3 NYPD Officers Are Fired in Fatal Crash Case
In a case that has spawned angry protests and focused attention on alcohol abuse among police, the city fired three officers Friday accused of drinking with veteran officer Joseph Gray before he allegedly killed three family members as he drove to work drunk.
Gray, 40, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and was released on $250,000 bail.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Joseph Petrosino labeled him an “irresponsible, reckless individual” and declared: “He has disgraced himself and the department.”
Gray, an officer for 15 years, kept his eyes lowered and did not speak during the brief court hearing in Brooklyn. He is suspended without pay but is entitled to remain on the force pending a departmental hearing.
“Most disturbing to the court is the gross lack of responsibility shown by this defendant,” said state Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog.
Gray was taken away in handcuffs, but he posted bail and was released within an hour.
Outside the building stood more than two dozen angry demonstrators.
“My heart is alone,” said Victor Herrera, who arrived with pictures of his wife, their 4-year-old son and a sister-in-law who were killed in the incident. “He does not deserve to be with his family. He wiped out my whole family.”
But inside the courtroom after bail was announced, Gray’s parish priest, Father Eugene Carrella, called him “a family man, a hard-working man. When he is not on duty on the weekends, he brings his children to church.”
Police officials are investigating reports that beer parties were held in a parking lot near the precinct where Gray was stationed in Brooklyn and that he also drank at an off-limits strip club before running a red light and striking the family members with his minivan Saturday night as he headed for work on the overnight shift. He allegedly had a 0.16% blood-alcohol content, well above New York’s 0.10% limit.
His vehicle struck and killed Maria Herrera, 24; her son, Andy; and her 16-year-old sister, Delicia Pena, as they were crossing Third Avenue in Brooklyn. Herrera was eight months’ pregnant, and doctors tried to save the fetus. The loss of the fetus was not included in charges against Gray.
The mother and the stillborn boy were buried in the same coffin.
So far, 17 officers, including the precinct’s commander, have been disciplined. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the police officers who were being punished were cooperating with a departmental investigation. “There’s been no blue wall of silence,” Giuliani said.
Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik said that a dozen officers had been drinking with Gray.
After another judge initially released Gray on his own recognizance earlier in the week, members of the Sunset Park community, where the victims lived, took to the streets in protest.
On a sweltering night, they marched to the 72nd Precinct station house to voice their anger, but the demonstration was orderly.
Kerik fired three of the 17 officers being disciplined because they were already on probation, one for a previous drunken-driving arrest and the others because they had served less than two years on the force.
Kerik charged that two of the officers were with Gray at the Wild Wild West strip club before the incident. The third, he alleged, drank with Gray in a parking lot down the street from the police station.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn. said it would go to court in an effort to overturn the dismissals, which the union labeled “a gross abuse of discretion.”
The commissioner said he is examining methods by which the department investigates incidents involving police officers where alcohol is considered a factor.
But he said he does not believe there is a widespread drinking problem within the department.
“Police officers by virtue of their job have to be held to a certain standard,” Kerik said, “and they can’t be out there arresting people, writing people summonses for alcohol-related incidents when they themselves do it. It’s inappropriate behavior.”
On Friday, City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone said he would schedule hearings to examine the issue of alcoholism among police officers.
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