An ex-Nassau County police commander’s attorneys argued Thursday before the New York State Court of Appeals that his conviction for covering up a burglary committed by his friend’s son should be overturned.
The arguments hinged on whether William Flanagan, a former deputy Nassau police commissioner, in fact broke the law when he helped return thousands of dollars worth of electronics stolen from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore by a student who was a police intern and son of a wealthy accountant from Merrick that donated to a nonprofit with which Flanagan was associated. The burglar wasn’t arrested until the cover-up was the subject of a 2011 Press expose on favoritism awarded to supporters of nonprofit Nassau County Police Foundation fundraising to build a $40 million new police academy. The story also sparked an investigation resulting in the arrest of Flanagan and two other ex-police commanders.
“The deputy commissioner himself…never had an obligation to make an arrest,” Donna Aldea, head of the Appellate Practice Group for Garden City-based Barket Marion Epstein & Kearon, LLP, told the panel of judges that makes up the state’s highest court.
Flanagan appealed to the high court after the state Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, citing “overwhelming evidence of [his] guilt,” affirmed a 2013 Nassau jury verdict convicting him of conspiracy and two counts of official misconduct, all misdemeanors, following a month-long trial. The jury acquitted him of receiving reward for official misconduct, a felony.
“He had as much an obligation to make sure the law was enforced without fear or favor as anyone else in the department,” said Yael Levy, the deputy chief of the Appeals Bureau for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
Prosecutors have said that Flanagan helped quash the case against Zachary Parker, who stole the electronics shortly before he graduated in 2009 while he was an intern for the Nassau police Ambulance Bureau. The burglar’s father, Gary Parker, was volunteering for the nonprofit Nassau County Police Department Foundation when he asked for Flanagan’s help with his son’s case.
Judges on the appeals court panel peppered both sides with questions as the two made their cases. Aldea also argued that prosecutions can go forward regardless of whether the evidence in the case has been returned to the victim. Levy countered that the since the purpose of returning the evidence was to quash the charges as a favor to Parker, it was illegal.
Judge Mark Cohen—a Suffolk judge brought in after two Nassau judges recused themselves from the case—had sentenced Flanagan to 60 days in jail, but execution of that term was stayed pending the appeal. If the judges uphold the conviction, once the appeals court officially notifies Cohen of the ruling, a hearing will be scheduled in the case, a court spokesman has said.
The two other ex-Nassau police commanders—John Hunter, the retired Deputy Chief of Patrol, and Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe—both pleaded guilty to misconduct and were sentenced to probation in connection with the case. Zachary Parker pleaded guilty to burglary and was sentenced to prison after violating his probation. He has since been released.
A spokesman said that the Court of Appeals is expected to hand down its decision in four-to-six weeks.