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Safir’s test on Livoti case

February 24, 1997

Even for a law school dropout like Police Commissioner Howard Safir, his decision to fire Francis X. Livoti was a no-brainer.

That is, if it even was his decision and not Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's.

Our mayor, who has an opinion on just about everything, uttered not a peep the night of Dec. 22, 1994, when 29-year-old Anthony Baez died following Officer Livoti's chokehold during a scuffle stemming from a touch football game.

Giuliani's first reported response to Baez' death did not occur until Livoti was acquitted of criminal charges nearly two years later. Then, on Oct. 7, 1996, he called the decision of Acting Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin "a careful, well-thought-out, legally reasoned opinion."

Only now, with the Hispanic vote crucial to his re-election and with mayoral opponent Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer pounding away at Livoti's past protected status, has the mayor decided to lead the lynching party. His latest call is for a civil-rights investigation. Now he says Livoti should never have been hired as a cop and blames - guess who? - prior police administrations.

Giuliani characterized Safir's firing of Livoti Friday as "courageous" but it is hardly that. Livoti is now a pigeon, with no base of support, least of all from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, of which he was a noisy and tiresome delegate. Past PBA president Phil Caruso turned up in the early stages of his Bronx trial, hugging and kissing Livoti's cheek each morning before court. Its current president, Lou Matarazzo, spent only a couple of days, then cut out, apparently having heard enough testimony to turn his stomach.

Since Livoti's acquittal, Matarazzo has said literally nothing of him. Ditto after his firing.

But Safir does face a true test of courage. Will he investigate what Sheindlin termed "a nest of perjury" involving the six officers who testified at Livoti's criminal trial?

Specifically, will Safir pursue perjury charges against the five cops who testified they witnessed the entire scuffle between Livoti and Baez yet failed to see Livoti use the fatal chokehold - a chokehold, the city's Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch testified, that lasted at least a minute.

Safir says he will investigate the supervisory role of Sgt. William Monahan, for whom Livoti served as a driver because of past disciplinary infractions.

But what of Monahan's account of the mysterious black man who suddenly appeared out of the night, stopped to help Livoti wrestle with Baez, then vanished, never to be seen or heard from again? Livoti embellished Monahan's account when he testified at his departmental trial.

Printable versionDeputy Commisisoner Rae Koshetz, who found Livoti guilty of using the fatal chokehold at a department trial, termed the testimony "incredible."

Not too long ago Safir announced at City Hall that any officer who lied to a superior or at a trial would be fired. Although department attorneys obtained the cops' secret grand jury testimony of Livoti's criminal trial last October, stating then they wanted to investigate those perjury questions, Safir now has developed departmental amnesia.

Asked at Friday's news conference about the perjury, he said, "That's not an issue I have focused on. Nobody has brought any perjury to my attention. Especially the trial judge."

His spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, cut off further questions, then vanished for the day, while Safir refused to explain or expand on his remarks.

The Rapprochement. Howard Koppel, the Queens car dealer Chief of Department Louis Anemone reduced to tears at a police funeral for sitting in a pew reserved for top brass, says he and Anemone have made up.

"We had a rapprochement," says Koppel. "I saw him outside the mayor's office and we made up. We shook hands. Look, the mayor likes him, the mayor likes me. Why would I make the mayor uncomfortable? I said, Would you like a rapprochement?' He thanked me very much, although I don't think he knows what rapprochement' means."

Asked but Not Given. Reporters and the general public are not the only ones who can't obtain information from the NYPD. Even elected city officials can't.

Take the all-but-declared mayoral candidate, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, who for seven months says she tried to obtain transit police staffing statistics.

After contacting Transit Police Bureau Chief Kenneth Donahue, Messinger says she was routed to Safir, then to the First Deputy Commissoner Tosano Simonetti, then back to Donahue and then to Anemone until on Dec. 31, she finally wrote to Safir describing her letter's voyage. She says she hasn't received a response.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.