$1M settlement on Safir’s watch
July 3, 2000
If you thought things couldn't get any worse in the New York City Police Department than the collapse of its command structure during the post-National Puerto Rican Day Parade wilding incidents, consider its $1 million settlement last week with former deputy commissioner Sandra Marsh.
The payment, noted Marsh's lawyer, Matthew Brinckerhoff, came just as Police Commissioner Howard Safir was to give 22 hours of court-ordered testimony after failing to show up for a previous deposition and offering no explanation for his absence.
Readers of this column may recall Safir has had a history of misstatements. He made conflicting statements about his so-called pursuit of the Asian drug lord Khun Sa and about his role in awarding dismissed cop Jay Creditor a $1 million pension. Not for nothing did Your Humble Servant produce a Bible for Safir to place his hand atop at his next news briefing. You can draw your own conclusions about how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's own lawyers, who offered Marsh those one million smackers, regarded Safir's credibility.
As readers of this column may also recall, Marsh, the department's highest-ranking black civilian, was forced to resign two years ago after she refused Safir's order to rewrite a report critical of two chiefs over a sexual harassment complaint.
Specifically, her report accused Staten Island borough commander Gene Devlin and his executive officer Phil Erickson of improperly transferring Lt. Lloyd Thompson. It also accused Erickson of lying about it-under Safir, a fireable offense.
The size of Marsh's award-including an extra $100,000 for legal fees-indicates that the payment was not merely compensation for the loss of her $86,500 salary but for punitive damages as well.
"The past two years have been a very difficult time for me," Marsh said in a telephone interview Friday. "I used up all my savings to stay afloat. My health insurance ran out in March. My blood pressure is out of control.
"I was shut out by people I had watched develop. I had known them and their families." She said that she and First Deputy. Patrick Kelleher, who conveyed Safir's order to rewrite her report, "had a cordial relationship, so it was disappointing that he said untruths about me and conspired to force me out to save one of their own.
"Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs George Grasso really shocked me. I was a trial commissioner when he was a baby new attorney. I knew his family."
According to Marsh's suit, Grasso repeatedly interrupted her when she presented her report, questioning whether she understood that her report implicated chiefs with 30-year careers.
"People stopped talking to me," Marsh continued. "Staff members were afraid to speak to me openly. Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rae Koshetz was fabulous. She said, 'Sandy, people are not brave here.' At staff meetings she would sit next to me. The last day there, she invited me to her office. That's a friend."
Neither Safir, Kelleher nor Grasso would return phone calls for comment.
Marsh is not alone in collecting a pile of dough because of Safir's shenanigans. The department has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in discrimination cases to members of the Latino Officers Association, which Safir was forced by court order to recognize earlier this year.
Last month a jury awarded $1.2 million to 26 black officers whom Safir transferred into the 70th Precinct after the sexual attack on Abner Louima in a stationhouse bathroom, solely because of their race-and on whose behalf Marsh testified during that trial.
And it ain't over, folks. Next comes the case of Marsh's former commander, Capt. Tim Donovan, who had conducted the original sexual harassment investigation and was transferred to night duty in Queens. Then comes Thompson, whose transfer his attorney Rosemary Carroll describes as Safir's " lawlessness with no consequences because the money doesn't come out of his pocket."
Lastly, there is the Staten Island Six, female cops who were part of the original sexual harassment suit. Will they all become the beneficiaries of the city's Safir-fed money tree?
When were the parade plans finalized? Who signed off on them? What was the responsibility of Manhattan South borough commander Chief Al Hoehl, whom Safir appointed a three-star chief? What was the responsibility of Manhattan North two-star Chief Nick Estavillo, in whose patrol borough the attacks occurred?
What was the responsibility of Kelleher as acting commissioner while Safir frolicked in Sun Valley, Idaho? Ditto the responsibility of John Scanlon, acting chief of department, while Anemone's successor, Joe Dunne, hung out with Safir? Were Safir and Dunne, the department's top uniformed officers, out of the loop on the parade plan? Or did they sign off on it too?
© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.