William Flanagan, the ex-Nassau County police commander accused of covering up a burglary for a friend, was described as both a criminal and victim of a “bizarre prosecution” on the first day of his trial Tuesday.
Prosecutors and Flanagan’s defense dispute whether he received bribes for the alleged cover-up, the nature of his relationship with wealthy police donor Gary Parker and whether or not Lorraine Poppe, the principal of John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, backed off her request to press charges against Parker’s son, Zachary, the Merrick man who later admitted stealing electronics from the campus.
“It’s not a case of police discretion, it’s a case of police indiscretion,” said Assistant District Attorney Cristiana McSloy in her opening statement. “He went as far as to orchestrate the return of evidence in an open felony investigation.”
But the ex-second deputy police commissioner’s lawyer, Bruce Barkett, countered that “the allegation here is at its core a bald-faced lie.” He said the gifts were a wedding anniversary present while casting doubt on Flanagan’s role and the significance of returning the stolen property, saying “this is not what it’s cooked up to be.”
Flanagan had pleaded not guilty in March to charges of conspiracy and official misconduct along with former Chief of Patrol John Hunter and retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe, who are scheduled to be tried separately. Flanagan is alleged to have gotten the case squashed at Parker’s request after attempts by Hunter and Sharpe allegedly failed.
The Nassau courtroom was crowded with current and former members of the police department who came to show support for their former boss as well as officials from the district attorney’s office. But the crowd thinned out when it was time for witnesses to take the stand—and for Barkett to correct his opening statement in which he mistakenly concluded by telling the jury to find his client guilty.
The first witness was Seventh Precinct Officer Samantha Sullivan, who took the theft report from Poppe after the May 2009 theft of a projector—the last in a string of laptops, calculators and other electronics worth nearly $11,000 that Parker stole.
Poppe named Parker as a suspect and wrote in her statement that she wanted him arrested, but Sullivan testified that she crossed out Parker’s name with Poppe’s permission to keep the document “objective” for the investigating detectives.
William Brennen, the East Islip High School principal who was Poppe’s assistant at the time, was the second and final witness of the opening day. He told the court that he and Poppe suspended Parker for five days—the maximum allowed before the district superintendent gets involved.
Parker was seen on surveillance video afterhours the night of the projector theft, despite being banned from being on campus after class, Brennen testified. He said he never had a chance to show investigators the video showing Parker “carrying a satchel containing something of a relative size to a projector” before he got his new job that summer.
Barkett refused to say outside the courtroom whether Flanagan will take the stand. Testimony in the high-profile case resumes Thursday.