Cop who made tapes accuses NYPD of false arrest
Adrian Schoolcraft made hundreds of hours of secret tapes while on duty
By Colleen Long and Tom Hays
NEW YORK — Shouts followed the pounding on the apartment door: "Adrian! Adrian!"
It was Halloween night last year, but the scene outside patrolman Adrian Schoolcraft's home had nothing to do with trick-or-treating. The unannounced visitors were fellow New York Police Department officers from the Emergency Service Unit — men trained to capture dangerous suspects once they're cornered.
But wasn't this the home of a cop who said he just went home sick?
Hearing the commotion outside, Schoolcraft did what had become second-nature to him: He clicked on a tape recorder, then whispered into it.
"All right. ... ESU is here."
As several armed officers entered the apartment, a ranking NYPD officer found Schoolcraft resting on his bed — and gave him a scolding.
"Adrian ... you didn't hear us knocking on that door?" Deputy Chief Michael Marino can be heard saying on tape.
"No," Schoolcraft replies, saying he had taken Nyquil.
"For the last couple hours?" Marino asks.
"No ... Why would I expect anyone to knock on my door, chief?" Schoolcraft asks, sounding groggy.
"I don't know, Adrian, but if you hear somebody knocking normally you get up and answer it; they were kicking on that door loud and yelling."
"I wasn't feeling well ...."
As the conversation goes on, Marino tells Schoolcraft he's showing worrisome signs of agitation.
"Chief...," he replies, "if you were woken up in your house how would you behave? What is this, Russia?"
Schoolcraft's account of the messy episode that unfolded next bumps against the NYPD's carefully crafted image as a fine-tuned crime fighting machine.
His description of being taken in handcuffs to a psychiatric ward that night suggests the nation's largest police force could have a vindictive underbelly. He claims that cops risk retribution when they try, as he did, to blow the whistle on supervisors' faking of crime statistics to make the stats look better.
To back up his allegations, Schoolcraft made hundreds of hours of secret tapes while on duty — everything from roll calls to locker room chatter to bosses yelling at him. The tapes, along with medical records and other documents, were supplied to The Associated Press.
Police officials say Schoolcraft's allegations about ticket quotas and fudged stats were taken seriously, but he was uncooperative in an investigation of them. They also view his case as an isolated incident, not a brewing corruption scandal.
Legitimate whistleblower or not, Schoolcraft would pay dearly following the Halloween encounter. After what he describes as a frightening, involuntary hospital stay, he was suspended from the force. He's gone into self-exile in upstate New York while his lawyer pursues a $50 million civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Schoolcraft has of late been on a crusade, doing multiple interviews and starting a website, http://www.schoolcraftjustice.com, to promote his cause and encourage other officers to report misconduct. His story was first reported in the New York Daily News, after which the Village Voice published a series of articles.
Parts of his story — like the deputy chief's foul-mouthed order to have him hauled out of his home — might sound sketchy. But there's one thing: It's all on tape.
"Just take him," Marino can be heard demanding. "I can't f------ stand him anymore."
Eight years ago, when Schoolcraft joined the NYPD, it was enjoying a decade-long decline in serious crime that made it the envy of departments across the country. Murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts together had fallen more than 60 percent since 1993, a trend that continues today.
Part of the formula for success has been CompStat — a program to squash spikes in crimes, petty and otherwise, before they get out of control. Patterns are tracked by computer. Patrols are deployed based on where and when criminals are most active. Precinct commanders are judged mercilessly on the results at CompStat meetings at police headquarters.
Critics say the strict accountability has created the temptation to record felonies as misdemeanors — or sometimes not to record them at all. In recent years, a handful of commanders have been demoted or transferred amid allegations of cooking the books.
"The years of crime going down has put incredible pressure on everyone in the NYPD," said criminologist Eli Silverman. "The police department is fighting its own success."
The NYPD stands by its numbers, saying the instances of manipulating stats are minute in a city where more than 2,000 serious crimes are reported each week. A special unit regularly audits the figures to protect accuracy.
But officers insist the fudging exists. Silverman and a fellow researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, John Eterno, recently published a study based on 491 surveys of former NYPD captains that said they felt pressure to downgrade crimes, put off reports, anything to keep the stats down.
Silverman believes CompStat is a good idea turned on its head.
"You need accountability, and you need timely intelligence," he said. "But now it's become all about the numbers. You just have to produce. Numbers are the bottom line — where it should be good policing."
Another way numbers come into play: The NYPD allows commanders to set "production goals" for ticket writing and arrests for underperforming officers.
Union officials say the goals really are arbitrary quotas, and have accused the department of violating rules barring punishment of cops who don't meet them. Police officials deny that, saying tickets are written only when there's a need for it.
Schoolcraft supporters say that's where more recent recordings — made by another commander in his Brooklyn precinct since his story broke — come in.
One captures a captain setting specific totals for tickets citing double-parking, driving without a seat belt and parking in bus stops. "You, as bosses, have to demand this and have to count it. ... I really don't have a problem firing people."
Another ranking officer shares his concern about the consequences of not making the numbers.
"Everybody took a shot at me at CompStat, like a pinata last time, so I'm expecting that again."
The same commander warns about wire-wearing officers like Schoolcraft. He also gives them a specific label.
Schoolcraft isn't from New York. He doesn't talk like a cop, in a thick city accent. He's bulky and imposing, but has a soft handshake. His hair, once closely cropped, is now growing out. Since his suspension nearly a year ago, he hasn't had a job. He receives no pay from the NYPD because he does not report for work. He works on his case every day.
The 35-year-old was born in Killeen, Texas, and joined the Navy at 17. After four years on the USS Blue Ridge, he was honorably discharged and moved to Austin. He was working there at Motorola when his mom got sick — and to be closer to her he moved to upstate New York, where she and his father had settled.
After Sept. 11, like so many others, he thought about joining the department. He had a history: his dad was a cop, and his ill mother had encouraged it. The NYPD was holding the entrance exam at a nearby college. Schoolcraft passed easily, and they asked him to be in the city two weeks later. It was 2002.
Fourteen months after joining, he started working in the 81st Precinct, where he stayed until he was suspended. The Eight-One, as it's known, is a small Brooklyn precinct but it encompasses the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which has among the highest crime rates in the city.
Schoolcraft fared well as a patrol officer. From the tapes it's clear he was polite and he worked the beat. He received the meritorious police duty medal for his outstanding performance in 2006. In 2008, he was given an award for his dedication to the department and the city.
He started carrying the tape recorder in 2008, he says, initially to protect himself against false complaints by the public.
"I worked in a black community, you can think of the word I was accused of using," said Schoolcraft, who is white, in a recent interview.
Soon, he said, he started recording roll calls at the beginning of every shift at the precinct — in case he ever needed to protect himself from his own department.
He claims a pattern of misconduct was emerging: Officers were being asked to sign a training log even though they had received no training. They were being told, he said, to hand out more summonses and to make more arrests. He says he saw others downgrading crimes on purpose to make the precinct's numbers appear better. Those who didn't, he says, were threatened by superiors with transfers and undesirable schedules.
Schoolcraft felt the unwritten practice was wrong, and he didn't fall in line. That was a problem.
He received a substandard review — he says for not meeting quotas. On paper, his commanding officers said he was "unwilling to change his approach to meeting the performance standards of a New York City Police Officer."
Schoolcraft rated poorly, despite being "retrained, counseled and given direction on numerous occasions by various supervisors," the review said.
Schoolcraft appealed the review. And started taping more.
"Through that appeal I always felt that I would bring out the quota and that would help relieve some of the pressure on other officers," said Schoolcraft, who also wrote a letter to the NYPD's top brass, hoping to alert them to misguided management.
His efforts came to little.
The pressure went on, he said, and he started feeling pains in his chest. He took his claims to internal affairs, then to the quality assurance division. But he says he felt nervous, anxious.
Finally, he spoke to a departmental therapist, confessing all his concerns about the alleged stat fixing and about his declining health. The therapist's report had a result he didn't expect: He was stripped of his gun and badge and put on desk duty.
About that time, he says, other officers turned on him, mocking him and putting nasty signs on his locker. His superiors heard about his trip to internal affairs and started to bully him more, he says.
On Oct. 31, 2009, he says he got into an argument with his lieutenant, and he left that day in part to defuse the situation. He said he got permission to do so.
If the commanders had a beef, he says, they could have followed procedure by sending him notification by mail that he was suspended.
