Ticket-Fixing Tension Leads to Precinct House Fistfight

By Murray Weiss on July 28, 2011 11:53am 

A New York City police officer stands on patrol on April 6, 2010 in New York City.
A New York City police officer stands on patrol on April 6, 2010 in New York City.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The NYPD ticket-fixing scandal has tensions running so high in precinct houses around the city that it's being blamed for a fight between ranking officers that ended with a detective punching a lieutenant in the face, DNAinfo has learned.
 
The detective, a 24 year veteran, was suspended immediately following the fracas at the front desk of the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx.
 
No discipline, however, was taken against the lieutenant, who had slapped the detective's hand (he was pointing his finger) before the detective belted him.
 
“If this is the way management is going to handle things, slapping detectives, then they better start getting in shape,” a detective said.

While the two officers involved in the scuffle may not have had anything to do with fixing a ticket, their precinct house is ground zero for this scandal. The cop whose alleged criminal activities led to the chain of events that launched the widespread probe two years ago was a former union delegate from the 43rd Precinct.

"When you walk into the 43rd Precinct, you can cut the tension with a knife," said a police official who responded to the precinct house that night.

"The feeling right now is the anxiety is killing everyone, and everyone just wants to get this over with. It's like everyone just wants them to bring it on already."

Unfortunately, that will not be happening anytime soon.

For several months, a Bronx grand jury hearing evidence in the burgeoning ticket fixing scandal has kept the ranks of New York's Finest on edge. The panel has been listening to thousands of hours of wiretaps from as many as 30 NYPD phones.

My sources say the grand jury's decision will not be made until Labor Day, and who knows if the Bronx District Attorney will want to announce the results right before the holiday, and as the city and the nation gear up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
 
If the notion of secret recordings of conversations were not enough to elevate anxiety levels, tensions have been soaring recently as a steady parade of officers, union leaders and friends and relatives of cops has appeared before the grand jury — with immunity — to testify against their brethren about how hundreds of tickets were killed for everything from speeding to drunk driving to domestic violence.

As many as two dozen cops could see jail time once the investigation concludes. Hundreds of cops could face disciplinary action from the NYPD. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association could also face racketeering charges.  
 
According to sources and NYPD reports, the smackdown at the 43rd Precinct occurred in the immediate aftermath of a deadly shooting on July 16.
 
Shortly before 2 p.m., the sound of a gunshot rang out in a third floor apartment at 2004 Ellis Ave. The 911 call brought a number of patrol cops to the building, where they discovered Richard Santos, a convicted drug seller with a long criminal history, seated in a chair with a single gunshot wound through his left eye.
 
Two detectives from the 43rd Precinct who were working an old shooting in the neighborhood raced to respond. When they arrived, they were greeted by a couple of patrol officers who were holding two "witnesses" who they stopped from leaving the scene.
 
The detectives asked the cops to bring the two people to the precinct squad room where they could be interviewed later — the detectives wanted to remain on the scene while it was fresh.  But the patrol cops refused to perform a courtesy that is routine procedure in the NYPD.

"There was no reason except the friction at the precinct among cops," said one source familiar with the incident.
 
The rebuff forced the detectives to play chauffeur and lose valuable investigative time. They drove the witnesses to the stationhouse, handed them off to a detective whose tour was just starting and then returned to the shooting scene.
 
Santos, it turned out, was apparently despondent over a breakup and killed himself, according to sources. But that revelation didn't ease frustrations between the detectives and the patrol cops.

The detective went down stairs to gripe to the patrol sergeants on duty, who supervise the patrol officers. Words were exchanged. Then the lieutenant stepped in.
 
Rather than putting an end to the yelling, the lieutenant apparently joined in on the sergeants’ side. Fingers soon were being pointed in faces. Finally, the lieutenant slapped away the detective's hand.
 
The 5-feet 7 detective responded with a right hook, hitting the 6-feet-3 lieutenant in the face. The lieutenant took the blow.

“Don’t go home,” he told the detective, according to NYPD documents on the incident.

"Don't worry,” the detective responded. "I am not going anywhere. I am going upstairs."


Police brass soon descended on the 43d Precinct. The detective was suspended and his guns were taken away. His union thinks disciplinary action should be taken against the lieutenant as well.
 
"I know rank has its privileges, but getting physical with subordinates is not one of them,” said Michael Paladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association, the detectives' union.

“Although I don’t encourage this kind of behavior, this is a suspension I will take every time."

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