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Eating your young: Detectives probed in murder case

March 20, 2006

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has launched a sweeping investigation of its own detective bureau over press coverage of the murder of Imette St. Guillen, the graduate student found raped and bound off the Belt Parkway after leaving a SoHo bar.

Unprecedented in its scope, the investigation has reached the highest levels of the department, draining police resources while the high-profile murder remains officially open.

Sources say the probe involves the examining, or “dumping,” of detectives’ cell phone records to learn of contacts with reporters. The results could lead to re-assignments or firings of those deemed responsible for media leaks.

“In the long run, it is the public who will suffer,” said a former high-ranking police official who worked in the department’s office of public information.

At least two dozen detectives – as well as Detective Borough Brooklyn’s entire top command, including a deputy chief, inspector and two captains -- have been questioned under oath by Internal Affairs investigators. say sources familiar with the investigation.

In addition, Assistant Chief Robert Giannelli, the number two man in the detective bureau who is seen as a successor to Chief of Detectives George Brown, is believed to have been questioned. Brown resisted a transfer by Kelly earlier this year and is now believed to be mulling retirement. Sources say Brown is pushing the probe of his own detectives.

Kelly began the investigation although it was the New York Post that provided a key break in the case – a witness linking St. Guillen to suspect Darryl Littleton, a bouncer at the bar where she was last seen.

As reported by its police bureau chief Murray Weiss, the newspaper discovered a homeless man, Miguel Angel Cruz, who saw a man resembling Littlejohn lead St. Guillen into his blue van and drive away with her.

The Post then put him in touch with the police.

Last week, Kelly announced that Littlejohn’s blood was found in plastic ties used to bind Imette’s body. Identified as a suspect in her death, he has not yet been charged. but is expected to be indicted this week, perhaps as early as today.

So serious is Kelly about the investigation that Internal Affairs Bureau Chief Charles Campisi personally conducted the questioning of the Brooklyn detective brass.

A source familiar with the investigation said Giannelli was questioned by First Deputy Commissioner George Grasso. Neither Campisi nor Giannelli returned calls to this reporter.

Sources familiar with the investigation say a question put to the top detective command was whether they had had conversations with members of the media – in particular Weiss, another Post police reporter Larry Celona, and Daily News police bureau chief Alison Gendar. All three have written extensively about the case. Celona was the first to identify St. Guillen and report on intimate details of the murder. Gendar was the first to identify Littlejohn.

A former top department official blamed the department’s office of public information for releasing virtually no information in the early days of the case. “This led to the leaks.”

"This is what you get when there is no information being released,” this official continued. “You can’t ever stop leaks, but the best to way to control them in a serious investigation is to release information, if for no other reason than to squelch inaccuracies.”

Some in the department see the investigation as further evidence that Kelly seeks total control over all information the department releases. With the full confidence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he has become the city’s most powerful police commissioner in modern history. Despite Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign promise to make the department “more transparent” than under former mayor Rudy Giuliani, it is now more closed than ever.

Kelly allows no one but himself to speak at news conferences. He has stopped holding briefings for in-house reporters. To be allowed entrance into One Police Plaza, reporters who do not work at headquarters are required to make appointments in advance to obtain public information.

Columbia School of Journalism Professor Emeritus Melvin Mencher says of Kelly and his internal investigation: “He must have felt himself under tremendous pressure. When that happens, you flail at those within flailing distance – usually the people in your own department.”

The End of the Fighting McCarthys. It’s all over for Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy -- at least in New Jersey.

Thirteen months after he was disarmed, handcuffed and arrested by two Palisades Parkway police officers after protesting a parking ticket to his teenage daughter Kyla, a New Jersey traffic court judge has found him and his wife Regina each guilty of a minor traffic violation.

After five full days of testimony, the judge, Stephen Zaben, cited the fact that McCarthy had been drinking shortly before the incident; noted that if McCarthy believed the cop who ticketed Kyla to be an imposter as McCarthy had claimed in his testimony, McCarthy should have contacted the Palisades Parkway police supervising officer before confronting the cop; stated that McCarthy, rather than the arresting Palisades cops, had been the aggressor; criticized Regina for taking McCarthy’s gun from a police vehicle where the Palisades cops had placed it and said he did not believe Regina’s testimony that she had remained calm during the entire incident.

He fined each of them $200 and $30 each for court costs.

McCarthy’s attorney, David Hoffman, argued that Zaben had ignored what he said was “90 per cent of the testimony,” indicating the Palisades cops lied.

He said he did not know if McCarthy would appeal the decision, pointing out that the appeals process is expensive.

What action, if any, the department will take against McCarthy is unclear. Although the incident occurred 13 months ago, Kelly has taken no action thus far. Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne has said the incident did not rise to the level of departmental discipline.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt