NYPD Tapes Update: Queens DA Richard Brown's Report on Whistleblower Cop Raises More Questions Than It Answers
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's announcement last week that neither the police nor Jamaica Hospital committed any crimes when NYPD Tapes whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft was dragged from his apartment by police and involuntarily held in a psych ward raises a whole lot more questions than it answers.
Schoolcraft's father, Larry, and their lawyer blasted the announcement as "a violation of the public trust," and "deeply disappointing."
Schoolcraft, a police officer assigned to Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct, is known for secretly recording his colleagues over two years in an effort to build evidence of misconduct. (See the Voice's award-winning NYPD Tapes series.) On Oct. 31, 2009, a deputy chief and a dozen police forced him out of his apartment in handcuffs and put him in the Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days--three weeks after he had made misconduct allegations against his bosses. In 2010, he filed a federal lawsuit alleging that police had retaliated against him for making those allegations.
While the NYPD painted Schoolcraft as a malcontent with psychological issues, and therefore, unreliable, an internal police investigation proved most of his claims. The NYPD buried that blockbuster report for more than 18 months. Its conclusions finally surfaced exclusively in the Voice.
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Brown concludes in a terse one-page statement on his investigation, which he called "comprehensive": "After thoroughly reviewing all of the available evidence and considering all applicable provisions of law we have concluded that there is no credible evidence to support the filing of criminal charges in this matter."
In an interview with the Voice, Larry Schoolcraft, Adrian's father, said this: "Brown and his staff, Jack Ryan, Jim Liander, and Michelle Cort have done nothing more than take the public's money with one hand and betray the public trust with the other. Brown and his office have violated their oath to the citizens of Queens."
Schoolcraft adds: "You can't just say it's comprehensive, and not prove it. How big a truck do we need to pick up the mountain of documents from a 37 month internal investigation? The proof is in the pudding. Produce the documents that you stand behind."
Peter Gleason, recently hired as the Schoolcrafts' new lawyer along with Bruce Gilbert, said he was "deeply disappointed" with Brown's conclusion. "The fact of the matter is what Adrian has already brought to the table is factual and tremendously credible," he said. "Clearly, this investigation was cookie cutter. His civil rights in this matter were clearly violated, and if the Queens District Attorney doesn't care about it, perhaps there are other agencies willing to take a look at it."
We communicated these comments and a series of questions to Brown's spokesman Kevin Ryan. "The ADA who handled the Schoolcraft investigation has not yet returned to the office, and, as such, we are unable to comply with your request for comment at this time," he said yesterday.
Now, to the questions: First, why did it take three years to conclude? Larry Schoolcraft first filed a detailed complaint about his son's treatment with prosecutor Michelle Cort of Brown's Public Integrity Unit all the way back on Nov. 4, 2009. (Larry had also contacted the Justice Department, the FBI, and other oversight agencies.)
"She assured me they wouldn't walk away, they would look at this objectively and honestly," Larry Schoolcraft says.
Cort never talked with Adrian, never called either of them back or followed up, according to Larry Schoolcraft, until February, 2010, when Adrian called her. She told Adrian that she had called Internal Affairs, and when they didn't call her back, she figured the issue had been resolved. She also told him, "Even if we could do something, I don't know what we could do." She referred him back to IAB.
More than a year passed without any activity apparent to the Schoolcrafts. Finally, the Queens DA reached out to the Schoolcrafts through a third party. Brown aide James Liander called Schoolcraft in for an interview. (Some of the delay involved a supposed miscommunication between the DA and the Schoolcraft's former lawyer, Jon Norinsberg.)
Which brings us to a second question: Was it really comprehensive? Liander interviewed Schoolcraft just once for about an hour. No one from the DA's office ever contacted Schoolcraft again, neither to request more detail, ask followup questions, or keep him informed of the status of the probe. He never even got a letter informing him of the results of the investigation prior to Brown's public statement.
Brown says his people worked with the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau and listened to Schoolcraft's audio tape of the Halloween, 2009 incident. But the statement is quiet on what exactly was done as part of the investigation.
And then we get to the details in Brown's statement, which appears to gloss over a much more complicated chronology.
