Police

Street Justice vs. a Supreme Court Justice

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A story in today's New York Times illustrates the haphazard way in which police officers are held accountable for misconduct—or, more often, not. Last week Thomas Raffaele helped his parents, who were relocating to Houston, move out of their house in Queens. After removing the last of the furniture (two tables that he donated to a neighborhood tutoring center) with the help of a friend, Raffaele was walking down 74th Street near 37th Road a lttle after midnight on Friday morning when he came upon an angry crowd gathered around two police officers who were arresting a man with what the bystanders considered unnecessary violence. Concerned that the crowd was getting out of control, Raffaele called 911 to report that the officers might need assistance. A few minutes later, Raffaele reports, one of the cops, enraged at the hecklers, randomly lashed out at him, delivering "a sharp blow to [his] throat that was like what he learned when he was trained in hand-to-hand combat in the Army."

Raffaele complained about the unprovoked assault to a sergeant on the scene, who consulted with the other officers who were present, all of whom denied seeing anything untoward. And that might have been the end of it, except that Raffaele happens to be a New York State Supreme Court justice, overseeing marriage cases in Queens. (In New York the confusingly named Supreme Court handles trials, while the highest court is the Court of Appeals.) Raffaele's position helped him get a more attentive hearing when he complained to the Internal Affairs Bureau, which is now investigating the incident. "In this instance," the NYPD's chief spokesman told the Times, the bureau (as opposed to the Civilian Complaint Review Board) "is reviewing the complaint because it was brought to its attention by the judge, not because of the level of injury."

And what about the man whose arrest caused the crowd to gather? Raffaele, whose account "was corroborated by two people he knows who described the encounter in separate interviews," said the same officer who attacked him "was repeatedly dropping his knee into the handcuffed man's back," despite warnings from a woman who identified herself as a nurse and said "he could seriously hurt the unidentified man, who an official later said was not charged." Imagine the punishment he might have received if he had actually been accused of a crime.