By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
As a result of The Village Voice releasing audiotapes that capture NYPD superior officers encouraging street cops to manipulate crime statistics by downgrading crimes and intimidating crime victims, numerous current and former police officers have come forward to tell their own tales of questionable NYPD practices. (See "The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct" from May 5, 2010 and "The NYPD Tapes, Part 2" from May 12, 2010.)
But none is more alarming than the story being made public by retired NYPD Detective First Grade Harold Hernandez.
Responding to the ongoing Voice series "NYPD Tapes," Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.
The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break—an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment—that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.
After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.
Hernandez learned that most of the victims' complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.
He says Thomas told him that with each new assault, his brazenness and level of violence increased: "I asked him, 'Weren't you ever afraid that you would get caught in any of these locations?' He goes 'Nah. I looked around, I never saw any cops,' " Hernandez says. "What they do is continue to hide these complaint reports, and what happens is no one is alerted that they have a serious crime pattern in those areas."
A Manhattan jury convicted Thomas in five cases on first-degree attempted rape, robbery, burglary, and sexual assault charges. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a state prison in Romulus, New York.
No police official was ever disciplined for misclassifying the complaints. Not only did Police Commissioner Ray Kelly allow the precinct commander, then Captain Jason Wilcox, to stay on, but he promoted him twice: Wilcox is now an Inspector and the commanding officer of the Manhattan Transit Bureau.
The Thomas case is a troubling example of the effect of downgrading crime complaints, which the Voice has exposed in its series, based on recordings made inside Brooklyn's 81st Precinct.
One of Thomas's victims, Jennifer Krupa, was stunned when the Voice told her what happened to the earlier complaints. She was attacked toward the end of the two-month period. "If there was a chance they could have caught him earlier, that is absolutely infuriating," says Krupa, a musician who now lives out of state and willingly allowed her name to be used.
Thomas's attack on her resulted in a brutal battle. Shortly after 2 a.m., he accosted her as she was entering her apartment. He grabbed her and put a knife to her throat. She screamed and struggled, and they both fell. He snatched her purse and ran, but she chased him down and grabbed the purse. He punched her in the face, but she held on to her purse, and he fled. Krupa wound up with a bruised face and a small cut on her throat.
She knew it could have been worse: "He was trying to get me into my apartment," she says. "This turned my life upside down for more than a year. I had panic attacks. I didn't sleep. There were days I couldn't leave my apartment."
Over time, the trauma faded, but she says, "Anytime I'm in a corner or in an elevator, I'm very aware of what's going on around me."
In addition to the Thomas case, the Voice series has documented a policy of refusing to take robbery complaints from some victims, and includes references to a dozen instances of crime complaint manipulation in the 81st Precinct. Subsequent Web reports have contained evidence of additional manipulations. Other Voice Web reports document an attempted rape of the journalist Debbie Nathan that was downgraded to forcible touching in the 34th Precinct, and an attempted armed robbery report that disappeared in the 94th Precinct. The Voice asked the Police Department for comment on the handling of the Thomas case, but did not receive a response. The Voice has also asked for comment on the other issues raised in the NYPD Tapes series, but none has been forthcoming from police headquarters or the Mayor's office.
At 4 a.m., on November 3, 2002, a woman heard a commotion in the hallway of her Washington Heights building and looked through her peephole. She spotted a man, later identified as Daryl Thomas, 32, pushing a victim into her apartment. She called the police.
Patrol officers Luke Sullivan and Patrick Tanner burst into the apartment, and found Thomas hiding in a closet—he had a knife in his pocket, and the victim had handcuffs on her wrists. His backpack contained two pairs of women's panties and a length of rope.