By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Then he went to the hospital, where he was treated for minor cuts and bruises.
Two days later, he was formally interviewed by department investigators, which is sort of like having a colonoscopy. He would be formally interviewed twice more, as the case began to take on a life of its own. The department even interviewed his brother, who is a detective in the 33rd Precinct. Acosta's two-year ordeal had begun.
"They interview my brother, who wasn't even there, but not Captain Pla, who was clearly there," Acosta says.
Meanwhile, police bosses were preparing a "49," an official report on the incident. The report was prepared by Captain James Ryan, Inspector Michael Harrington, and Deputy Chief Denis McCarthy, the second-ranking officer in Manhattan North.
But a review of the report by the Voice indicates that it contains misstatements of fact, and is misleading about key elements of the incident:
* The report doesn't mention that the officers in the fight were at the Vudu Lounge for a Christmas party organized by Captain Pla, nor does it indicate that Pla witnessed the fight but didn't act.
* The report downplays the scale of the incident, describing it as a fight between one police officer, John Virga, and the cab driver. The report doesn't detail the reason for the dispute.
* The other officers are identified only as "unidentified individuals," as if as many as 10 police officers weren't involved in the fight.
A second report filed in January 2009 by Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, obtained by the Voice, also doesn't go into the context of the fight. The report fails to mention that it stemmed from a Christmas party, or that the rookie officers started the confrontation. The memo downplays the incident and does not mention Captain Pla.
Meanwhile, the cab driver, Ming, was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed driving.
"First, they're telling me I'm the victim, and now they are locking me up and putting me in jail," he says. "They were like, 'That's the way it goes.' Here, I didn't do anything wrong. I was just working, trying to earn a living."
Ming was booked and brought before a judge. The judge was convinced Ming had been arrested in a police-car stop, and he wouldn't listen to the real story. Ming eventually paid a fine to resolve the arrest.
Ming filed a notice of claim with the city and took a routine $7,500 payment to settle the case. He needed the money to catch up on child support and other debts. He never drove a cab again. He is currently unemployed.
As for the cops who attacked Ming, while some of the officers faced administrative charges, most of them returned to full duty long before Acosta did, including the officer who started the whole thing. While that officer, a rookie, was back on patrol within a year, the highly decorated veteran sergeant who stopped the fight remained tied to a desk without his gun and shield.
And as for Captain Pla—who set up the party, witnessed the fight, and did nothing to stop it—he faced no charges at all.
Instead, he was rewarded. He was promoted to deputy inspector and awarded the command of the 23rd Precinct in East Harlem. He faced no sanction for his failure to act.
No other supervisors present were disciplined, nor was Harrington, the inspector who asked Acosta to sign a false statement of events.
Acosta, meanwhile, was asked to accept a "command discipline" and a plea deal that would cost him five vacation days. He refused the offer on principle: "I hadn't done anything wrong," he says. "I'm not going to sign off on something I didn't do."
After he refused the deal, Acosta was slapped with five charges: conduct unbecoming, failing to identify himself, interfering with an on-duty officer, improperly filling out line-of-duty injury paperwork, and improperly preparing witness statements.
All of these were exceedingly minor charges that probably never should have been filed.
Eventually, the department had to admit that two of the charges were just plain wrong. Most of the same police officers involved in the fight testified that Acosta had identified himself. And his union delegates testified that they had filled out the line-of-duty paperwork.
The case went into the deep-freeze, and Acosta had to shelve both his plans to retire and his goal of working again overseas. He needed to retire in good standing from the NYPD in order to qualify for the overseas security jobs.
He kept working, though, interviewing suspects. "Even from behind a desk, I was still able to produce a lot of activity, but what could I have done if I was out there on the street?" Acosta wonders.
Eventually, fed up with the delay and the failure of the department to investigate Captain Pla's role in the fight, Acosta began writing letters to various senior NYPD officials. One of his letters accuses the borough's inspections unit and the Intel inspections unit of both failing to perform an unbiased investigation and of trying "to cover up the fact that numerous off-duty officers did attack a civilian taxi driver."