Loose Cannon

Bullet-riddled record of Bronx cop facing trial for murder of Irish immigrant

On Thursday, October 22--ironically, the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality--Bronx Supreme Court Judge Ira Globerman will rule on whether evidence of alleged controversial off-duty behavior by police officer Richard Molloy, accused in the killing of illegal Irish immigrant Patrick "Hessy" Phelan, will be allowed as evidence in Molloy's upcoming trial.

Transcripts of pretrial testimony obtained by the Voice paint a picture of a cop who seems to have often acted above the law, enforcing his own justice, and who allegedly pulled and fired his weapon repeatedly both on-and off-duty.

Molloy, now 32, is accused of shooting Phelan in the head in January 1994. Molloy, who was off-duty, was in the Oak Bar on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx when Margaret McGrath, who was tending bar--and who is now his wife--asked him to escort the inebriated Phelan to her apartment across the street so Phelan could sleep.

Molloy claims that in the apartment Phelan, 39, grabbed his gun and shot himself. However, the coroner's report concluded Phelan could not have inflicted the wound. In addition, Molloy's "suicide defense" is disputed by Cormac Lee, McGrath's roommate at the time and the only other person in the apartment--who police said had been drinking heavily.

Lee said he was in another room when he heard arguing, then a gunshot. Rushing into the living room, he said he saw Molloy "taking his hand away from the back of his jacket." Beside him, Phelan lay dead.

When police arrived, Lee said, he was ordered into another room. Later, he testified, Molloy said to him: "Tell them nothing. You know nothing."

Molloy's lawyer, George Vallario, told the Voice Molloy "has done nothing wrong," and called Lee "a liar who embellished the story to make the case better."

According to pretrial testimony, the D.A. urged the court to allow Molloy to be questioned at trial about allegations that he has a long history of bizarre off-duty behavior involving drinking and gunplay.

In 1986, he allegedly got involved in an argument with two Fordham students after leaving a bar near the university's Bronx campus. One student charged that Molloy pulled his gun and pointed it at his head.

In 1993, at the same bar, Molloy allegedly pulled his gun and shot a rat. That same year, in another bar, the D.A. claims Molloy fired at a light after complaining that it annoyed him. Two weeks later, in the same bar, he allegedly did the same thing.

Late that year, in yet another Bronx bar, the D.A. charges, Molloy got into an argument with a patron, followed him to the door with gun in hand, and threatened to "light him up like a Christmas tree."

In 1995, while in a crowded bar during the telecast of the Irish football championship, Molloy allegedly waved his gun, prompting the bartender to order him to holster it.

In another Bronx bar that same year, the officer allegedly pulled a semiautomatic pistol that he was not authorized to carry, walked to the door, and fired seven rounds into the air. According to the D.A., he returned to the bar "and commenced drinking as if nothing had happened."

Vallario called these allegations "absurd" and "absolute nonsense," adding that although Molloy frequented these bars, he was never involved in such behavior.

Beyond Molloy's alleged off-duty antics, two suits have been filed against him over complaints about his behavior while on duty.

An $18 million suit filed in 1993 alleging that Molloy broke the knee of Charles Seiderman, 42, during a Bronx drug sweep in 1992 is pending and still in discovery. Molloy denies having touched Seiderman, claiming that he was injured prior to the arrest.

In 1989, Richard Deagle, an ACT-UP activist, filed suit, claiming Molloy arrested him without probable cause during a demonstration outside St. Patrick's Cathedral. Deagle's attorney repeatedly asked the judge to request a police review of Molloy's behavior, claiming he had "a hair-trigger" temper and was prone to react violently "without justifiable provocation." Those requests were ignored, and the case was subsequently thrown out.

Molloy allegedly also lied during a deposition when he said he was unaware of any charges lodged against him with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, although he had attended two CCRB hearings at which he was the subject of complaints. Judge Globerman said he found Molloy's explanation hard to believe, and ruled this admissable at trial.

The pretrial transcripts also reveal numerous civilian complaints about Molloy's on-duty behavior, among them allegations that he choked and slammed the head of a man during a routine search, trashed an apartment during a domestic violence call, and slapped and handcuffed a young man he stopped for questioning late at night, releasing him when he said his father was a cop. Only these complaints, of 14 lodged against Molloy, will be allowed as evidence in the trial.

Threats the officer allegedly made--such as "I'll kill you" and "Don't be stupid and report it. I know where you live"--also are detailed in the pretrial transcripts.

According to court papers, the day after Hessy Phelan was killed, Molloy went to a bar on City Island, where he allegedly had been drinking before he went to the Oak Bar, and told the owners to deny he had been there.

In 1994, after he was indicted in Phelan's death, Molloy attempted to leave the country by changing his Army Reserve status to active while he was free on bail. At a second bail hearing in 1997, the judge raised his bond from $25,000 to $150,000.

Like Officer Francis Livoti, who recently was sentenced to seven and a half years for violating the civil rights of Anthony Baez after a Bronx judge acquitted him of having choked Baez to death, Molloy has opted for a "bench trial," gambling that a judge would be more sympathetic than a jury. Indeed, in 1996, Judge Lawrence Tonetti threw out the initial indictment against Molloy after a grand jury voted to indict. The case was reinstated on appeal. That Molloy is still on the force despite a documented history of alleged abuse and violence is indicative of NYPD policies that allow cops with a history of complaints to remain in uniform.

Although cops with more than six CCRB complaints in five years are supposed to be monitored, many, like Molloy, go unnoticed.

Says Sherman Jackson, a CCRB spokesperson: "Prior to 1996 there were serious problems with the CCRB. But since February 1996, we have almost completely eliminated the backlog."

Before being moved to modified duty after the Phelan indictment, Molloy had more than 400 arrests and 77 commendations, according to his lawyer. "The more active a police officer is, the more susceptible he is for having a civilian complaint made against him," Vallario said.

Counters Annie O'Connor, a spokesperson for the Friends of Hessy Phelan, a group seeking to call attention to the case: "Livoti had more than 400 arrests. That does not mean he is not a killer."

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