971." Piagentini said she and her two daughters are going to present victim impact statements to the Parole Board on Friday.

Jones' family could not be reached for comment.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said it was "incumbent" that the Parole Board deny Bell's and Bottom's requests.

Bottom, whose hearing is scheduled for July, was denied parole once, in 2002. Bell's appearance, scheduled for February, will be his first before the board.

Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther, said the Jones family did not attend the rally because some do not oppose Bottom's and Bell's parole.

Barron, who introduced a resolution last year to free inmates he described as political prisoners, including Bell and Bottom, said the parole controversy was being exploited by the PBA.

"I think the PBA should be ashamed of themselves," he said. "They are manipulating the public emotionally by bringing up the nature of the crime."

Diane Piagentini said she will keep dredging up painful memories as long as Bottom and Bell continue to ask for parole.

"You keep going back in time and just keep reliving it," she said. "But he is my husband."

Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this story.