Bob Schalk Quoted in the NY Times
3 Ex-Nassau County Officers Accused of Failing to Arrest Police Fund-Raiser’s Son
By PETER APPLEBOME and TIM STELLOH Published: March 1, 2012, NYTimes
Three former high-ranking officials of the Nassau County Police Department were indicted Thursday on charges that they failed to arrest a student suspected of stealing more than $10,000 in electronic equipment from his high school because he was the son of a prominent police fund-raiser.
In addition to the individuals charged, the indictments could place an unfavorable glare on a nonprofit organization, the Nassau County Police Department Foundation, which is raising money to build and maintain a new police academy. A newspaper article that led to the investigation raised questions about whether the foundation had become a vehicle through which contributors could buy influence and special treatment with the Police Department.
The three officers — William Flanagan, who as second deputy commissioner was the department’s third in command; John Hunter, the deputy chief of patrol; and Alan Sharpe, a deputy commander — pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including official misconduct and conspiracy. They were released on their own recognizance. Mr. Sharpe, 54, retired in January, and Mr. Flanagan, 54, and Mr. Hunter, 59, resigned on Wednesday.
“I’ve been a police officer in Nassau County for 29 years,” Mr. Flanagan said outside court. “I’ve committed no criminal act here. I’m confident at a trial, I’ll be vindicated and exonerated.”
Mr. Flanagan’s lawyer, Bruce Barket, said, “We’re stunned that essentially what has occurred here is the exercise of police discretion has been criminalized by an indictment.”
Lawyers for the other officers also said their clients would be exonerated.
The Nassau County district attorney, Kathleen Rice, said the charges stemmed from an investigation that began after a March 2011 article in The Long Island Press about a burglary at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore on May 19, 2009. The article focused on the special status given to contributors to the police foundation, who were given photo ID cards that critics suggested were a way for them to get preferential treatment if ever stopped by the police.
The article said surveillance cameras and school employees placed the fund-raiser’s son, a student at the school, in the area where the theft occurred. An acquaintance of the student surrendered some of the stolen goods to the police, telling authorities his friend had given them to him.
But despite the school’s insistence that the student — who also had a civilian job in the Police Department — be charged, the police did not do so. Instead, the indictment charges that the boy’s father, described as a partner in a Manhattan accounting firm “who regularly hosted and paid for lunches and dinners for high-ranking members of law enforcement” in Nassau County and elsewhere, worked with officers to settle the issue with no arrest, no charges and the return of the stolen equipment.
In an e-mail, the student’s father asked Mr. Hunter to get the police to “lay low” on the investigation, and when Mr. Hunter said he would, the father responded, “Thank you for being a great person and friend.”
“That’s what friends are for,” Mr. Hunter replied, according to the indictment. After the case was seemingly resolved, the student’s parents sent gift cards to Mr. Flanagan, the indictment says.
The indictment does not name the suspect or the father, but they have been identified elsewhere as Zachary Parker, now 20, and his father, Gary Parker, a former member of the foundation’s board of directors. Neither was charged in the indictment Thursday, and the investigation found “no criminality” on the part of the foundation, to which Gary Parker was a donor. The foundation’s executive director, Alexandra Nigolian, said that that meant the allegations against the foundation had been determined to be “baseless” and that its goal should be to focus on the public-private partnership needed to build a “state of the art” academy and training center for the police.
In October, after the article was published in The Long Island Press, Zachary Parker was arrested by the district attorney’s office on charges of burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property in the Kennedy High School theft. He has also been arrested three other times since July, twice on drug possession charges and once on a charge of driving while impaired. All four cases are still open.
If the cases against the police officials go to trial, they will most likely revolve around whether the officers’ actions showed illegal favoritism or the kind of judgments that take part regularly in the criminal justice system.
“These defendants violated their oath and the law when they prevented a suspect’s arrest and took investigative direction from the suspect’s father,” said Ms. Rice, the district attorney.
But lawyers for the officers and others involved in the case said nothing illegal was done.
“Every single day in this country, in every state and every county, private citizens work things out among themselves and avoid the police having to get involved or charges filed,” said Robert Schalk, a lawyer for Zachary Parker. “If that’s what happened here, it’s not a crime in my opinion.”