An ex-Nassau County police detective testified that the ex-commander who’s a defendant in an alleged cover-up case thanked him after the investigator returned stolen property without arresting the suspect who’s a police donor’s son.
Retired Seventh Squad Det. Bruce Coffey and two current Nassau police officials—his ex-partner, Det. Barry Franklin, and his old boss, Deputy Inspector Lorna Atmore—took the stand last week in the trial of William Flanagan, the former second deputy police commissioner.
“We’re getting calls from pretty high up about this case,” Coffey said one of his bosses, retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe—Flanagan’s co-defendant, who’s case has been severed—told him. But, Coffey testified, the brass wanted the charges dropped: “They weren’t looking for an arrest.”
Flanagan has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and misconduct charges along with Sharpe and former Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter, who’s also slated to be tried separately. Coffey, who’s cooperating as a witness to avoid prosecution, testified Hunter leaned on Sharpe to have Coffey get the charges dropped.
The allegedly quashed case was that of Zachary Parker, a former student at Bellmore’s John F. Kennedy High School, who admitted last year to burglarizing his alma mater in 2009 and is serving prison time for the $11,000 in thefts. His father, Gary, was a friend of Hunter and Flanagan as well as a director of a Nassau police nonprofit. The Press exposed the alleged cover-up in March 2011.
“You didn’t order an arrest…because the school was ambivalent, is that correct?” Bruce Barket, Flanagan’s attorney, asked Atmore, Coffey’s then-supervisor. She agreed, adding that it was “not unusual” for schools to take an initial wait-and-see approach on arresting students.
Atmore testified that the day the report came in she learned Parker was a well-connected suspect who she believed would “very likely” be arrested and reported the case to the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) because he worked in the department’s Emergency Ambulance Bureau.
“I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to get involved,” she testified of her desire to avoid a case involving a suspect who’s dad is friends with some of her bosses. “I’m thinking this is a good thing, my detectives aren’t going to be responsible for dealing with this mess.”
Her relief was short-lived. Atmore said the same day she called IAU, Hunter called her back and “said that the Seventh Squad was keeping the case.” She said “It was odd and it was weird and I was trying to figure out what his relation was,” because as a patrol commander, Hunter wasn’t generally involved in detectives’ investigations.
Atmore obeyed the order, but transferred the case to Coffey after pulling it from his partner, Franklin, who originally was assigned the case. She was promoted out of the squad days later, leaving Sharpe in charge as commanding officer.
“How many other cases you were assigned were taken away from you and assigned to another detective?” Assistant District Attorney Cristiana McSloy asked Franklin, who replied, “none.”
Franklin said he didn’t properly log in as evidence the two stolen laptops and projector because it was another detective’s case and that it also hadn’t been logged in by the Fifth Precinct, where Zachary Parker’s friend originally turned some of the stolen proerty in.
Coffey said he was “conflicted” about asking the school’s principal, Lorraine Poppe, to drop the charges when they met shortly after the theft. So he went through the motions of interviewing, but not taking sworn statements from witnesses—and never asked for videotape of Parker fleeing the scene the night of the burglary.
“She was very adamant about wanting him to be arrested,” Coffey testified. “It wasn’t the time to do it. I had to show her some respect.”
Also revealed at trial was that another detective had tried to get Poppe to sign a form indicating she wanted to drop the charges a month after the theft, but she refused. Coffey eventually had Poppe sign a form accepting the property Sept. 1, 2009, but she again refused to sign the form dropping the charges, he testified.
Later that fall at a retirement party, “I was sitting down at a table, [Deputy] Commissioner Flanagan came up, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you,’” Coffey testified.
“I thought it was obviously for the John F. Kennedy case,” he said, “for handling the return of the property.”
When it was Coffey’s turn to retire in October 2010, he said he wrote a memo to close out the Parker theft case indicating that Poppe did not want the suspect arrested—a fact he testified he knew to be untrue.
The detectives’ testimony came after Gary Parker testified for four days last week. Barket asked Parker’s feeling Thursday about how his son blew his chance at probation in the burglary and unrelated drug and traffic cases, landing himself in prison instead of college.
“In hindsight, wouldn’t it be fair to say your son should have been arrested in May 2009?” Barket asked. “Yes,” Parker said after a pause.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who Parker testified attended one of many police dinners he paid for, sat with Flanagan’s supporters Friday. “Bill’s an old friend,” King told the Press outside the courtroom. “I worked closely with him on homeland security issues.”