By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Gail Lawrence was prosecuted for telling the truth about a Palisades cop
Later, when Coppola asked her what was true and what wasn't, she said, "Everything is a lie."
Coppola arrested her for filing a false report. In his report, he wrote that Lawrence had a long history with the agency, questioned her mental stability, and mentioned her psychiatric commitments. "All of the officers are familiar with her," he wrote. "I was unable to produce any information that either had evolved the status of their relationship into something physical." In the end, Coppola found Roberson's statements "credible" but his behavior "improper."
But Coppola did little to independently verify or reject Lawrence's allegations. He basically took Roberson's word, knowing that there were text messages and phone records.
Lawrence's lawyer, Israel Fried, claimed in court that the report was "biased against Ms. Lawrence and in favor of Officer Roberson probably because of all the history that Ms. Lawrence has with this police department."
Fried says there was a clear conflict of interest in the way Palisades police handled Lawrence and notes in court that Coppola not only was involved as a supervisor in some of the arrests of Lawrence but also oversaw the internal investigation of Roberson.
Two retired NYPD officers with distinguished law-enforcement careers told the Voice that there were plenty of troubling questions about how the PIPPD handled the investigation.
"If you have patrol lieutenants investigating their own officers, that's de facto not having internal affairs," says Eugene O'Donnell, a retired NYPD officer and prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College. "You have to have separation. It's near impossible for a supervisor who is interacting with his cops to then investigate them."
"They dropped the ball," says a 20-year NYPD veteran. "They did not do a thorough investigation. This has shades of small-police-department cronyism. They should have referred it to an outside agency or a prosecutor to avoid that conflict."
Following her arrest, on the advice of a friend, Lawrence returned to the Bogota police and, this time, told the story in much more detail to Captain James Sepp. She also turned over hundreds of text messages and 111 pages of phone records, which showed that Roberson had called her hundreds of times over an eight-month period.
Sepp wrote a report and turned it over to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the PIPPD on January 19, 2011.
"The officers at Bogota who investigated her allegations found them to be 100 percent credible," Fried noted in court.
Among the new revelations: Roberson exposed his penis to her while in uniform and had oral sex with her while on duty.
On January 20, 2011, Coppola re-interviewed Roberson. "I already know the answer to a lot of the stuff I'm going to ask you, and I also know that there's going to be conflicts with stuff you've told us in the past," Coppola said. He added, "All the fucking games are over, and this is about as serious as it gets."
Roberson had lied about not talking to Lawrence during periods when he was talking to her. He had to admit that he had, in fact, called her a lot more than she called him. He had to admit that they had rehearsed for two hours what they would say to get the investigation dropped. He had to explain how inside the station house, Lawrence was jokingly referred to as a stalker.
"Here's what my problem is," Coppola said. "She was charged, and you never came forward. See the predicament I'm in?"
And Roberson finally had to admit that he had a sexual relationship with Lawrence and that he was ashamed.
"I said we had no sexual involvement, and we did," he said.
He admitted to sex at a motel and at his house, and he admitted to oral sex. "Various times we would meet, and she would just give me head or something," Roberson told Coppola. "Part of me having sex with her was wanting to teach her."
Roberson claimed he never had sex with her while on duty, but confronted by Coppola, he began to hedge.
"How can you forget getting fellated in a car?" Coppola asked. "While you're in uniform? How can you forget that? Are you kidding me?"
Roberson eventually grudgingly admitted to one time in uniform. But he added, "She wasn't good at it."
What is even more controversial about the PIPPD's handling of Roberson is that from the start of the interview, Coppola tells Roberson that he is not going to arrest him. "I'm not reading you your Miranda rights. I'm not going to arrest you or anything like that. I'm just making sure you're clear on that from the beginning."
In other words, the man who so quickly arrested Gail Lawrence basically gave Vincent Roberson a pass from the start, even though the officer theoretically could have been charged with intimidation, harassment, official misconduct, obstructing an investigation, lying to investigators, falsifying documents, and as Coppola himself noted, witness tampering.
"You knew she was coming in here, and you involved yourself with altering what she was going to say," Coppola said.
"Yes, sir," Roberson said.
Toward the end of the interview, Lieutenant Walter Siri, who had been sitting in, finally lost his temper with Roberson. "You went on for another half-hour on bullshit. And I'm tired of the fucking bullshit," Siri said. "Do you think I'm holding you to a higher standard because you're a cop? You're goddamn right I am!"