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Police Officer Hurts Back Vouchering Massive Haul of Homeless Man's Stuff

By James Fanelli | December 5, 2013 6:58am
 An NYPD lieutenant who wanted to get arrests up in his precinct order an officer with few collars to charge a Crown Heights homeless man with obstructing of government administration and trespassing.
NYPD Lieutenant Orders Arrest of Homeless Man
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CROWN HEIGHTS — A Brooklyn police officer who was ordered to arrest a homeless mechanic for trespassing over the weekend was injured in the line of duty — after spending 24 hours straight sorting through hundreds of heavy items owned by the repairman, sources said.

Officer Mariano Virella sprained his back Sunday during a marathon session of vouchering mechanic Walter Malone's epic cache of tchotchkes at the 77th Precinct station house, according to police sources. The injury may keep him off the job until after the holidays, the sources said.

An NYPD lieutenant bent on raising the number of arrests in the precinct had earlier ordered Virella to bust Malone to improve the officer's arrest rate, according to sources.

Virella arrested Malone late Saturday afternoon at the mechanic’s makeshift home in Crown Heights.

Malone was charged with obstructing government administration and trespassing, but within a few hours, the Brooklyn District’s Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute him, sources said.

Malone, who is deaf, had been a longtime fixture along a drug-ridden industrial corridor in the neighborhood. He lived in a minivan parked on Atlantic Avenue near Classon Avenue and got paid to do quick repairs on cars.

The New York Times profiled him in a 2008 story about homeless men who line industrial swaths of Atlantic Avenue hustling for cash by pumping gas and helping motorists with car trouble.

After the arrest, six officers scoured Malone's encampment collecting his property, which included heavy tools and filing cabinets. Two NYPD vans had to make three trips each to transport all of the belongings to the station house. Police also removed Malone's minivan and another car he was repairing.

Police sources said officers in the precinct believed Malone's bust was a waste of resources — and only meant to up arrest activity.

“This guy has been here for 20 years. The worst-case scenario is you call the Department of Homeless Services,” a source said of Malone.

Lt. Reid Masin was promoted to his current rank in September and joined the 77th Precinct last month. Since his arrival, he’s been telling officers whom he believes to have too few arrests to pick up their activity, sources said.

The precinct — which covers Crown Heights and Prospect Heights — has seen a 14-percent overall increase in seven major crime categories so far this year compared to the same time period in 2012.

On Friday, Masin had another officer issue Malone a court summons and warned the mechanic that if he were still at his encampment the following day, he would be arrested, sources said.

Malone was still there Saturday. Masin called Virella to the scene to make the collar because he thought the officer needed to improve his productivity, sources said. Because Virella was the arresting officer, he was in charge of vouchering Malone's epic hoard.

“The bottom line is this arrest was given to an officer to increase his monthly activity,” a source said. “So the lieutenant now has an officer he sees as having low activity — even though there’s supposedly no quotas — whom he calls to the scene and orders him to take the arrest.”

Malone could not be reached for comment. However, Malone's nephew Curtis Reed told DNAinfo New York that he was glad his uncle had been arrested.

"We have been trying to get him off the streets time and time and time again," Reed said. "He wants to stay out there and be with the riffraff."

Reed said because of the arrest, Malone eventually received treatment for a rash at a hospital. He saw his uncle on Monday and said Malone is no longer staying on Atlantic Avenue and was away from bad influences.

"If a false arrest helps save my uncle's life, then I'm glad," Reed added. "An arrest is not going to kill him. Drugs are going to kill him."

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment about the arrest.

Accusations of the NYPD setting quotas came to light in 2010 when whistleblower officer Adrian Schoolcraft claimed his supervisor in the 81st Precinct vowed to go after officers who didn’t make at least one arrest a month.

State law bars police departments from setting a target number for arrests or summonses during a specific time frame.

The NYPD has repeatedly denied that it uses quotas, but has said in the past that it uses productivity goals that are specific to a precinct’s conditions.