For example, the statement points out that Schoolcraft was on restricted duty for medical reasons and his shield and guns had been removed earlier that year. On the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2009, he left work early because he felt sick. Brown says this was without permission. He then didn't respond to phone calls to his home. "Given his medical status and his statement to his supervisor, police responded to his residence," Brown says.
In other words, Brown draws a very simple line from one to the other.
In fact, there was a lot more to it. Schoolcraft was on restricted duty because eight months earlier, he complained to his bosses of stomach and chest pains. He requested a couple of days off from work. During this period, he was under increasing pressure from his bosses to hit summons quotas and he was gathering evidence of downgrading of crimes and other misconduct. He had also received a negative work evaluation. He was disciplined for complaining after a supervisor upbraided him for leaving his foot post to pee.
He told an NYPD doctor about this stress at work. The doctor sent him to an NYPD psychiatrist. He repeated to her what was happening at work. She placed him on restricted duty.
Schoolcraft sought to overturn that order and was also appealing the poor work evaluation. In the meantime, he worked competently in the precinct, answering phones, and dealing with walk-in civilians. His precinct commander even thanked him for his work.
Brown's statement ignores the fact that in the meantime, Schoolcraft was gathering evidence of misconduct against his bosses. He does not address the question of whether or not that contributed to what happened on Halloween night, 2009.
That summer, Schoolcraft had sent a letter to Charles Campisi, the long-serving Chief of Internal Affairs, to report that two precinct supervisors had inappropriately accessed confidential personnel files in the precinct. Subsequently, he let it be known that he had evidence that his bosses were downgrading crime reports and falsifying training records.
On Oct. 7, 2009, he met with investigators for three hours, detailing a dozen recent instances of downgrading felony crime reports, most of them violent felonies. That meeting was supposedly secret, but his bosses knew he was talking to someone because Internal Affairs left messages for him at the precinct.
On Oct. 31, 2009, he felt personally threatened by one of his lieutenants--one of the very same people he had reported to Campisi. The lieutenant took Schoolcraft's NYPD memo book--in which Schoolcraft had documented misconduct in the precinct--and made copies which he then gave to the precinct commander.
Schoolcraft told his father, who notified both the Chief of Department's office and Internal Affairs. Neither would send anyone to the precinct.
Schoolcraft was so concerned about this that he made up an excuse that he was sick to leave the precinct. He claims his sergeant approved the sick request, but asked him to change it to "lost time." He said, "fine."
When he got home, he made a detailed report about what happened to Internal Affairs. He then took a nap, and spoke with his father. A precinct duty captain called Larry Schoolcraft and demanded that he tell Adrian to return to the precinct. Larry assured him that he was fine. Indeed, Adrian did not answer his phone, but that was hardly grounds for what happened next.
When Brown says police responded to his residence, he is sharply understating what happened. Eventually, more than a dozen officers--including a deputy chief (the No. 2 guy overseeing 10 Brooklyn North precincts), a deputy inspector, a captain and emergency services officers--went to his apartment. The street was shut down. Seems a bit much for an officer who left work early, even if it was a workplace violation, doesn't it?
Brown says police were justified in entering his apartment because he didn't answer the phone or his door, and there was an "emergency or exigent circumstance."
However, as Larry Schoolcraft puts it, "Once they enter his apartment and find out that he's fine, it's over. They should have left, and dealt with the leaving work thing when he came back to the precinct ... If it was such an emergency, why didn't they go in five hours earlier?"
Brown also ignores the fact that the police demanded initially that Schoolcraft return to the precinct immediately to face discipline. The demand that he go to the hospital only came up later, after Schoolcraft refused to go to the precinct.
"As a former member of the NYPD, I have never heard of an individual with stars on his shoulder [Deputy Chief MIchael Marino] showing up at a patrolman's home, under the auspices of ordering him back to work," Gleason says.
Brown continues: "After initially agreeing to go to the hospital, and walking to an ambulance, Schoolcraft returned to his apartment and refused medical treatment," Brown says.
This leaves out the fact that Schoolcraft initially agreed to go to Forest Hills Hospital, only to get the police out of his apartment. It was only when they got to the ambulance and he learned he was going to Jamaica Hospital that he refused medical attention.
