A jury must decide whether an ex-deputy Nassau County police commissioner committed a crime when he helped return property his friend and nonprofit collaborator’s son stole from school to avoid an arrest as prosecutors allege, or if there is not enough evidence to convict him of conspiring with other cops accused of initiating the alleged cover-up, as the defense argues.
Both sides made their closing arguments Thursday after jurors heard testimony from 18 witnesses, listened to dozens of emails be read into evidence and endured what observers estimated was a record number of sidebars for 12 days at county court in Mineola starting Jan. 15. Deliberations were slated to begin Friday after Judge Mark Cohen provides the jury with its instructions.
“When you go hunting for the big fish, sometimes you get caught up in the hunt and you end up looking for something that’s not there,” said Bruce Barket, attorney for the defendant, William Flanagan, while discrediting the case sparked by a Press expose. “At the end of the day, the return of property is not criminal and that…is the fatal flaw with this prosecution.”
Bernadette Ford, an assistant district attorney trying the case, aimed to connect the dots back to Gary Parker, who testified he asked Flanagan and his co-defendant, former Deputy Cheif of Patrol John Hunter, for help returning stolen computers–effectively dropping charges against Parker’s son, Zachary, who burglarized $11,000 in electronics from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore four years ago.
“Discretion to not arrest because of a relationship, that is an abuse of discretion,” she told the courtroom packed with law enforcement officials on either side of the case. “It’s a violation of duty.” She added, “It’s not what you did, it’s who you know, or who your father knows.”
While both sides agreed that the elder Parker was not credible when testifying that school officials told him they planned to drop the charges against his son, prosecution and defense attorneys disputed whether his gifts to Flanagan were compensation for returning the property.
They also disputed if Lorraine Poppe, the school’s principal, was unclear when telling police she wanted an arrest. The only testimony more debated than Parker’s and Poppe’s was that of retired Det. Bruce Coffey, who testified against Flanagan to avoid prosecution himself.
Flanagan faces up to four years in prison, if convicted. Hunter and another co-defendant, retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe, had their cases severed from Flanagan’s after all three pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and misconduct charges in March 2012. The younger Parker is serving prison time upstate after pleading guilty to the burglary last year.