Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the disciplinary process needs to be more transparent. (SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
The NYPD has a new Blue Wall of Silence.
When it comes to disciplining its problem officers, the largest police department in the country has created a barrier to shield its cops from public scrutiny — something the NYPD freely admits does little to build public trust but says is required under its own interpretation of a controversial law.
Critics, however, contend the NYPD has misinterpreted the law, and that records should be made public.
Two years ago, the NYPD reversed a decadeslong practice, opting not to release the findings of its disciplinary actions against cops accused of misconduct.
The department claimed it had made a mistake — it had been inadvertently violating Section 50-a of the 1976 state Civil Rights Law, which bars the release of disciplinary findings against uniformed officers unless a judge orders it.
Under the new policy, the department never made public the penalties for officers cited for a range of misdeeds — or the disparities in the punishments themselves.
The Daily News is kicking off a four-part series that peers through the veil of secrecy that has come to characterize how the NYPD polices itself.
The News has obtained 55 disciplinary cases that were reviewed and decided upon by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill between July 22 and Sept. 29, 2017.
Disciplinary cases can take years to unfold, but are ultimately decided by the commissioner.
Thanks to these personnel orders, obtained by The News, we now know what happened to cops like Capt. Scott Forster, who went home after his shift instead of going to a hospital to support the families of two Brooklyn cops shot and wounded in the line of duty in February 2016.
While his dereliction of duty made headlines, as did his demotion to lieutenant and a 30-day suspension, the rest of Forster’s discipline — he was docked 45 vacation days and suspended an additional 15 days — did not.
Neither did the punishment given to Detective Gennady Ladyzhinsky, whom O’Neill found guilty in September of using a work-issued smartphone to view porn websites.
Ladyzhinsky also lost 45 vacation days, The News has learned.
Both were also placed on dismissal probation — which means that the department can fire them without process — for a year.
While the records obtained by The News provide a glimpse into how the NYPD punishes problem police officers, the standards applied to each case are also maddeningly opaque:
Sgt. Patrick Fyvie of the Bronx’s 46th Precinct “wrongfully used a Taser” on someone while on duty, according to internal charges brought against him in October 2015. He lost 15 vacation days.
Officer Salvatore Lopiccolo, now in Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct, found guilty Sept. 18 of wrongful use of force, lost 20 vacation days.
Two officers hit with dismissal probation, Jacy Reese and Robyn Holshek, were brought up on departmental charges in a bizarre attack on a fellow cop with pepper spray that’s still the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Hizzoner said it's up to the state to ax the Civil Rights Law, allowing the NYPD to improve transparency. (SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
Reese is accused of luring Officer Warner Gomez to a Harlem streetcorner in March 2014 and blasting him with the liquid chemical as payback, after Gomez accidentally splashed pepper spray on Reese as they tried to detain an emotionally disturbed man.
Holshek, then a sergeant who at the time went by the last name of Kreppel, is accused of covering up the attack. Both kept their jobs, though Holshek was demoted from sergeant to officer, public records show. She was also found guilty of directing an officer to classify a grand larceny as a lost-property case and was suspended for 30 days and docked 30 days’ vacations.
Another officer placed on dismissal probation, Asar Sanad, made the wrong kind of headlines while she was a Bronx rookie.
Sanad, then 29, claimed she witnessed a man hitting his girlfriend on Feb. 15, 2013, but the suspect beat the rap after Sanad admitted she lied about seeing the assault herself.
In fact, the suspect was already under arrest when she arrived on the scene. She didn’t make that distinction in a sworn statement, and wound up criminally charged in a case that has since been sealed.
Her internal discipline was likewise secret — until The News got her case orders.
PBA President Pat Lynch says the 50-a law protects cops and their families. (BARRY WILLIAMS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
On Sept. 22, the department hit her with a 32-day suspension and placed her on dismissal probation for a year.
