PARK SLOPE — The NYPD inspector who killed himself Friday after being questioned in an FBI corruption probe touched the lives of both the police officers he worked with and the civilians he served, those who knew him say.
Inspector Michael Ameri, commanding officer of the NYPD's Highway Patrol Division, was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his department vehicle in West Babylon, Long Island on Friday afternoon, police said.
The FBI questioned Ameri, 44, in late March as part of an investigation into high-ranking police accepting gifts from Brooklyn businessmen in exchange for favors, sources said. Investigators are looking into whether police gave motor-vehicle escorts to businessman Jeremy Reichberg, sources said.
NYPD Internal Affairs investigators took escort records from the Highway Patrol Division's office on Thursday, but when union head Roy Richter spoke to Ameri on Wednesday and Thursday, Ameri "was not a despondent man," Richter told union members in a message Sunday.
"I do not know why Mike decided to end his life," Richter told members. "In my talks with Mike we talked about concern for others and at most — a work rule violation for Mike that no outside agency was interested in following up on."
Richter also said Ameri "was not visited by the FBI, Internal Affairs, or any other investigative unit these past few weeks.”
“Mike was proud of his life and career in the NYPD and, in both his demeanor and appearance, he was a visual example of everything that makes us great,” Richter said.
A viewing for Ameri will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Mangano Funeral Home in Deer Park, N.Y. Funeral services are scheduled for 10:15 a.m. on Thursday at Saint Cyril Church in Deer Park.
Ameri seemed "clear-headed" and "not like a man hiding a deep pain," said a source who spoke to him Thursday.
Ameri served as commanding officer of Park Slope's 78th Precinct from 2011 to 2014, and his positive impact on the neighborhood is still felt today, said neighborhood leaders.
"It's a big loss for people who knew him and for the city as a whole, given the work he was doing,” said Eric McClure, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors and a regular at 78th Precinct Community Council meetings. "He really made a big difference in Park Slope when he was the commanding officer, the way he embraced Vision Zero and embraced advocates and sought our counsel. I think that's pretty rare in NYPD circles and I’m going to miss him for that."
Local residents still had plenty of concerns about the neighborhood — not about crime, but about speeding cars and dangerous conditions for pedestrians. Ameri listened to those complaints and took them seriously, McClure said.
Ameri reached out to Park Slope street safety advocates and came to champion their cause, not just with words but with action. A week after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city's Vision Zero safety campaign, Ameri met one-on-one with local advocates and laid out a plan of action that included speeding enforcement and failure-to-yield sting operations, McClure said.
During his time at the 78th Precinct, Ameri also set up a protected bike lane on Bergen Street and even pitched in to shovel snow out of the lane during the winter of 2014, a move that the street safety group Transportation Alternatives hailed as a symbol of a "new era" in the sometimes fractious relationship between the NYPD and the cycling community.
McClure said Ameri seemed to "really care" about improving street safety, especially after the 2013 death of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, a 12-year-old boy who was hit by a car in Park Slope.
"I know that hit him really personally because his son was about the same age as Sammy," McClure said. "Seeing the aftermath of that was eye opening for him and I think really touched him."
City Councilman Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope, wrote a heartfelt thank you to Ameri when he left the 78th Precinct in 2014 to assume command of the Highway Patrol Division. "We're sorry to lose him, but this really is for NYC's gain," Lander wrote then.
Lander said on Twitter Friday that he was "heartbroken" over Ameri's death. On Bike to Work day Monday, Lander tweeted that he was dedicating his ride to City Hall to Ameri.
"His commitment to community, safety & #VisionZero far outweigh any demons or mistakes,” Lander wrote.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who lived in the 78th Precinct and served as a councilman before moving to Gracie Mansion, said Friday he was saddened by Ameri's death. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time," the mayor said.