One Police Plaza

Rule being used for revenge?

October 26, 1998

Of all the evils inflicted by Police Commissioner Howard Safir on the New York City Police Department, none is more pernicious than his Policy Statement of Dec. 12, 1996, declaring that absent extraordinary circumstances, "any member of the service found guilty of intentionally making a false statement will be dismissed from the Department."

Conceived perhaps for lofty purpose, the policy statement (and subsequent Interim Order No. 65) followed the acquittal in the Bronx of ex-cop Francis X. Livoti in the choke-hold death of Anthony Baez and the description by Acting Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin of the trial's police testimony as "a nest of perjury."

But rather than discouraging perjury, Safir's directive is apparently being used in at least one case to exact revenge on an unpopular officer. The department declined to comment.

Earlier this month, Lt. Timothy Pearson was tried for making "false and misleading statements" during an investigation of him on charges the department now acknowledges were groundless.

Robert Kubick, the department's so-called special prosecutor, became so excited when he entered the trial room as a spectator that he immediately began shouting at Pearson's wife, Sherrie, herself a cop, "She's coaching the witness! She's coaching the witness!"

Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Trials Robert W. Vinal had to halt proceedings to calm Kubick down.

Pearson, an 18-year veteran, was the department's only black officer to command an Internal Affairs Bureau inspections unit. He reported directly to Janet Lennon, who headed the department's Legal Bureau before quitting with no public explanation in mid-1996 amid a scandal in the Licensing Division, which issues pistol permits. Virtually the entire division was transferred. Its commanding officer, Inspector Henry Krantz, was forced to retire.

"He was a very good worker for me," Lennon said of Pearson last week. She pronounced herself "shocked" he was on trial.

All right, so what's going on here?

Said a department insider: "He has an attitude."

That attitude included a go-for-the-jugular approach to investigations involving well-connected officers like Krantz. Although Krantz paid a well-publicized $10,000 fine for his transgressions, the department allowed him to retire on the infamous heart bill, which says any heart ailment is job-related. So he is getting a lucrative, tax-free pension.

Pearson also investigated the alleged wrongdoing of officers in a related investigation of Deputy Insp. Charles Luisi. Luisi pleaded the Fifth Amendment seven times in a civil suit in 1996 against Michael Zerin, a professional gun dealer and friend of Krantz. Luisi was able to retire with his pension because IAB couldn't locate him for the 30-day period during which charges must have been filed against him.

Another of Pearson's targets was Lt. Jeffrey Hoerter of the department's Legal Bureau, who represented three cops accused of improperly detaining Zerin's girlfriend. Although Hoerter represented the officers on department time, he maintained he did so as a private citizen. The address and phone number he provided Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Ira Gammerman, however, were those of the Legal Bureau at One Police Plaza.

Hoerter's "punishment": a transfer to the elite Intelligence Division, then to the special prosecutor's office that is trying Pearson.

Now, let's examine the allegations against Pearson. They stem from his sister-in-law, Sonjia Pierce, who informed the NYPD and police in Hempstead, where Pearson lives, that he was abusing his stepson. According to trial testimony, Pierce, an ex-cop, had been dismissed for psychological reasons and had a history of making unfounded accusations against family members.

Arriving at Pearson's home in December, 1996, the Hempstead police questioned Pearson's stepson, who denied Pierce's allegations. Pearson was home at the time. The officers concluded Pierce's call was a "prank," according to trial testimony.

Meanwhile, the NYPD began investigating Pearson. But no one interviewed the stepson.

Instead, Pearson was charged with "making a false statement." Why? Because he told IAB captain Robert Kelly he didn't recall Hempstead cops visiting his home.

"How could he not remember that?" said an IAB official. "We charged him because of the way he conducted himself during his interrogation."

Ignored was the fact that Pearson gained no benefit from his lack of recall. His lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said: "This stinks."

Earlier this year, First Deputy Commissioner Patrick Kelleher accepted a plea bargain, fining Pearson 20 days pay for being "evasive."

But Safir overruled him, forcing the trial that could lead to Pearson's dismissal.

©1998 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.