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NYPD’s legacy of distrust

April 14, 1997

No matter how the shooting death of 16-year-old Kevin Cedeno of Washington Heights plays out; no matter whether Police Officer Anthony Pellegrini was justified in shooting him in the back, here are five reasons why New York's poor, minority communities distrust the police department of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - a distrust that serves as quick tinder for mayoral opponent Al Sharpton.

Reason One. Change of story, or the Attica syndrome. The initial police account that Cedeno was shot while attacking cops when an autopsy revealed he was shot in the back is all too common. Note:

- The shooting death of Anibal Carrasquillo in Brooklyn on Jan. 25, 1995, by Police Officer Marco Calderone. Police initially reported Calderone shot Carrasquillo as Carrasquillo faced him in a "crouching" stance. An autopsy revealed Calderone shot Carrasquillo in the back.

- The shooting death of 16-year-old Yong Xin Huang on March 24, 1995, by Police Officer Steven Mizrahi. Police initially reported Mizrahi accidentally shot Huang while struggling over his pellet gun. An autopsy revealed the teen had been shot in the back of the head.

- The shooting on Aug. 22, 1994, by Police Officer Peter Del Debbio of undercover transit cop Desmond Robinson. Police initially reported that Del Debbio shot Robinson in the chest. It was later determined that Del Debbio shot him in the back.

- The shooting death of Levi Gaines on July 4, 1996, in a Bronx subway station by officer Paolo Colechia. Colechia said he fired after Gaines grabbed him and threatened to hurt him. An autopsy determined the officer shot Gaines in the back.

- The granddaddy of altered police stories, the Attica prison riot, in which nine hostages and 28 prisoners died. Initial reports said inmates killed all the hostages, slitting their throats. Autopsies later revealed they were shot to death by State Police.

Reason Two. The Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Note the police department's failure to discipline virtually any officer against whom the Civilian Complaint Review Board sustained charges.

Note the resignation of Giuliani's buddy and former CCRB chairman David Zornow, who went quietly into the night to Westchester after but two years in office.

Note the replacement of board member Raymond Aab by outgoing First Deputy Commissioner Tosano Simonetti, which Civil Liberties head Norman Siegel termed "a political firing" in retaliation for Aab's voting for a special committee to investigate the NYPD's proposed hollow-point bullets.

Printable versionReason Three. The mayor's ranting that the killer of Police Officer Kevin Gillespie receive the death penalty versus his two-year silence over the death of Anthony Baez, following a department-prohibited chokehold by former Police Officer Francis Livoti.

Reason Four. Livoti's relationship with Chief of Department Louis Anemone, who six weeks after Baez' death described Livoti as having - despite 11 civilian complaints, all but one for excessive force - "a distinguished career of service to the community . . . doing the kind of work that the citizenry of the city and certainly this country are looking for."

Reason Five. Safir's apparent loss of memory, even before his heart-bypass surgery, over Bronx Judge Gerald Sheindlin's description of a "nest of perjury" among cops testifying at Livoti's trial. This includes the five who claimed not to have seen Livoti's chokehold of Baez, which lasted more than a minute. Despite Safir's braying that he'd fire any lying cops, he now says he is unaware of perjury at Livoti's trial and has no plans to pursue charges.

So Where Was Howie? Was Safir at his recently purchased North Fork Long Island cottage the night a Palestinian gunman killed one and wounded nine at the Empire State building in February? Safir did not reach the crime scene until three hours later, about the same time it takes to drive back to midtown from the North Fork. His spokeswoman Marilyn Mode has said only that when the shooting occurred Safir was "in the area."

She Did It. Giuliani may be deep into defending the police for buttoning up the nightspot Hogs and Heifers - known for female celebrities dancing bra-less atop its bar - because it lacks a cabaret license. He may not be aware that his communications director, Cristyne Lategano, performed there. But it's not as bad as it sounds. First, Lategano, wearing a button-down shirt, pulled her bra off through her sleeve and, as a viewer told Newsday, "didn't show anything."

Second, the incident occurred in 1994, a year before her basement office was connected to the mayor's by a hidden passageway.

No response to a message left on her answering machine concerning her exposure.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.