Did Ray Kelly empower Chief Homophobe also an allegedly a bungler but Kelly tight with his daddy? Is Bratton just more of the same?
Chief of Patrol James Hall
Why this top cop deserves the boot
By Brad Hamilton — Thursday, February 20th, 2014 ‘Not Just-Us.Com’ / New York, NY
(Op-Ed / Commentary)
(One I missed)
This month police commissioner Bill Bratton got rid of detectives’ boss Phil Pulaski and Internal Affairs chief Charles Campisi.
Next on his list should be Chief of Patrol James Hall, a gay-hating bungler who shares a philosophy with the Putin henchman who warned homosexuals to keep their hands off kids at the Olympics.
The meteoric rise of Hall, whose bias and vindictiveness cost the city $1.5 million, is a reminder that under former commissioner Ray Kelly performance sometimes had nothing to with where you landed on the totem pole.
Kelly cast himself as a stickler for professionalism and was a big fan of Hall’s. When he promoted him to three-star chief and put him in charge of the NYPD’s 20,000 street cops in 2010, he gushed about Hall’s qualities. “He’s a superb tactician and an excellent, experienced manager,” he said.
Kelly didn’t mention that Hall’s father, a former NYPD big shot, was once Kelly’s boss and good friend. Or that just about anyone who served in the Marines, as Kelly and Hall both did, can do almost no wrong in his eyes.
And he certainly didn’t bring up a notorious incident in 2001 that revealed Hall to be an absolutely lousy supervisor with views one might expect from a Third World despot.
Sergeant Robert Sorrenti no longer works as a cop. Hall drove him out of the NYPD because he assumed that Sorrenti was gay, orchestrating an ignominious end to a career based on Hall’s homophobia and paranoia. Turns out he had it wrong. One would think that if you’re going to target a subordinate for his sexual orientation, you might at least try to get your facts straight.
The story of Sorrenti’s demise is as sad as it is convoluted.
For whatever reason, Hall, 53, concluded that Sorrenti, 47, and his ex-partner were both homosexual and up to no good. Indeed, he was not entirely wrong about the former partner, who was something of a con artist and probably never should have been a cop. According to Sorrenti, this partner developed a “sugar daddy,” an older man who gave him cash to fund a “rich lifestyle.”
“The cop wasn’t gay,” Sorrenti said. “But he was out there conning this older man, who paid all his bills. They put me with him as his partner. Unfortunately, he had a bad record.”
Sorrenti, who did not know this other cop well, nevertheless got suckered into loaning him $10,000 to buy a motorcycle. It was a bad decision. When the loan was not repaid, Sorrenti began pressing for the money. His partner filed a harassment complaint. An internal probe revealed the truth, and this partner was soon gone from the NYPD.
That unfortunate incident in 1998 became a problem three years later when Hall was asked to approve the hiring of Sorrenti for a job with the Youth Services Division. It’s a unit that runs the Police Athletic League, the anti-drug effort DARE and other programs for kids. Many consider it be prestigious.
By most accounts, Sorrenti was eminently qualified for the position, which was to head DARE in Staten Island.
His supporters included the division’s commander, Capt. Lori Albunio, and itsoperations lieutenant, Tom Connors. Albunio liked Sorrenti’s multiple commendations and that he’d served in Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
“He was an excellent candidate – professional, sincere, honest,” she said. “He’d been with a precinct and highway patrol. He was a veteran of Desert Storm.”
But the interview with Hall did not go well.
Hall grilled Sorrenti on his relationship status – the now-married father of two was single back then – and asked probing questions about how he spent his free time. He also wanted to know about this loan he’d made to his ex-partner.
Sorrenti didn’t catch on to the problem, but his supporters were soon made aware. Hall dragged Albunio and Connors into his office and raged at them.
He claimed to have learned some “f_u_c_ked up s_h_i_t” about their candidate and said “something’s not right about” Sorrenti. Despite the sergeant’s strong record, Hall said, “I won’t be able to sleep at night knowing [he’s] going to be around kids.”
“I told Hall he was making a mistake,” said Albunio. Connors agreed: “I said Sorrenti was more than qualified.” When they broke the news to Sorrenti, he was stunned.
“I found out from them that he’d had made this statement that he didn’t want me around children and I was pissed,” said Sorrenti, who went to Hall and attempted to clear the air. “I tried to explain that I’m not gay but he denied saying it.”
Hall hired someone else for the job, then launched a campaign to get rid of all three cops.
Albunio was bumped down to the No. 2 job at Transit District 1. Connors was transferred to a pencil-pushing position. Sorrenti was subjected to constant harassment. All eventually quit in disgust, only to find vindication in the courts in 2006.
Their suit, which went to a jury verdict, awarded the three $1.5 million – half a million each, approximately, for being subjected to James Hall’s prejudice and retaliation.
This is what Kelly calls an excellent manager?
Here’s a detailed argument why Kelly was dead wrong about Hall and why Bratton should fast-track him to retirement:
• Hall’s ability to gather accurate information is suspect. This is no small failing when working in law-enforcement. His erroneous assumption about Sorrenti could have been countered by examining official records and interviewing those familiar with the sergeant’s background. Hall just didn’t care enough to investigate thoroughly. And he apparently was guided by the preposterous belief that all homosexuals are pedophiles.
• He denied a worthy candidate promotion. When talented people get passed over for top jobs for no sensible reason (or bogus ones), they tend to become resentful or pack up and leave. The ability to keep good workers is a sign of a successful manager. Hall pushed out three excellent cops.
• Hall engaged in actionable prejudice based on a subordinate’s presumed sexual orientation. When a supervisor breaks the law and costs the city $1.5 million, he should be terminated or demoted. Instead, he was promoted. Now, Hall’s bias could handicap the NYPD’s efforts in a city with the largest gay population in the U.S.
• He orchestrated a cruel campaign of retaliation based on personal animus. The careers of Albunio and Connors were ended because the two had the temerity to back someone the boss didn’t like. And he didn’t listen when they told him he was wrong. That’s just petulant and certainly not a sign of good management.
Sorrenti has all but forgotten about this former life in blue. “I got over it,” he said. “I retired and moved on.”
Connors is not so forgiving when it comes to Hall.
“To encounter a man like this – it was incredible,” he said. “And to see how the Police Department protected him and promoted him was devastating.”
What’s up with Hall now? A key recent assignment was to head the NYPD’s response to a rash of gay-bashing violence in the West Village, which included the murder of a 32-year-old man on May 18, 2013. The spike spurred outrage last summer and fall, prompting Kelly to announce that the police department would respond with stepped up patrols. All under Hall’s command.
Months later, no arrests have been announced. If the cops caught and charged anyone, they haven’t said. Has Hall done everything in his power to stop this crime wave? That is difficult to say. Even Sorrenti was not willing to make any snap judgments. “I’m sure he’s not stupid enough to show any bias now,” he said. “The light was shed on him.”
But there are bigger issues here than Hall’s incompetence.
It’s not sufficient for Bratton to find someone better for the job. Getting rid of Hall alone won’t address the problem of undeserved promotions. The new leader must take a fresh look at the top people under his command – and develop new policies for identifying those who deserve added responsibility. He’s already made one step in the right direction by bringing back into the fold a handful of cops unfairly sidelined by Kelly.
There’s no way to completely eliminate political influence from a police department. It will part of the equation as long as humans are in charge. Nor should shared experiences automatically be discounted as a possible plus when hiring and promoting.
But if meritocracy and professionalism are to trump insider connections, Bratton needs to be a good listener, open minded and willing to dig the truth.
Which would be a welcome departure from the Ray Kelly way.