MOUNT VERNON, NY — February 26, 2021 — A day after the February 18, 2021, publication in Esquire Magazine of ongoing allegations of corruption among Mount Vernon Police Department (MVPD) narcotics officers broke, the City of Mount Vernon’s progress report dated February 18, 2021, on the internal investigation was made available to some in the news media. The supervising sergeant at the head of the defunct narcotics division had been acquitted.
Acquittal signifies rightness. The sergeant according to his departmental standards is in compliance and is free of any sanction, suspension, or disciplinary censure.
Then, on February 20, 2021, the whistleblower whose secret recordings ignited the probe, was promoted to sergeant.
A promotion is a recognition of a job well-done. It signifies an officer is in good standing, capable of leadership, worthy of having subordinates emulate his/her behavior, one who can make sound decisions, and is principled and stable in disposition.
On February 21, 2021, the public began a process of reconciliation of a seemingly paradoxical promotion of the accuser and the acquittal of the accused.
According to news media reports, the whistleblower contends, that the supervising sergeant went along with the incidences of alleged corruption by his subordinate because of the high productivity numbers which the subordinate generated. These numbers refer to the allegations of questionable arrests, and civil rights violations of people over an extended number of years. The result of the internal investigation has proven this to be false. The deputy police commissioner in his televised statement discourages any skepticism surrounding this outcome.
The skepticism is not about the outcome, as the sergeant should enjoy his vindication and be allowed to restore his good name, reputation, and stellar supervisory achievements, since he has been acquitted without any undue pressure being put on the scale of justice.
The skepticism surrounds the sequence and methodology used to arrive at this outcome. Much like solving an equation, but the formula used does not support the answer. It becomes a teachable moment, either in honesty, if cheating is suspected, or one in competency, if critical steps are ignored, misunderstood, or overlooked.
Is it possible to arrive at a disposition regarding the supervisor without knowing how a subordinate could have singularly been accused of doing all these egregious things in secrecy and in oblivion to his supervisor? It would appear that each allegation would have to be investigated and time-lined before even corroborating or disputing the supervisor’s firsthand knowledge, much less his knowledge learned from any other sources. The subordinate would have had to be himself acquitted, but this acquittal would need to occur before his supervisor could be cleared.
In the Criminal Justice System, lives, liberties, and freedom are calculated in numerical values which drives production and creates the types of incidences which are alleged in the whistleblower’s complaint. This is a systemic flaw of the conveyor–belt mode of operation engrained in a system driven by numbers, dollars, private prisons, and the ‘winning’ of cases. In such a system, whenever overzealousness results in high productivity through questionable and illegal methods and tactics, it is never through the action of any one person. The system demands it, sees when it occurs, encourages, and enables it, and applauds those who engage in it.
Because of this systemic flaw, the only logical outcome following the supervisor’s acquittal is that the subordinate must be, or already have been acquitted of most of the more serious allegations published in the George Joseph report. He could not have done these things unabated, alone, and in complete secrecy. He is not Houdini (no pun intended).
MVPD as an institution of the criminal justice system, to its credit has announced its first steps in embracing criminal justice reform. As an analogy, car manufactures that employed a similar type of conveyor-belt operation as in the criminal justice system must often engage in recalls whenever incidences of malfunction, fires, accidents, and deaths, result from defective or poorly aligned automobile parts. Sometimes with only a few such occurrences, retailers and surviving family members spend years in litigation trying to disprove that the harm suffered in a particular vehicle was not due to their own negligence. Once the incidences keep multiplying, an inevitable recall becomes the only course of action by which the brand can restore its integrity and trustworthiness.
Recall, is time consuming, expensive, and shamefully revealing as it might be, is inevitable for change to be effective within the criminal justice system. Questionable cases which represent people’s lives, liberties and freedoms cannot be rectified by future reform alone. New policies designed to reimagine or proactively prevent injustices within the criminal justice system, does not repair any harms, injustices, or perceived wrongs of the past. Much like the car manufactureres, without recall within the criminal justice system, there will be continuous occurrences of fires, crashes and deaths resulting from misaligned or defective cases regarding cars.
Accepting that the City of Mount Vernon did due diligence by way of a competent, transparent, thorough, and objective internal tribunal to acquit the sergeant of knowingly enabling, turning a blind eye, failing to supervise, or even operating under duress of his subordinate, we must then question the appropriateness of the promotion of the whistleblower.
The question does not arise from the whistleblower’s worthiness to be promoted, but there is no logical formula to explain how we ended up with the acquittal of the accused and the elevation of the accuser, simultaneously and paradoxically.
The acquittal of the sergeant makes the promotion appear placatory, much like the proverbial ‘throwing of a bone’ to either appease the masses and/or influence any further course of action which the whistleblower may be inclined to pursue. It also creates skepticism as to whether the whistleblower will genuinely be supported to succeed in this new position of leadership if he is unwilling to show profound and continuous gratitude for this ‘bone.’ In addition, the acquittal and promotion occurring together puts the whistleblower’s integrity into question and under future undue scrutiny as he advances in his career.
The City of Mount Vernon has also provided its conclusion of the departmental investigation before the criminal investigation ended. Besides this legal hopscotch, as implied in Garrity v. New Jersey (1967), it raises another question of influence which the Westchester County District Attorney (WCDA) has stated will not occur. But instead of having to convince the public that the internal investigation will bear no influence on the criminal investigation, it would have been more prudent for both entities to have agreed on not creating this scenario in the first place in conducting and releasing an internal investigation result, ahead of a criminal investigation outcome.
This is indicative of another flaw of the working relationships between the institutions which comprise the criminal justice system which includes the appearance of the breakdown in communication, must be a balance between relationships and communication and recognizing when such relationships require individual actors to recuse themselves from certain investigations. Leaders within the criminal justice system cannot allow conflict of interest to be dismissed by invoking plausible deniability.
Reform within the criminal justice system must embrace the true meaning of transparency among all agencies and components of the system. Trust cannot be rebuilt with an obscured version of transparency, in which the public is told to trust the outcome without proof and be not skeptical even when one plus one does not equate to two.