Official Frank Serpico Blog
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
In the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, I believe Gladwell has mistaken bad police work in the killing of Amadou Diallo with the life and death split second decisions that police officers are forced to make every day. A situation like this raises issues of police credibility. This is a letter that I sent to Mr. Gladwell expressing my thoughts on the matter.
April 11, 2005
As a former NYC police Detective I read your latest book “Blink” with great interest. I want to thank you for inspiring, motivating and thus prompting me to write to you. I also heard you speak on a number of occasions and mostly agree with your observations.
During my police career, and to date, I try to live my life and trust my existence to living by the formula thinking without thinking. I have often stated “don’t think beyond a blink”. However, attempting to do the right thing and succumbing to the police hierarchy almost cost me my life. I feel qualified by my experience in these matters to state the following: as accurate as your observations are in the Diallo case, which I followed carefully, I believe you neglected to include the institutional “lie factor” i.e. cover-up, in your analysis, which is understandable considering the burden of proof involved. In your book, you make reference to the name Fyfe as one of your authorities. This name is very familiar to me.
On February 3, 1971 (incidentally the same day (February 3rd) as the Diallo killing), I was shot in the line of duty while on a narcotics bust. My “colleagues”, with whom I had been working since I was first assigned to narcotics, failed to call for a police backup (signal 1013, officer distress signal) and left me bleeding to death on a tenement stairwell. An elderly Hispanic gentleman comforted me and called the police. One solitary police car responded, my colleagues were nowhere in sight. Twenty-three years later (no split second decision), Fyfe a police expert succeeded in fabricating his own version of this incident in his book, that is required reading at Columbia Law School. If done intentionally he is a liar, if done out of negligence he is incompetent, either way I believe his credibility is compromised and in question regarding his police expertise.
In his book, Fyfe goes on to state “We agree with Patrick V. Murphy, New York’s police commissioner at the time Serpico was shot” Murphy writes “I do not believe Serpico was setup, and even more, I do not believe that Det. Serpico believes it either.” Murphy, at best, not only lacked the professional courtesy to interview me, but did not conduct a proper, if any investigation of the shooting. The officers who failed to call for a back-up were in fact awarded medals for their excellent police duty. As a further insult to the cause of justice, Fyfe dedicated his book to Murphy.
In the same book, Fyfe tells of the McDonalds Bandits case -- how one of the dead suspects, Burgos, “Rose to a sitting position and raised the handgun with his right hand”, the hand that allegedly held the gun was pierced through the palm with one of the rounds “but none of the thirty-five shotgun and pistol entrance wounds hit Burgos in the front of his body”. Burgos was shot in the back.
It is not uncommon in such cases that police are coached as to how to testify (commonly referred to as “testilying”) even against the evidence in order to save their asses. With full knowledge of the testimony in the McDonalds Bandit case Fyfe testified on behalf of Diallo’s killers. In my opinion, Fyfe seems to arbitrarily use his professional know-how to testify and write not according to the facts but according to his allegiance to the code. In the section of your book entitled “Primed for Action” you clearly show what a clever psychologist can do. Some police are equally as clever. Diallo’s ghost calls out for redemption.
In the Diallo case officers continually testified “ I’m like, alright, definitely something is going on here” “ Don’t make me fucking kill you”, “Gun, he’s got a gun”, “ and Ed was shot” , “he is crouched and he has his hand out and I see a gun” ( Consistent with the testilying in the Burgos case). “It looked like a combat stance, the same one that I was taught in the police academy”. Incidentally Murphy and Fyfe were both Police Academy instructors, Fyfe, I believe, currently heads the training there. “What I seen was an entire weapon”, “my prior experience and training, my prior arrest, dictated to me that this person was pulling a gun”, key words when testitlying. “Gun, he’s got a gun” ad nauseum. Fact -- there was no gun. They never saw a gun, they were never in any danger. They created, orchestrated and dictated the entire scenario, ending in catastrophe, supercharged by testosterone. The victim was silenced. We will never hear the truth of his testimony.
A change of venue, from the Bronx to Albany, the right Judge, a well-selected jury, an expert witness and “justice” is done. The SIU to which the four suspects were assigned, yes they were the suspects, not Diallo, had Carte Blanche to rampage and abuse the citizenry of the Bronx. Diallo was not their first victim that night. Fortunately the others did not end up as tragically as Diallo. Like the Diallo assailants I was often one of four white cops patrolling the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn. On more than one occasion I witnessed the rush to judgment of a black man standing on his own stoop. “Stop the car, stop the car”. When possible I attempted to diffuse the situation by saying with a wink “Nah, he doesn’t fit the description”, apologizing to the tenant affording the other officers an opportunity to save face. I would then return to the car to watch and wait. When my colleagues returned they would deride “Some back-up you are”, “back-up for what, a guy standing in front of his own house?” Their response “you know these niggers, if you toss them good enough you’ll always come up with something”. Forget about the peoples’ rights as law abiding citizens. Amadou Diallo’s rights were simply and clearly abused. Amadou’s ghost calls out for redemption. At the conclusion of the McDonald case, attorney Yagmen argued, “he represented robbers while the police officers’ attorney represented assassins”. Amadou Diallo was neither, he was innocent and he is dead. Don’t desecrate his memory. Let him rest in peace. His killers are known and they walk among us. Their deed will follow them to their graves.
Retired NYPD Detective