Why 7 Police Officers Were Blacklisted in Brooklyn

Why 7 Police Officers Were Blacklisted in Brooklyn

One detective conducted such sloppy eyewitness identification procedures that a judge called the lapses “inconceivable.” Another officer was charged with taking a 14-year-old boy he had arrested on a minor charge to a Staten Island marsh and stranding him there.

A third was once suspended from the force for steroid use and had posted on social media that he was watching “Training Day,” a movie about police corruption, to “brush up on proper police procedure.”

The three officers appear on a blacklist made public for the first time this week by the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, who says he will no longer call them as witnesses because he has determined they are not credible.

By releasing the list to the public, the Brooklyn district attorney has made it nearly impossible for the officers to do ordinary investigations or make arrests in the borough. The move goes beyond what other district attorneys in the city have done to deal with officers with credibility problems.

The decision to release the names takes place against the backdrop of a national debate over whether prosecutors should do more to sideline such officers.

For decades, prosecutors in New York — and around the country — have kept private files on officers who have disciplinary or credibility problems. But officers in those files still served as witnesses on occasion and the files were often kept secret. In many jurisdictions, prosecutors have declined to release the information they have, citing due process concerns for officers.

Defense lawyers and police-reform activists have pushed prosecutors to not only keep lists of problematic officers but in some cases to make them public, arguing they are an effective tool for sidelining dishonest or inept police.

Mr. Gonzalez said he was releasing his list of seven officers to reporters in the name of transparency and to improve faith in the criminal justice system. Most of the officers have been either transferred to other boroughs or taken off enforcement jobs, he said.

“They aren’t making arrests in Brooklyn,” Mr. Gonzalez said. He added that officers on the list won’t be used “as a sole witness in a case because of various other encounters we’ve had with them over the years relating to their credibility.”

The Police Department declined to answer questions about the credibility of officers on the list.

Defense lawyers have long argued that secretive disciplinary proceedings and union rules protecting officers from dismissal raise questions about the ability of police departments to rein in misconduct.

As a result, the files prosecutors keep on police misconduct have taken on a growing importance in the national debate over fairness in the criminal justice system.

Such files have been around for decades, primarily as a way to track information that prosecutors might be obligated to disclose to defense lawyers. But they are now being embraced as a potential tool for combating police misconduct by activist groups and a growing number of prosecutors.

“They were largely internal — a rumor mill within the D.A. offices, about which officers not to call,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School and expert in prosecutorial ethics. “Now with progressive prosecutors we’re seeing calls to make these public and available to defense attorneys.”

Mr. Gonzalez’s decision to release the list in Brooklyn drew a sharp rebuke from Patrick J. Lynch, the president of New York City’s largest police union.

“He knows that publicizing this information will destroy the careers of honest police officers and torpedo the cases against violent, gun-toting criminals — assuming his office bothers to prosecute them at all,” Mr. Lynch said.

While most other prosecutor’s offices in New York City maintain files of police officers with credibility issues, they have released little information about which officers — if any — they will not use as witnesses in court.

For years, prosecutors in New York City had a reputation for not being rigorous about tracking officers with credibility problems, and that is one reason police perjury remains a problem, former prosecutors and legal experts said in interviews.

Queens has released little information about its files on police officers, although the topic emerged as a campaign issue in the recent election for Queens district attorney. Ikimulisa Livingston, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney, said the office was reviewing its policy.

Danny Frost, a spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said that there were some officers the office no longer used as witnesses because of concerns over their reliability, but he declined to identify them or say how many there were.

In the Bronx, prosecutors have released several lists of officers with credibility issues, with heavy redactions, but most of the information has come from news articles and public court records.

Asked if the Bronx district attorney no longer calls some officers as witnesses, a spokeswoman, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, said prosecutors there make a “case-by-case assessment.”

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office released two lists this week. One includes more than 40 officers whose testimony judges had deemed unreliable and false. Mr. Gonzalez said he believed that in some of those cases the judges were mistaken and the officers had been truthful. The officers on this list will still sometimes be used as witnesses, he said.

The second list, however, named the seven officers the district attorney’s office had deemed no longer credible.

Mr. Gonzalez declined to elaborate on the specific reason each officer was on the list. He said he expected the list to grow.

He said his assistants started the list this year, because they had long struggled with how to handle cases brought by officers whose credibility they doubted. The cases would often be dismissed or end with a relatively lenient plea deal, Mr. Gonzalez said.

Maryanne Kaishian, a lawyer with Brooklyn Defender Services, expressed surprise that the list contained only seven names. “That is way too few in our experience with the number of officers we’ve encountered committing misconduct on our cases,” Ms. Kaishian said.

One officer on the list is Richard Danese, who was indicted more than a decade ago after he arrested a 14-year-old boy for allegedly throwing eggs at a car on Halloween, then dropped him off half-naked in a Staten Island marsh. The case against Officer Danese eventually fell apart after the child refused to cooperate.

Detective Vaughan Ettienne, a bodybuilder and veteran member of plainclothes anti-crime teams in Brooklyn, is also on the list. His Facebook account — which included references to taking cues from the movie “Training Day” — landed him in hot water more than a decade ago.

Officer Ettienne and Officer Danese declined requests to be interviewed.

A third officer on the list, Greggory Gingo, said in an interview that his name was added after he was accused of racial bias — the result, he said, of a misunderstanding.

Last year Officer Gingo testified against a black man he had arrested three years earlier. As the hearing began, Officer Gingo was asked if he spotted the defendant in the courtroom — a standard question. But Officer Gingo struggled to recognize him.

Weeks later Officer Gingo discussed the matter with a prosecutor, who later claimed Officer Gingo said something along the lines of, “I wasn’t sure who it was, so I picked the black guy,” according to a court transcript.

In an interview, Officer Gingo denied saying that. “I’m not racist,” he said. He explained his confusion on the witness stand by saying he had mixed up two cases. He had expected to be testifying against a white defendant in another case. So when he saw a black defendant seated at the defense table, he was confused and nervous. Eventually he realized his mistake and recovered, he said.

After that, Officer Gingo said, he was added to the list in Brooklyn. The Police Department has since transferred him to Staten Island.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

Published at Thu, 07 Nov 2019 02:00:00 +0000

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