Peace Officers

Coming from the South Bronx, we had some reservations about the cop on the beat, even if he was your uncle, but when I became a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, I worked with the most dedicated public servants in law enforcement.

Michael “Scotty” Gray was from DEA, and a former Marine who sought to fight in every military action he could after ‘Nam from 1974 when I first met him until he was rebuffed when he sought to serve in the second Iraq war.

A young prosecutor learns from the best agents.

Scotty was one of those loyal agents and, after all, a Marine’s motto is “semper fi.”

Scotty and I had this difficult drug case, Spanish spoken overhear tapes with radio music blasting in the background, confounding our ability to hear what was said, requiring a translation, squinting our ears to detect what they were actually saying amidst that tinny sounding music noise, and, in addition, to make matters worse, one cooperating witness had been killed

When we were preparing the case for indictment, Scotty warned not to mention the death to another witness we had before the grand jury.  The first that Scotty learned his advice was “disregarded,” was when he heard the witness scream hysterically through the walls of the grand jury room.

When we met afterwards, he said, “You told her?”  I nodded agreement, somewhat sheepishly.  Scotty rolled his eyes.

Scotty worked the case, spending many a night helping with transcripts we translated, preparing witnesses, Xeroxing documents, doing anything that needed to be done to prepare the case.  And we won a hard-fought conviction.

One weekend during our preparation, Scotty came to the federal courthouse at Foley Square, and showed off his young son in a carriage.  We’ve been friends ever since.

Another investigator, Carl Bogan, was a bald-headed former City Detective and the inspiration for Kojack, a popular tv show.  Bogan served a subpoena in the Bronx in a summer feeding scandal (no show employees, spoiled food, kickbacks and even the bribery of a member of the U.S. Congress).  The witness Carl served was on the witness stand late one night in court and, at a break in my cross examination, Carl took me aside, and said, “she was playing the numbers when I served her.”  But how do I prove it?, I asked.  Carl said, “I picked up the betting slip and kept it in a shoe box.”  The witness’ hands shook when showed her long forgotten betting slips, recovered from one of Carl’s shoe boxes where he kept such things, never knowing what piece of paper might make the difference in a case.

Years later, when I represented the Accused instead, l found that the best peace officers in court remembered, only remembered what they saw, if they wrote it down, and the best would never guess at what else may have occurred.

Out of the courtroom, you have probably seen officers who are really serving the community, who save the driver who swerves on a highway from hurting himself or someone else or working the case of some errant husband doing a “sonny liston” on his wife.

All you have to do is think for a moment about an officer on a traffic stop, why he touches the trunk, looks carefuly, uncertain what he can expect when he walks up alongside the stranger he stopped who is driving that car.

You may have had a car die on you, and had a local officer give you a lift.  I did.

Like many, I was once pulled over and asked, of course, why I thought I was pulled over, and had no idea.  The officer said, I hadn’t updated my inspection tag.

I had a case in court only a few weeks ago, and the officer went out of his way describing how he tried to avoid arresting the client, and what he said to him, and, I thought, he was really trying to help the client, despite himself.

Officers have explained how they used some judgment to consider whether they had probable cause and exercised what discretion they had, and disposed of cases short of arrest or with a some lesser and more apt charge than the worst they could say.

The men in blue, khaki and civilian dress study hard and long to become an officer.  The best work to get it right, to do what’s right, by themselves and by the public, and to be “peace officers.”

Lots of good men and women, like Scotty and Carl, and those down home and local, are there to serve, and to keep the peace, and for that we can’t thank them enough.