NYPD's Busts Get Busted
In the wake of numerous cases befouled by the misdeeds of NYPD narco cops, the department's steroid scandal is now further deflating the judicial system.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn dismissed 54 narcotics cases late last week, bringing the total in that borough alone to 271—and counting.
Meanwhile, the still-simmering steroid scandal ("Cops on Steroids," December 19–25, 2007) has just begun poisoning cases: A prime example is the bust of gunman—and known scumbag—Gary Waters.
The ex-con was nabbed by cops in September 2006 with a fully loaded 9mm handgun, an extra 15-bullet magazine, 27 loose rounds, and a pair of handcuffs. Since then, however, the arresting officer in the case, Vaughn Ettienne, and his supervisor, Sergeant Raymond Cotton, were suspended in the steroid probe, which has ensnared 29 cops who allegedly received illegal prescriptions. Both Ettienne and Cotton tested positive for steroid use, according to law-enforcement officials.
After Waters's lawyer read late last year in the Voice about the suspensions, he launched a "'roid rage" accusation against both Ettienne and Cotton (who signed off on the bust). Last month, Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Michael Gary denied Waters's request for access to the Brooklyn D.A.'s files in the steroid probe to determine whether there was any evidence to support his lawyer's contention that the cops were in the throes of "'roid rage" when they busted him. But the judge ruled that Waters's Legal Aid attorney, Adrian Lesher, already has a "good-faith basis" to question the cops—if they take the stand, as they normally would in such a case—about steroid use and its possible side effects.
It's unlikely that this courtroom confrontation will ever materialize, however.
A spokesman for D.A. Charles "Joe" Hynes says that "our position right now is [that] the case is still going forward," but sources in the office say a supervising assistant district attorney in charge of gun cases is leaning toward dismissing the case against Waters.
Ettienne and Cotton would too easily become targets for the defense, says a source.In any event, cops will often become worthless as witnesses for the prosecution if they're facing legal troubles of their own.
"My experience is that once cops get suspended, they generally don't cooperate with us anymore" on their pending cases, the source says.
D.A. spokesman Jerry Schmetterer says the office will review other pending cases involving Ettienne, Cotton, and four other police officers suspended last November after testing positive for steroids, to determine whether those suspensions would adversely affect the cases stemming from the busts they made. Schmetterer says he doesn't know how many such cases have been worked on by the six cops.
The steroid scandal isn't the only thing that's fouling prosecutions in Brooklyn. The D.A. has begun an audit of nearly two dozen other gun cases made by an officer whose methodology a judge blasted as "guesswork." Also, over the past five months, the D.A. had to dismiss 271 low-level drug cases after it was discovered that four cops from Brooklyn South Narcotics were suspected of not only demanding sex and taking cash from some suspects, but also stealing drugs from the dealers they busted and using them to pay off informants. And more dismissals arising from that scandal could be on the way.
What makes Waters's case more disturbing is that the cops' alleged involvement in the unrelated steroid scandal has apparently undone what otherwise would have been a solid collar in which the perpetrator, while attacking two cops, was allegedly trying to pull out his gun. Softening the blow to the gun case is the fact that Waters was subsequently convicted of pulling a string of burglaries in Long Island and won't immediately be set free should this case be 86'd.
Police reports tell this story of the Waters bust: Ettienne and his partner, Steven Maddry, were dressed in street clothes doing an undercover patrol in an unmarked police car disguised as a yellow taxicab in Flatbush on the night of June 19, 2006, when a motorcycle zoomed past on their right. The cops ran the license plate, which came back as stolen, so they pulled in front of the motorcycle and identified themselves as police officers. As they got out of their car, Waters revved the bike and tried to drive past them—but the engine stalled, so he jumped off the motorcycle and ran. As Waters tried to scale a fence at the corner of Farragut Road and Flatbush Avenue, Ettienne caught up with him. When Ettienne pulled Waters off the fence, the ex-con threw a punch that Ettienne blocked with his right arm. Maddry joined the fray, but Waters bloodied his nose. Still wearing his motorcycle helmet, Waters head-butted Maddry, grabbed the cop's baton, and swung it at him. The two cops finally wrestled him to the ground, but while they were trying to cuff him, Waters repeatedly tried to reach into his fanny pack.
When the dust had settled, the cops found the loaded gun, ammo, and cuffs in the fanny pack.
It seemed like a good bust, and later, after the paperwork had been completed back at the 70th Precinct, Sergeant Raymond Cotton signed off on the arrest.
Waters told the grand jury that the cops had planted the gun on him. It was his only defense—until his attorney realized that Ettienne and Cotton were two of the cops suspected of acquiring steroids at the Bay Ridge pharmacy around which the scandal revolves.
Lesher won't comment on the case, but one of his motions notes that "anabolic steroids have been repeatedly cited by medical authorities as a reason for spontaneous and irrational aggressive behavior," and contends that "'roid rage was probably partially responsible for one of the most horrific instances of New York police brutality in modern memory, Justin Volpe's sodomization of Abner Louima with a toilet plunger in 1997."
In a counter-motion filed on March 31, Assistant D.A. Kevin James weakly asserted: "If in fact one or more of the officers in this case had used anabolic steroids at one point in time, it is not material to proving the unreliability of the charges against the defendant." James also contended that even if the cops had been taking steroids, there is no way to prove they were using them when they arrested Waters.
But try telling that to a Brooklyn jury—especially when the defense, according to its motions, was headed down this path: "In this case the reported illegal use [by Ettienne and Cotton] provides cause to believe that at least these officers put their interest above those of society, that these officers feel free to commit criminal acts with impunity and that these officers are under the influence of drugs which cause irrational aggressive behavior. Moreover, the desire to cover up such illegal behavior provides a motive to fabricate testimony and evidence."
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