Judgment in Jersey

High drama, big crowd: A top NYPD official gets hauled into traffic court across the river

The funny thing is that Hoffman's stinging cross-examination of a police sergeant and the focus on a detective's complaint record are the stuff that many New York cops would normally hate to see. But with McCarthy in a jam, his NYPD entourage is definitely on the other side of the blue line this time. During breaks, they talk about the misbehavior of their Parkway brethren. Some mention a July 2005 article in Gay City News that claimed Rossi and Zaben took an unusually hard line toward gay men who were caught in the park. And they notice that Parkway Lieutenant Nelson Pagan (in court people unfortunately keep mispronouncing his name "PAY-gen"), who testified earlier in the case, keeps moving between the judge's side and the audience. He's giving signals to the witnesses, the New York cops claim.

Not all of the NYPD's 39,000 are rushing to McCarthy's side, however. Some feel he's received special treatment: Would Chief of Department Joe Esposito testify on the deputy commissioner's behalf if McCarthy were just a low-ranking beat-walker? Would Officer Nobody be allowed to keep his job after an incident like the Sunoco scuffle?

From the start, Judge Zaben shows inordinate concern for the audience's nourishment, repeatedly expressing worry about people getting faint or forgetting their medication. After about two hours of testimony, he calls a 6 p.m. dinner break and directs everyone down to the Royal Cliffs Diner at Exit 1. There, some of the players from the courtroom sit in awkward proximity: the McCarthy entourage in a corner, and the two internal-affairs cops at the center of the dining room.

Back in court after dinner, Hoffman makes a series of motions to get the summonses thrown out, questioning the legality of the laws that Kyla and Regina McCarthy allegedly broke. Prosecutor Doyle rages: "People are now welcome to run amok in our gas stations!" The judge sides with Doyle.

Then it's on to Carlton Durham, who has not only a fantastic name but also a badge and gun. Back on February 18, he was called to the Sunoco for backup and helped transport the McCarthys to the station house. He says the couple were "calm and quiet," contradicting the reports that Garry was fightin' mad.

The broad-shouldered New York cops sit in perfect silence; several chew gum in rhythm. Hoffman goes to the sketch of the Sunoco parking lot and has Durham draw how he remembered the locations of Rossi's patrol car and McCarthy's SUV on the night in question. It looks like there's about 16 feet to the side of McCarthy's vehicle for traffic to get through.

Hoffman's reasoning is inverse Johnnie Cochran: If the car could fit, you must acquit. But Durham insists that "with the vehicle parked the way they were, there wasn't any way to get them through safely."

It's high drama. The next session of the trial, slated for February 23, will feature even more, with Garry McCarthy likely to testify. Hoffman, who was a prosecutor in the Park Police Court for 12 years, says most cases there take an hour or two. State v. McCarthy will go into the record books as probably the longest and best-attended trial in Park Court history—and certainly the only one that NYPD brass have kept tabs on.

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