Why is James P. Hall the NYPD's Chief of Patrol?

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | When Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week let Cathie Black know that her tenure of less than 100 days as schools chancellor was at an end, the move was widely seen as a rare acknowledgment of error out of this City Hall –– one calculated to help stanch the hemorrhaging decline in the third term incumbent’s approval ratings.

Given Bloomberg’s willingness to move on from an unfortunate pick for the Education Department’s high-profile helm, what are we to make of the continued rise of Police Department Chief of Patrol James P. Hall?

In a unanimous March 31 ruling by the state’s highest bench, the Court of Appeals, two police officers who filed lawsuits charging they suffered career-derailing retaliation at Hall’s hands for standing up to him in defense of a third officer blacklisted on suspicion of being gay had their jury awards, each in excess of half a million dollars, affirmed.

Those awards had already been upheld by the mid-level Appellate Division, which has also sustained a jury award of just under half a million dollars to Robert Sorrenti, the officer Hall rejected for a post in the NYPD’s Youth Services section. At the time he interceded in that personnel matter, Hall told Lori Albunio, one of the two cops whose retaliation claims were upheld last month, “there was something not right about that guy” and that he “found out some fucked up shit about Sorrenti and… wouldn’t want him around children.” Hall told the other retaliation claimant, Thomas Connors, that there was something going on between Sorrenti and another male officer to whom he had loaned money, and that he “wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that Sorrenti is going to be working around kids.”

It’s not hard to figure out what was going on here. As Colleen Meenan, a civil rights attorney and former police officer who represented Sorrenti –– who, she said, is not gay –– in his lawsuit, told the New York Times in the wake of the Court of Appeals ruling, “Police managers perceived him to be a gay man and stereotyped him as a pedophile.”

Let’s repeat that last sentence.

Police managers perceived Sorrenti to be a gay man and stereotyped him as a pedophile.

New York City has seen an epidemic of horrific anti-gay violence in the past several years –– the luring of a gay man to a remote Brooklyn beach where he met a tragic death because his attackers chased him onto the Belt Parkway, the brutal murder of two Ecuadoran brothers mistaken for gay men, the imprisonment and torture of gay men last fall in the Bronx, and a steady stream of anti-gay incidents, many of them involving disturbing levels of violence, in every one of the boroughs.

The mayor has often shown admirable determination to end such heinous crimes, and so has his police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.

Yet Kelly and his boss Bloomberg are apparently unmoved by the testimony about one of the department’s most prominent officials in these three lawsuits, where the plaintiffs have prevailed at every step in five separate courtrooms –– and the cost to the city is upwards of $1.7 million, without counting untallied attorney fees that surely drive that price tag well over $2 million.

If the city is willing to put up with this sort of liability in the interests of protecting a 30-year veteran, what kind of follow-through from Bloomberg’s and Kelly’s well-intentioned outrage at bias violence can we expect among the NYPD’s rank and file?

Asked to comment on Hall’s continuing rise in the department –– just 13 months ago, he was promoted from head of the transit bureau to his current lofty post –– spokesman Paul J. Browne told Gay City News, “Chief Hall is an unbiased, highly decorated, outstanding commander, with an unblemished record. The fact remains that the police officer’s failure to receive the assignment he requested had nothing to do whatsoever with sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Further, there was no retaliation against the officer’s advocates.”

That statement cannot be squared with the rulings of court after court in these cases. Just what exactly constitutes a “blemish” in the eyes of NYPD brass?

Cathie Black was not the right person to run the nation’s largest public school system, but she was no James Hall. Where is the accountability at the NYPD?