Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

So now that Utica mayor David Roefaro has payed off soon-to-be-ex-Chief Pylman, and handily placed the amazingly unqualified Dan LaBella in the top spot, what happens with the fruit of the Pylman investigation?

As Utica police Chief C. Allen Pylman prepares to retire this week, the Common Council investigation launched in January 2007 remains unresolved.

That month, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Common Council voted unanimously to exercise its investigatory powers.

At issue: Whether Pylman violated police department rules.

After the investigation stalled for almost a year, a newly-elected council in February voted to turn the investigation over to Mayor David Roefaro.

Roefaro has hundreds of pages of transcripts. On Tuesday, he said he does not know if the case would still proceed.

He said Pylman’s retirement has “absolutely nothing to do with the investigation.”

“Actually, we never even talked about the investigation,” Roefaro said.

That's a stunning admission considering Mr. Roefaro has spent well over a year, and thousands of dollars of city funds, trying to prove Chief Pylman was guilty of a crime or crimes worthy of attention from the state Attorney General. After all that he hasn't even discussed the issue with the man he openly accused of wrongdoing?

That's quite a passive-aggressive management style, don't you think?

During the investigation, closed-door testimony focused on a case of time-card falsification that led to the conviction of then-Sgt. James Franco. Testimony also included a review of a 2002 incident in which an investigator shot an unarmed drug suspect with a pellet gun, according to documents obtained last year by the O-D.

It's the details of those two incidents, and the involvement of Congressman Michael Arcuri, that I think had a lot to do with the eventual meltdown of the investigation and, perhaps, with the current buyout situation. You can read the transcript of Mr. Arcuri's testimony to the Common Council for yourself over here (PDF file).

The most interesting part, at least to me, is the contrast between the handling of the Franco forgery investigation and the later assault investigation, also involving a member of the Franco clan. In the first case Mr. Arcuri goes to great pains to justify a full criminal prosecution of Sgt. Franco despite Chief Pylman's assertion no crime has been committed:

Arcuri: Over time I continued to hear a great deal about this. I continued to hear it publicly, privately. I heard about it from police officers, I heard it from public officials. And it got to the point where I was concerned that perhaps there was something that needed to be looked into, which is without a double the role of the district attorney. We are not a police agency. We’re an investigatory agency. And our role is to basically work with police but not work for police or vice versa.

I contacted the chief and said that, “Chief, you know, we’re at the point now where I’m hearing too much about this, and, you know, people are complaining about it, and it’s probably a good time for me to look into it. We’ll look into it and if it’s as you say, there’ll be no problem. We took a look at it and it will confirm what you said, but at least we’ll have another pair of eyes looking at it.”

In the second case, Mr. Arcuri uncovers clear evidence that a crime was committed, but steadfastly refuses to prosecute the officer involved. It's a curious choice, since one would think a violent assault on a handcuffed suspect involves quite a bit more abuse of power than some forged paperwork. Even more questionable is Mr. Arcuri's refusal to prosecute after the suspect's accusation of torture revealed that documents involving the case had, in fact, been falsified.

So James Franco's falsification of records is worthy of prosecution, but Anthony Franco's assault on a suspect, and subsequent falsification of records to cover up the attack, isn't.

Odd? You bet. And I'm not the only one to think so, as Councilman Phillip's questioning the night Arcuri offered testimony attests:

COUNCILMEMBER PHILLIPS: The thing that I have, just like — and I — I have to say because Marshall Owens was an African-American was a — I have to state for the record because that’s how it comes back to me when they referred to, and, you know, what we went through with the Washington case and a few other things, it comes back to me as — from police officers on the scene that Anthony Franco shoot this kid with the pellet gun, okay. I think the number of times was six, okay.

I guess my — my question is, do you have the documents that were submitted to you in this case so that I can compare them to the documents that we have before us? Because as 30 years in this business, I can’t make sense out of why wasn’t an assault charge filed? I can understand the part of being pissed off with a gun pointed at you. And if we were in a battle, and it went off, chances are, I guess, I would — I would have accepted murdering this kid more than what I’m getting on this case. Because if you got a gun, I’m within my right to blow you away. I guess what I can’t understand, okay, that it’s not acceptable to me that you’re so mad that after you get the gun from him, you shoot him six times. That’s to me go beyond being — being something that I can turn my back to. To me that would have been — If we were charged with that as correction officers,somebody would have been charged with a crime, and the crime would have probably been assault. So I don’t know if you have records, what was submitted to you.

MR. ARCURI: Again, I think records are probably there. I don’t know. In — my recollection was that — I’m reasonably certain was that I saw was he shot once. And, you know, I may have — frankly, I may have made the wrong decision. I don’t know. But in looking at it at the time, weighing the circumstances, people I talk to and judging from the penalty that he was going to receive, that was — you know, try to put myself in both the place of both people in it.

Maybe I made the wrong decision, I don’t know. But I felt at the time and I continue to feel that the — what happened in that case was appropriate. I mean, I may have been wrong. It was a judgment call. But I felt that was the appropriate situation. And again, I — I could’ve been wrong.

Could've been wrong?

Mr. Arcuri's investigation produced clear evidence that the suspect in question was assaulted while kneeling and handcuffed. He was shot six times. When his accusations resulted in an investigation it was revealed that documents were falsified to cover up the assault. Despite all this no charges were ever filed.

Could've been wrong? Ya' think?

So what happens now? It's obviously pointless for the Pylman investigation, such as it is, to continue. Unfortunately, I have the feeling the extensive records of the investigation won't be released because they contain too much embarrassing material regarding both Mr. Roefaro and his good friend Congressman Arcuri. After all, it's clear there were active coverups of the three incidents the Common Council investigation focused on- the fraudulent police union election, the Franco forgeries, and the Franco assault.

Why would anyone shy away from another coverup?