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Sad refrain of suspicion

October 7, 1996

After testifying he'd witnessed police officer Francis X. Livoti's fatal choke of his son Anthony, Ramon Baez Sr. walked outside to the steps of the Bronx County courthouse 10 days ago. There, he joined a group of 50 people, many of them Irish immigrants, protesting the death of a man named Hessy Phelan.

Like Anthony Baez, Phelan died under suspicious circumstances involving a New York City police officer.

The mainstream media has virtually ignored the death of Phelan, who stood only 5 feet tall, worked as a house painter and lived in the North Bronx. A bachelor, he was regarded as a local character who frequented the neighorhood's Irish bars, such as the Oak Bar, where the bartender happened to be the girlfriend of police officer Richard Molloy of the 52nd Precinct.

On the night of Jan. 21, law-enforcement sources say, Phelan was drinking there. Fearing Phelan could not walk home, the bartender, Maggie McGrath, asked Molloy, a 10-year veteran and son of a former crime-scene detective, to escort him to her apartment. Sometime later, Molloy telephoned 911, saying Phelan had grabbed Molloy's off-duty revolver and committed suicide by shooting himself through his left eye.

As is customary in deaths involving police officers, the department's Internal Affairs Bureau took over the case. Insp. Richard Latuga of the Excessive Force Unit conducted the investigation.

Although the shooting occurred in January, the investigation wasn't completed until July, when the information was provided to the medical examiner's office.

"We investigate matters as quickly as humanly possible," IAB Chief Charles Campisi said.

"We were waiting for the police information," Ellen Borakove, the medical examiner's spokeswoman, explained of the delay. "The cause of death was easy. A gunshot wound to the head. It was the manner of death that was the problem: whether the wound was self-inflicted or whether someone had shot him."

The police information led the medical examiner to conclude the cause of death was homicide.

The guilt or innocence of police officer Livoti, charged with criminally negligent homicide in Baez' death, will be pronounced today by Acting Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin.

Meanwhile, a Bronx grand jury is deliberating whether sufficient evidence exists in Phelan's death to indict another New York City police officer on a homicide charge.

Printable versionLenny Who? A reference to the NYPD's director for press operations, Leonard Alcivar, appeared in last Thursday's New York Post as Leonard Alzheimer.

Some at One Police Plaza thought the reference stemmed from Alcivar's recent inability to recall the Manhattan address he used in 1993 to improperly register to vote as a Republican when he actually lived with his mom in New Jersey. But Dan Janison, who wrote the story, attributed the error to a copy editor's misusing the Post computer's spell-check program.

Apparently believing one disease deserves another, Alcivar's superior, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode, called the Post, asking for Dan Jaundice.

Juan and Justice. The Latino Officers Association, the renegade Hispanic group, and the Guardians Association, the long-established organization of black police officers, have called a news conference to announce what it describes as the Justice Department's first investigation into the NYPD for civil-rights violations against black and Hispanic cops.

Attending will be Juan Espinal, described by LOA vice president Raphael Collazo as a Washington, D.C., cop who got the litigation ball rolling. Collazo added that Espinal was dismissed and rehired from the District's metro police three times, about as many times as LOA president Tony Miranda has been transferred in the past couple of years.

Espinal attended ex-First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney's retirement dinner 10 days ago. With him were Miranda, Collazo and other LOA execs and their ladies. So did the LOA pay for their $90 tickets? Collazo says everyone paid for himself.

Rupert Loves Rudy, Not John. Is last Saturday's New York Post editorial knocking Gov. George Pataki's choice of ex-First Deputy Timoney to head the governor's domestic-violence commission a love bite to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for his support of Post owner Rupert Murdoch's 24-hour-news-channel battle against Time Warner? Timoney, who called Giuliani "nutty" and Safir a "lightweight" when Giuliani passed him over for the police commissioner's job, has been touted as the future P.C. by mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer. Timoney's retirement dinner was attended by the city's premier mayoral hopefuls.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.