Here’s what happens when police believe closing cases, and getting promotions, raises and kudos, are more important than actually getting the real bad guys. The fact that this guy is not in prison for what he did to so many innocent people is appalling.
At Burdick Law, we have worked vigorously to expose lies and have succeeded repeatedly in demonstrating to juries when agents have lied. In one case, a man was charged with 9 separate charges of extortionate credit transactions – loansharking – under this statute:
He had been loaning money at 4% interest per week to honest hard-working people who had been unable to get bank loans for emergencies – replacement of front windows broken by rock-throwers – because of where they lived, or their credit history. The government had this defendant dead to rights, with a dozen or more recorded phone conversations between the defendant and his main coconspirator — who was cooperating with the government by then – during which he discussed tactics to collect the “interest.” Like: “Do whatever you have to but get that vig (interest),” including breaking arms and legs.
The government’s key witness, however, decided to puff himself up on the stand, exaggerate his importance to the conspiracy, and made numerous ridiculous claims that were easily disproven. Instead of letting that go, the government put an agent back on the stand to try to “rehabilitate” their witness — but through vigorous cross-examination of the agent, the jury came to believe he was not being honest with them. And that was that — not guilty on all nine charges.
This New York Times article lays out just how bad some police are. It’s a terrifying example – one of too many, unfortunately – of police gone wild:
Behind his back, Stephen W. Chmil was called Robin — the quiet sidekick to his more handsome, daring and celebrated partner.
Batman was Louis Scarcella, a star detective known for making arrests and getting convictions in the crime-plagued Brooklyn of the 1980s and ’90s. He and Detective Chmil spent a dozen years together as part of a roving homicide unit in Brooklyn North that investigated more than 500 murders a year.
“I don’t know who loved being a detective more — him or me,” Mr. Chmil recalled.
Their legacy was deeply tarnished in March when they were accused of lying and cheating to make a high-profile case stick. At the Brooklyn district attorney’s request, a judge ruled that the man convicted in that case, who spent 23 years in prison, should go free.
That, and misconduct allegations found in other cases, prompted District Attorney Charles J. Hynes to reopen the cases of 56 people arrested by Detective Scarcella who were convicted at trial.
Even in scandal, Mr. Scarcella stole the spotlight. Despite at least a half-dozen claims of innocence from men Detective Chmil (pronounced Ch-MILL) investigated, his cases were not included in the highly unusual review by the district attorney’s office.
But court records and interviews show the same pattern of cajoled and inconsistent witnesses appeared in Detective Chmil’s work as in Detective Scarcella’s. The Exoneration Initiative, a nonprofit group in Manhattan, has documented at least five cases of Detective Chmil’s that raise significant questions; no other New York City detective’s name appears more frequently than Mr. Chmil’s in the Initiative’s caseload of 300 convictions that are deemed probably wrongful. Witnesses and convicts have said they believe Detective Chmil invented confessions, coached witnesses and persuaded others to change their descriptions of perpetrators to match the suspect in custody — even in cases he worked without Detective Scarcella.
Mr. Chmil, who is 64 and retired, forcefully defended his work and his partner’s. At the same time, he was more apt to concede mistakes than Mr. Scarcella has been in interviews, saying the crush of murders made it nearly impossible to avoid occasional sloppiness.
“They can look at all my cases,” Mr. Chmil said in one of a series of interviews this year.
“I don’t see them finding anything that was done wrong. I sleep at night. I’m a Christian. I never intentionally locked up the wrong person.”
He said he and Detective Scarcella were busy enough with the guilty people that they had no cause to lock up the innocent. If they were lax with cases, it was the ones that received scant attention and went unsolved, because the death rate kept rising, he said.
A native of Staten Island, Mr. Chmil joined the Police Department in 1968. He was assigned to the Brooklyn North homicide squad in the late 1980s. He was paired with Detective Scarcella, and the two became fast friends. Detective Scarcella, a runner, encouraged the plumper Detective Chmil to take up marathons. They ran, solved cases and took vacations together.
“He was the best partner I ever had,” Mr. Chmil said. “One thing was, Louis is a good-looking guy. Louis got more confessions and statements out of women. Me, I’m frumpy and balding. People trusted Louis.”
In their 12 years together they gained reputations as detectives who worked hard and brought in suspects, but were willing to bend the rules. If they did not want prosecutors or defense lawyers to know about a particular suspect, for example, they would not turn in any reports for weeks, an investigation by the district attorney’s office showed.
In 1992, they were caught on video letting a jailhouse informant out of custody to meet his girlfriend, go shopping and dine in restaurants.
“We shouldn’t have done it. It was improper,” Mr. Chmil said. “We were reprimanded.”
The defendant in that murder case was David Ranta, a drug addict who was accused of killing a rabbi for his car. Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Michael F. Baum, remembers running into Detectives Scarcella and Chmil at a bar shortly after the 1992 conviction and accusing them of knowingly jailing an innocent man.
“Chmil said to me, ‘If he didn’t do this, he did something else.’ ” Mr. Baum recalled.
Mr. Ranta was released in March after 23 years in prison after it was revealed that one of the two detectives — it was unclear who — told a witness whom to pick in the lineup.