It has long been codified under the law that a person who is able to communicate can refuse medical attention. That principle goes back more than 100 years to Schloendorff vs Society of New York Hospital, which notes one exception, in cases of emergency, "where the patient is unconscious and where it is necessary to operate before consent can be obtained."
Schoolcraft was neither unconscious, nor at death's door, nor was medical attention immediately necessary. He was coherent and able to make his own decisions. If he was coherent enough to walk downstairs on his own power and go back up again, that indicates that this medical issue was minor, and not a matter of life and death. So, in this instance, why didn't police and paramedics accept his refusal and leave the apartment?
If there was a medical issue at all, high blood pressure, as police claimed, that was likely exacerbated by the fact that his apartment was filled with antagonistic police bosses. (As it was, he was never treated for blood pressure, nor did they take other steps common in treating blood pressure cases.)
Brown then says, "Back in his apartment, police restrained him." This leaves out the heated argument between Schoolcraft and Marino and other police bosses who were present.
At one point Schoolcraft tells them to "write him up" and leave. He adds, "What is this, Russia?" Schoolcraft's tape recording indicates Marino lost his temper because Schoolcraft would not cooperate, and that's why he labeled him an "emotionally disturbed person," ordered him knocked to the ground, restrained and dragged from his apartment to Jamaica Hospital.
Next, Brown says "The decision to transport Schoolcraft to Jamaica Hospital was made by emergency medical personnel, without input from the NYPD." This is not the case, as Schoolcraft's recording documents. The "EDP" order came from Marino.
Next, Brown says a charge of "unlawful restraint" won't fly "because the officers were acting pursuant to the New York Mental Hygiene Law, and under a reasonable belief in Schoolcraft's need for emergency medical care, they did not 'unlawfully restrain' him as required by Article 135 of the Penal Law of the State of New York."
However, here, under the law, the police had to hit a very high standard. The law says involuntary commitment is justified only if there is a "substantial risk of physical harm to himself as manifested by threats of or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm," or "substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by homicidal or other violent behavior."
Schoolcraft had made no threats against him self, nor against anyone else. He did not exhibit any violent actions.
The involuntary commitment standard for police is this: Police "may take into custody any person who appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to himself or others."
The operative word is "serious." There is nothing in the record which supports the contention that Schoolcraft was conducting himself in a way that would result in serious harm to himself or anyone else.
And if the issue was medical--high blood pressure--how do the police justify violently restraining him? On the tape, he can be heard grunting and whimpering in pain as the police knock him off of his bed, stick a knee in his back, a boot on his head and chest, force his arms behind him and cuff him. Without a warrant, the police searched him, searched his apartment, and seized a tape recorder, documents and personal effects, none of which have ever been returned. That doesn't sound like the way you deal with someone who has an alleged heart problem.
Brown then asserts that "Medical personnel at Jamaica Hospital made their own independent assessment based upon all the facts and circumstances determining that Schoolcraft's hospital admission was medically required."
In fact, this is not the case. Hospital officials are already on record saying they took the police's word when they admitted Schoolcraft. Moreover, he was dumped in the emergency room for hours before he was evaluated. He was handcuffed to the railing of a gurney, even though he wasn't facing charges. His hands swelled from the tightness of the cuffs. He wasn't allowed to make a phone call. (He was dragged away from the phone when he tried.) Police forced him to take off his clothes in a broom closet and put on a backless hospital gown. He wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom. He had to pee in a cup in front of everyone.
When he finally did see a psychiatrist, she spoke to him for 10 minutes, and then said, "This is ridiculous. You'll be going home soon."
Hours after that, he was admitted without being reinterviewed. That monday, he overheard a psych ward staffer ask, "What about releasing Schoolcraft?" A doctor replied, "No, he's a special case."
Once he was released, doctors had found nothing wrong with him. The hospital sent him nothing but an $8,000 bill.
A few other questions for Brown: why not release the full investigative report, rather than just a statement? Why not present this to a grand jury, rather than keeping it within the DA's office? Why not appoint a special prosecutor? Why not refer the matter to the Justice Department as a possible civil rights case?
"The reason why they won't empanel a grand jury is because it would have returned indictments against the entire hierarchy of Brooklyn North, and they couldn't let the citizens make that decision," Larry Schoolcraft said.
We're hoping Brown's office has more to say on this, and we'll post it as soon as we get it.
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