Saturday, June 13, 2009

Newsflash: Not All NYC Cops Tell the Truth

This is, how shall we say it, about as new as the idea that some LA cops like to play rough. Still, the most recent case is especially disturbing.

In early January, 2008, undercover narcotics officers entered a bar and looked around.  Moments after they left, and acting on their word, a team swept in and made six arrests.  We're not sure about four of those arrests, which -- for the moment -- we will assume were valid.

But here's the problem.  Two of the arrests were entirely bogus, and depended upon deliberate and complete lies.

Officer Henry Tavarez and Detective Stephen Anderson testified that they had observed a fairly complicated little dance.  Tavarez claimed that he asked a patron where to buy some cocaine; the patron steered him toward Max Colon, who then patted the officer down to see if he was wearing a wire, took $100 from him, and handed a bag of cocaine to a confederate, who handed it to another, and then another, before it wound up in Tavarez's hands.  

Yup, that's a narcotics crime, alright.  Or it would be, if it weren't completely fabricated.

Turns out that there was a security camera running.  And the tape, which Max Colon and his brother Jose were clever enough to track down and get to an attorney, shows what actually happened.  The brothers spent two hours sitting in their chairs, having a few drinks and wishing the pool table were open so they could play.

As reported (somewhat confusingly) by the HuffPo:

What the tape doesn't show is striking: At no point did the officers interact with the undercovers, nor did the brothers appear to be involved in a drug deal with anyone else. Adding insult to injury, an outside camera taped the undercovers literally dancing down the street.

In the religion business, we call what those cops did "bearing false witness," and it's actually on God's top ten list of really bad things.  The brother's lawyer, a former prosecutor named Rochelle Berliner, says:

"I almost threw up.   Because I must've prosecuted 1,500, 2,000 drug cases ... and all felonies. And I think back, Oh my God, I believed everything everyone told me. Maybe a handful of times did something not sound right to me. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic but I was like, sick."

And there's one part of the problem.  Misconduct this egregious does reflect upon the department as a whole and narcotics investigators in particular.  This ticks us off, because we know some square-shooting, honest-as-the-day-is-long drug investigators, and we don't want to see their work get any harder or more dangerous.  Specifically, this case casts doubt upon every piece of testimony ever offered by either policemen, and leads to the likelihood that many of the people they have imprisoned -- quite possibly including some guilty ones -- will now go free.  Thanks, guys, for making our streets so much less safe.

But there's another problem.  The Colon brothers were arrested in January.  The charges against them were dropped in June.  But during those six months, their lives were ruined.  Their standing in the neighborhood (which is adjacent to our own, by the way) has been ruined.  Worse,  they owned a convenience store, but lost their license to sell tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.  The store closed just before the dismissal.  

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