Claim of police Labor Day misconduct

A major United States publication claims that some police officers in the New York Police Department (N.Y.P.D) have maligned paradegoers at the annual West Indian American Day Carnival parade, calling them “animals” and “savages,” among other things.

“Hearing New York police officers speak publicly but candidly about one another and the people they police is rare indeed, especially with their names attached. But for a few days in September, a raw and rude conversation among officers was on Facebook for the world to see — until it vanished for unknown reasons,” the New York Times said on Dec. 5.

“It offered a fly-on-the-wall view of officers displaying roiling emotions often hidden from the public, a copy of the posting obtained by The Times shows. Some of the remarks appeared to have broken Police Department rules barring officers from ‘discourteous or disrespectful remarks’ about race or ethnicity,” it added.

The paper said the subject was “officers’ loathing of being assigned to the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn,” an annual multiday event that unfolds over the Labor Day weekend in early September.

It said those who posted comments appeared to follow Facebook’s policy requiring the use of real names, “and some identified themselves as officers.”

Paul J. Browne, the N.Y.P.D.’s deputy commissioner for public information, said he learned of the Facebook group from a reporter and would refer the issue to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

The Times said the comments in the online group, which grew over a few days to some 1,200 members, were “at times so offensive in referring to West Indian and African-American neighborhoods that some participants warned others to beware how their words might be taken in a public setting open to Internal Affairs ‘rats.’”

“Let them kill each other,” wrote one of the Facebook members who posted comments under a name that matched that of a police officer, the paper said.

“Filth,” wrote a commenter who identified himself as Nick Virgilio, another participant whose name matched that of a police officer, it added. “It’s not racist if it’s true,” yet another wrote.

The Times said the officers were at times spurred on by civilian supporters and other city workers, including members of the Fire Department.

It said while it is impossible to say with certainty whether those quoted are the people they claim to be, a comparison with the names of some of the more than 150 people who posted comments on the page with city employee listings showed that more than 60 percent matched the names of police officers.

The paper said Browne “did not deny that they were officers,” adding, however, that “some people do circumvent Facebook’s rule on identification.”

The Times said it was impossible to determine the racial breakdown of the officers who were posting comments, but it said at least one of the participants said that most of them seemed not to be minorities.

“Efforts were made to contact some of those who participated through the Police Department, through the prosecutor in a court case that revealed the existence of the group, through Facebook messages and through other methods,” it said.

“One, Nick Virgilio, said he was a member of the department but responded, ‘I don’t wish to comment,’” it added.

The paper said the comments in the group included anger at police and city officials and expressions of anxiety “about policing what has often been a dangerous event.

“Why is everyone calling this a parade,” it quoted one as saying. “It’s a scheduled riot.” Another said: “We were widely outnumbered. It was an eerie feeling knowing we could be overrun at any moment.”

“Welcome to the Liberal NYC Gale,” said another, according to the Times, “where if the cops sneeze too loud they get investigated for excessive force but the ‘civilians’ can run around like savages and there are no repercussions.”

“They can keep the forced overtime,” said one writer, the paper said, adding that the safety of officers comes “before the animals.”

Wrote another: “Bloodbath!!! The worst detail to work,” The Times said.

The paper said the page — though visible to any Facebook user before it vanished into the digital ether — appears to have drawn no public notice until an obscure criminal case in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn last month: the gun possession trial of an out-of-work Brooklyn food-service worker named Tyrone Johnson.

The Times said his defense lawyers put many of the controversial remarks before the jury.

But, it said, when that, too, seemed to draw little notice outside the courthouse, the lawyers, Benjamin Moore and Paul Lieberman of Brooklyn Defender Services, provided a digital copy of the Facebook conversation to the paper, saying it raised broad questions about police attitudes.

While preparing for the trial, the Times said Moore checked to see if the officer who had arrested his client, Sgt. Dustin Edwards, was on Facebook. It said he was.

“Mr. Moore noticed that Sergeant Edwards’s profile showed he belonged to a Facebook group formed, it said, for ‘N.Y.P.D. officers who are threatened by superiors and forced to be victims themselves by the violence of the West Indian Day massacre,’” the paper said.

It said the group’s title, “No More West Indian Day Detail,” attracted Moore’s attention because Sergeant Edwards had arrested Johnson in the predawn hours of the celebrations before the parade in 2010.

According to the Times, Moore said that when he clicked on the link — the page was apparently public — and began reading a conversation that ran 70 printed pages, he was struck by what seemed to be its “reckless explicitness.”

“I found it astounding,” the paper quoted Moore as saying.

It said Moore made a digital copy, but when he looked two days later, “all trace of the group was gone.”

At the trial, the defense lawyers argued that the gun Sergeant Edwards said he found near their client had not belonged to Johnson. Johnson is black and lived in the parade area.

The defense suggested that Sergeant Edwards might have planted the gun, the Times said.

On Nov. 21, the jury acquitted Johnson, the Times said.

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