- Another cop, Sgt. Ritchard Blake, was suspended 36 days and placed on dismissal probation on Sept. 27 — almost 11 months after he was arrested on charges he hit his girlfriend in the face in his Brooklyn home.
- Officer Eugen Popovici, who made false statements in an official department interview and misleading statements to Internal Affairs Bureau investigators, got a 30-day suspension and lost 15 vacation days on top of his probation.
- Sgt. Raymond Martinez, also placed on probation, had to pay back more than $5,200 for regular and overtime pay he submitted, but never worked, and lost 45 vacation days.
- Detective Shaheed Raheem was caught misusing a department smartphone. He kept it at his home for 11 months, made 9,000 calls and texts, and failed to register it in a department database. That cost him probation, and 40 vacation days.
Of the 55 officers listed in the documents obtained by The News, just one, Michael Golden, was fired.
Golden’s department trial last June was front-page news — he was accused of having sex with a half-dozen prostitutes during undercover stings.
He denied the charges, claiming he never got naked or had sex with the women.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to charge Golden based on the lack of witnesses and evidence, since five of the six women left the country.
In the end, Golden was acquitted of the departmental charges — but was sacked anyway.
He pleaded guilty in a separate incident of making a false Internal Affairs Bureau complaint against his boss, which officially sealed his fate.
O’Neill last week said he is determined to get rid of 50-a.
“Our disciplinary system has to become more transparent,” he said.
“This 50-a is causing problems for the NYPD. It’s not helping us move forward in certain areas. Letting people know about our internal disciplinary process — that’s not something we do very well.
“If you’re at the newspaper or you watch TV, you would think there is no discipline,” O’Neill added. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Mayor de Blasio also called for an end to 50-a, but said that Albany legislators have to be the ones who kill it.
“We’re going to fight for it this year,” de Blasio said. “If we don’t succeed, I suspect there’s going to be some real changes in Albany after this election and there may be another opportunity after that.”
Gov. Cuomo, in a swipe at de Blasio, said the mayor could release the records, law or not.
Capt. Scott Forster went home after his shift instead of heading to the hospital to support two cops who were shot and wounded. He was demoted to lieutenant and suspended for 45 days. He also lost 45 vacation days. (STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE)
Of course, the police unions oppose an end to 50-a.
“The desire for ‘transparency’ does not trump the rights of police officers and their families to be safe, nor does it trump the effective administration of justice,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said.
“Removing these protections will put police officers at greater risk of targeted attacks, and will allow criminals to evade justice by turning trials into smear campaigns against police officers by using issues that have nothing to do with their guilt or innocence.”
But police reform advocate and Legal Aid attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook blasted the NYPD’s interpretation of 50-a for promoting “secrecy about police misconduct.”
“Contrary to a 40-year-plus policy of NYPD releasing disciplinary summaries, this administration has Frankensteined 50-a from a narrow law that exempts certain personnel records from disclosure into a sweeping law that promotes a dangerous level of state secrecy about police misconduct against the public.”
Critics also say that if the accused wrongdoer is a supervisor — like in the case of Assistant Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, who lost 45 vacation days after he was accused of making false statements to the department and roughing up his alleged mistress — the punishment is almost always light.
But Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said such a contention is difficult to prove. “It’s pretty much impossible to compare punishments given the lack of public disclosure about the department’s disciplinary practices,” Dunn said.
In a stunning development, Lynch, the head of the NYPD’s largest police union, agreed with Dunn, a longtime critic of the department. “It is the NYPD’s responsibility to ensure disciplinary punishment is fair among all of its ranks,” said Lynch.
The NYPD, however, says its penalties are not arbitrary and are done on a “case-by-case basis.”
“(It) takes into consideration the totality of the facts and circumstances of each underlying administrative charge, as well as the overall performance and evaluation records of the individual members involved,” said Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis, the NYPD’s top spokesman.
The News attempted to contact all the police officers named in this story. Most could not be reached, and two declined to comment.