“These two guys were out of control,” Mr. Baum said. “They were slapping around witnesses, bringing in junkies, paying for testimony with crack. This reminds me of cases from ‘Prince of the City,’ ” he said, referring to the 1981 film about corrupt New York City police officers.
The detectives investigated four of Mr. Baum’s clients, who all were subsequently cleared after trial.
Given a Script
Mr. Baum also represented a crack-cocaine addict named Jeffrey Campbell, who was arrested in late 1985 for robbing a shoe store on Fulton Street.
Mr. Campbell told Mr. Baum that earlier that summer, when he had been caught running from a murder scene, detectives had pressured him to testify against their suspect. “They told him that unless he testified, they were going to set him up on a phony charge,” Mr. Baum said.
Mr. Baum thought Mr. Campbell was paranoid. But then he interviewed the shoe salesman who was robbed. He heard a different version of the same story: the salesman said the police had coerced him into implicating Mr. Campbell, who had not committed the crime.
The salesman refused to testify, and the charge against Mr. Campbell was dropped.
But he was arrested again two months later in a different case. That time, records show, Mr. Campbell got out of jail by helping the police solve the drug-related homicide of a man named Michael Jennings in August 1985. The suspect in that case was Valance Cole, a Guyanese social club owner. Mr. Cole was convicted, but not before encountering Detective Chmil.
“I remember riding in the police car with Chmil and another guy and them talking about how they were closing all these cases so fast and other officers were not closing cases,” Mr. Cole, 67, said in a telephone interview from Buffalo, where he was being held in immigration custody.
In 1994, Mr. Campbell, dying of AIDS, suddenly recanted. He said prosecutors had promised to drop charges if he falsely blamed Mr. Cole for the murder. Detective Chmil, he said in a sworn statement, gave him a script.
“They gave me a piece of paper with what to say,” he wrote in large, childlike cursive. “The name of the detective who gave me the piece of paper I mentioned in my statement was pronounced as Camill.”
Detective Scarcella played no role in this investigation.
Mr. Campbell’s bid for freedom failed. A judge did not find the recantation credible and rejected Mr. Cole’s request for a new trial. Years later, another judge acknowledged that Mr. Cole was “probably innocent” but refused to overturn his conviction.
Mr. Chmil declined to discuss the case with The New York Times, but in a recent article in New York magazine, he denied wrongdoing in it. He compared Mr. Campbell to another witness used by Detective Scarcella in several other cases, Teresa Gomez. Ms. Gomez, a crack-cocaine addict who has since died, claimed to have seen several unrelated murders.
“Campbell was a lot like her,” Mr. Chmil told the magazine. “He was a street guy. I know I dealt with him a few times. Sometimes he’d tell you the truth, sometimes he wouldn’t.”
‘As Much a Red Flag’
Among the cases in which Detective Chmil was the lead detective while working with Detective Scarcella was one against a man named Nelson I. Cruz, who was 16 when he was convicted of the 1998 killing of a man in East New York, Brooklyn.
Mr. Cruz met Detective Chmil in the interrogation room after he was arrested; the detective had a confession ready.
“Chmil said, ‘Sign it and you go home,’ ” Mr. Cruz said in a telephone interview from Green Haven Correctional Facility.
Mr. Cruz refused. The detective crumpled the paper and threw it in the suspect’s face.
Detective Chmil claimed later that the defendant made a “spontaneous” confession on the way out of the police station after his lawyer had left. Mr. Cruz’s lawyer poked holes in Mr. Chmil’s account, and the judge did not allow the confession at trial, records show. A police officer told Detective Chmil that he saw someone else firing a gun at the scene; Mr. Cruz insists that he was not there.
Mr. Cruz, now 32, has been in prison since he was in 10th grade.
“I think Chmil is just as much a red flag,” Mr. Cruz’s lawyer, Rebecca E. Freedman, said. “What Scarcella was doing, Chmil was doing.”
The Legal Aid Society, which represents 20 of the people whose cases were reopened by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, is concerned that the prosecutors’ review is too narrow, because it is limited to cases in which Detective Scarcella testified in court.
“There are literally hundreds of cases that could be affected,” said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society. “It stands to reason that these 50 are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s enough evidence that Scarcella may not have acted alone. A fair look would require a much broader inquiry.”
Mr. Hynes’s office said it had added about five cases to the review since it was announced in May. The office declined to comment on any cases or say whether consideration was ever given to reviewing Detective Chmil’s investigations.
Mr. Hynes lost his re-election bid in November. The incoming district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, suggested during the race that he would be open to widening the scope of the review.
Mr. Chmil said the detectives had received harsh treatment from the news media. In several interviews this year, he and Mr. Scarcella were emphatic: They said they never framed anyone, manufactured confessions or coerced false testimony.
Mr. Chmil said they might have raised their voices, banged tables and used deception when appropriate, but had never used force against suspects.
Drug addicts and recanting witnesses, he said, were a fact of life in the 1980s and ’90s. “We weren’t a bunch of cowboys out there,” he said. “The bottom line is, you got to go with what you got.”
Mr. Chmil said there were 10 to 12 civilian review board complaints against him during his 33 years on the police force and at least one suit charging false arrest. Mr. Chmil left the department in 2001 and later joined two police departments in Virginia, where he is now retired.
“We had an unbelievable reputation for getting things done,” Mr. Chmil said. “I’m not saying we didn’t make mistakes.”