Court blocks NYPD bid to fire whistleblower as commissioner brags of ‘awesome powers’
Schoolcraft has said he began wearing a microphone to defend himself against citizens’ allegations that he used racial slurs while policing the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a poor and primarily African-American section of Brooklyn. By wearing the device from June 1, 2008 until October 15, 2009, though, he soon began recording directions from NYPD higher-ups who pressured officers to fill monthly arrest quotas, which is illegal.
“He wants three seat belt [summonses], one cell phone, and 11 others,” one police sergeant is heard saying on the tape. “I don’t know what the number is, but that’s what [an executive officer] wants.”
Upon complaining of corrupt policies and wrongful arrests, Schoolcraft has said, he began receiving threats from fellow police officers and was eventually reassigned to a desk job.
Three weeks after he told the NYPD the damning recordings existed, Schoolcraft’s home was raided by a large group of officers who forcibly checked him into a psychiatric ward in Queens citing suicidal tendencies. Approximately twelve of Schoolcraft’s superiors were on hand at his home. Reportedly among them was Paul Browne, a top aide to Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose presence would indicate Kelly knew of and approved of the raid.
After Schoolcraft refused treatment, the officers guarding him at a Queens hospital handcuffed him to a bed and prevented him from using a telephone. He was held there for three days until his father tracked him down and signed him out. The Schoolcraft family later received a bill for $7,185 for his stay at the facility.
Schoolcraft eventually turned over his recordings, including of the night when he was dragged to the hospital, to the Village Voice, which dubbed the audio “The NYPD Tapes.” In 2009 and 2010, the NYPD charged Schoolcraft with approximately two dozen charges of leaving work early, failing to respond to department summonses, failure to obey an order, being away without leave, and others.
The department could have tried and fired Schoolcraft in early 2010, the Voice reported, but presumably suspended him instead because of the bad publicity that would come as a natural result of dismissing a man for exposing corruption.
“I think within the precinct, he was probably seen as a little bit eccentric,” Graham Rayman, a reporter for the Village Voice, told This American Life in 2010. “And also, he wasn’t going with the program. And anyone who doesn’t go with the program is automatically marked.”
For nearly four years he has been on leave without pay, waiting for the start of a federal lawsuit he filed against the department for intimidation and retaliation.
In response, the NYPD filed its own administrative suit seeking to fire Schoolcraft, a move Schoolcraft’s lawyers said will unduly influence the verdict in the original suit. The department was blocked from filing that suit this week.
“You have the power to arrest, to take away someone’s liberty. You have the power and the authority to use force and sometimes deadly force,” Kelly said this week in a speech to this year's graduating class of the NYPD academy. “Now these are awesome powers.”
The commissioner, quoted by CBS, also said that different ethnic groups are “not always happy” with the department and that “all it takes is one errant police officer” to undermine the “great institution” that has been built by generations.