Covering Up Cop
New York Law Journal
A state judge who says he was assaulted by a police officer is accusing the Queens district attorney of orchestrating a cover-up after the prosecutor announced yesterday he will not file criminal charges against the officer who allegedly hit the judge and assaulted a homeless man.
"Everything they say is a lie," Queens Supreme Court Justice Thomas Raffaele (See Profile) said in response to District Attorney Richard Brown's press release.
Brown's statement said that an investigation indicated that the homeless defendant, Charles Menninger, 47, was attempting to strike two police officers with a metal pipe and was appropriately restrained. He also suggested that Raffaele, who happened on the scene while walking through his neighborhood late one night, encroached on police.
But Raffaele said yesterday that the press release is full of falsehoods, and maintained it was the police officer, not Menninger, who was violently "out-of-control."
"The suspect was lying face down on the street, no shirt, with his hand handcuffed behind his back and pinned down by the officer," Raffaele said. "The officer kept smashing his knee into the guy's back and I looked very closely to see if the suspect was struggling or trying to escape. But he was just lying there saying, again and again, 'I beg you, please stop.'"
Brown also said he could not prove that the officer who allegedly hit Raffaele with a karate-like chop to the throat "unjustifiably struck Justice Raffaele and that the judge sustained a physical injury." He indicated that Raffaele had walked into a "safety perimeter that police officers attempted to establish" to contain Menninger and keep him away from the crowd.
The judge, however, said he never came close to interfering with police or encroaching on their space and was simply standing with a crowd when the officer suddenly charged and hit him and others (NYLJ, June 7). Raffaele said he not only did not interfere with police but called 911 to summon additional help and was gently nudging the crowd away from the perimeter.
Raffaele said that as people in the crowd called out to the officer to stop hitting the suspect, the officer "got more and more angry, kept smashing his knee into the guy's back and hollered and cursed the people in the crowd."
Then, Raffaele said, the officer, who has not been publicly identified, "jumped up and ran into the crowd and attacked other people as well as me. It was absolutely criminal and I think a jury would have very little difficulty, if they heard the testimony, determining who was telling the truth and who was lying."
Raffaele said that when he was first interviewed in early June he gave investigators the names of witnesses who would corroborate his story. The judge said he later learned that the witnesses were not interviewed until much later and only after he complained.
"Whatever is going on there, I don't know, but the fact that they didn't interview the witnesses is a clear sign from early on that they did not intend to seriously investigate and prosecute this matter," Raffaele said. "At this point, given the way the officers lied to cover up what this guy did who hit us, I have to wonder if the same cover-up attitude extends to the detectives in the D.A.'s office. It does not seem to me that the D.A. wanted the investigation in this case to go forward."
Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Brown, declined to respond. According to the press release, Brown has referred the matter to the New York Police Department and the Civilian Complaint Review Board expressing "no opinion as to whether" any violations of NYPD rules occurred.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said an internal affairs investigation is ongoing. He said the officers involved remain on active duty.
Raffaele, who is assigned to a matrimonial part and does not handle criminal matters, said the incident and the way it was handled can only undermine confidence in the NYPD and the district attorney's office.
"I have great respect for police officers," Raffaele said. "I think the vast majority are very brave and do great things to protect us. But when something like this happens, something totally unprovoked and very, very violent and it is brushed off, it is very discouraging and very upsetting. My feeling, frankly, is that somebody who is that violent and dangerous should not be walking around with a gun and a badge. He is an out-of-control, dangerous person."
Raffaele noted that he has until next week to file a notice of claim and "if there is no other choice, that is what I may have to do."
Menninger, meanwhile, is planning to sue the city and was deposed on Aug. 20, according to his attorney, Kevin O'Donnell of Kew Gardens. O'Donnell said Brown's decision has no bearing on the civil suit.
"I think there is a very viable civil suit, regardless of whether they are prosecuted," O'Donnell said. "These cops may have escaped criminal prosecution, but it is not over for them. Mr. Menninger is going to have his day in court."
O'Donnell said that Menninger, who Brown says in his release was reportedly chasing people with a metal pipe and threatened two officers, was never arrested or charged.
"If you read the D.A.'s press release and accept it as true, Menninger should have been arrested and charged with a felony," O'Donnell said. "But he wasn't charged with
Covering Up Cop