One Police Plaza

Court culture gets no respect

October 12, 1998

"The Bronx? / No thonx!" wrote Ogden Nash.

In sentencing ex-cop Francis X. Livoti Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin showed about the same regard for that borough's police-friendly courtroom culture.

The judge sent Livoti to prison for 7 1/2 years for violating the civil rights of Anthony Baez, who died in a 1994 struggle after Livoti used a department-banned chokehold.

Scheindlin rejected the thinking that says there is no respect anymore for the street cop; that after Livoti interrupted the Baez brothers football game, they mouthed off and tossed their football at Livoti's patrol car; that Anthony Baez then resisted arrest by refusing to allow Livoti to rear-cuff him, therefore helping to cause his tragic death by refusing a lawful police order.

Such thinking appeared to form the judicial decisions in both Livoti's Bronx trials - the first acquitting him of criminal charges in Baez death; the second, a civil suit in which Bronx State Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon ruled Livoti acted as "part and parcel of a police enterprise." That decision led to the city's settlement agreeing to pay the Baez family $3 million.

In her sentencing, Scheindlin rejected any suggestion that Livoti was justified in arresting Baez or his brothers. A graduate of such lofty venues as the University of Michigan, Columbia University and Cornell Law School, she accepted the Baez family accounts of the incident and called the statements of the three cops who testified for Livoti lies. The three claimed they didn't see Livoti choke Baez and that after he fell to the ground, unconscious, after struggling with Livoti, Baez got up and walked a few feet before collapsing and dying. (The feds are now after them for perjury.)

Acting Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin, who acquitted Livoti of criminally negligent homicide in October, 1996, had accepted the cops accounts. It was Sheindlin who issued the now-famed "nest of perjury" remark about the police testimony. Though he never said so publicly, he now maintains he was referring to the lone cop who testified against Livoti, Daisy Boria. Boria, who was never charged with perjury or anything else in this case, testified she never saw Baez rise after Livoti wrestled him to the ground.

Scheindlin, the federal judge, accepted Boria's testimony that Livoti and his cop buddies met in the 46th Precinct stationhouse parking lot shortly after Baez death to straighten out their stories. This dovetailed with federal prosecutor Andrew Dember's conspiracy theory that included the Police Department, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (of which Livoti was a delegate) and, of all things, the Bronx district attorney's office. Many in the Bronx regard the DA's handling of the Livoti case (and other police matters) as inept, not corrupt.

Common Ground? Only Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could have done it. Only he could have arranged the moon, sun, stars and planets in such a configuration that New York Civil Liberties Union's Norman Siegel, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the PBA could ally themselves with police Officer Joseph Locurto. As promised by Giuliani, Police Commissioner Howard Safir fired Locurto Saturday for participating in a racist Labor Day float in Broad Channel.

But now the cosmos may be shaking with a galactic revolution. "For years we've offered assistance to police officers on civil liberties issues," Siegel says. "In the past I personally called the PBA's law firm of Lysaght and Kramer to offer assistance but they never returned my calls. Now PBA attorneys say we have common ground, such as ameliorating police brutality and improving race relations."

And, says a PBA source, the union may assist Siegel in future behind-the-scenes roles. Take the Million Youth March, for which Siegel participated in a lawsuit against the city after Giuliani denied the organizers a permit.

"We could have pointed out to Norman the tactical mistake of having a helicopter buzz the crowd," the source says. "Or the fact that the chairs and garbage cans that were thrown at police had not been properly tied down; or that the department failed to control the sound system or the generator; and that when the department grants a permit, it can demand a list of conditions for NYPD review, which was apparently not done."

Heard (from Commissioner Safir about criticisms that Chief of Department Louis Anemone protected and defended Livoti in the past): "That's all history."

Heard (from PBA attorney Stuart London of a 1,000-name petition filed in federal court in support of Livoti): "Anemone is not one of them."

©1998 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.