"But they overreacted," he said. "What's the term? They killed a butterfly with a bazooka."
The NYPD and Schoolcraft agree that he walked off the job on that Halloween afternoon.
How and why are open to interpretation, just like the scene it caused.
The department says he wasn't authorized to leave, and that an AWOL cop always must be accounted for. His supervisors also were aware that he'd seen a therapist, and that his guns had been taken away. Making sure he was safe was urgent, the department says.
Hours went by. Tensions mounted. Schoolcraft didn't answer his door.
When ESU finally used the landlord's key to enter his home, several officers stormed in, accompanied by Marino, the deputy chief.
On a tape he labeled "Home Invasion," Schoolcraft sounds measured as he complains about stomach pains and declines demands to go back to the precinct and then to a hospital.
At one point, Schoolcraft agrees to go to the hospital when paramedics called to the scene find his blood pressure is high. He steps outside, but then comes back. The chief and his crew follow.
On the recording he says, "I can lie down in my own bed ... I have done nothing wrong."
The more Schoolcraft resists, the more Marino grows irritated. The chief warns the officer that he could be labeled an "EDP" — an emotionally disturbed person — and hospitalized by force.
"Son, they're going to treat you as an EDP, that means handcuffs. And I don't want to see that happen to a cop. ... I can't play this game, Adrian."
"I'm laying here, chief."
"Adrian, get up."
"I don't feel good."
Finally, Marino gives the order for the officers to put Schoolcraft in an ambulance.
"He's EDP. In cuffs."
Schoolcraft claims he was assaulted as officers followed Marino's orders. During the scuffle a recorder he's wearing falls out and is confiscated.
The deputy chief expresses disgust.
"So he's playing a game here. ... When I came on the job, a cop would never dream of doing that to another cop."
What he doesn't realize is that the fallen recorder is turned off. A separate machine on a shelf, the one Schoolcraft activated when the police arrived, is picking up everything.
The sign over the nurse's station at the Jamaica Hospital Center psych emergency room read "We're here to help."
Schoolcraft was handcuffed to a gurney in the hall of the hospital, which is nowhere near his apartment. He'd futilely asked be taken to a closer hospital.
In a recent interview, Schoolcraft related the details calmly, almost detached: It was sweltering in the ER, patients yelled, officers from his own 81st Precinct monitored him, even though common practice is to assign officers to hospital duty from the local precinct, in this case the 103rd.
"I was well aware that I needed to keep my cool, and I think I did pretty good," he said. Noting the officers' weapons, he says, "I knew it was important to stay calm."
A doctor observed in a medical report: "His memory and concentration is intact. He is alert and oriented." But the report added: "His insight and judgment is impaired."
According to the same report, the patient "says this is happening because he has been reporting to his superiors and commissioners about internal affairs of police department. Says he knows his supervisors are hiding robbery and assault cases."
His superiors told doctors he barricaded himself inside his apartment and they had to force their way in. And once they pulled him out, Schoolcraft ran from them once he was outside and had to be chased down before he was brought to the ER. That version of events is fabricated, says Schoolcraft's attorney, Jon Norinsberg.
Doctors advised continued observation for "unpredictable behavior and escape risk."
Schoolcraft spent the next several days confined to Pysch Unit 3.
He said he kept to himself, ate bad hospital food. He spoke briefly to a social worker, but little else happened. His father, who had to call several hospitals before locating his son, eventually collected him.
Schoolcraft says his dad had to fight with the hospital administration to release him. He finally was evaluated and diagnosed in discharge papers with job-related "adjustment disorder with anxious mood."
The hospital was also named as a defendant in Schoolcraft's lawsuit; it declined comment.
Glad to be free, Schoolcraft never went back to the NYPD.
"I've never been restrained like that. I'd never been arrested," he says. "It was awful."
Life goes on at the Eight-One.
Cops are grappling with a 10 percent spike in serious crime there this year. The precinct has a new second-in-command. The previous one, accused by Schoolcraft of cheating on stats, was transferred to a lower-profile job. Police officials say the move was made "for the good of the department."
Deputy Chief Marino has his own problems, unrelated to Schoolcraft: Last month, an administrative judge recommended that he receive a 30-day suspension and one-year probation after he was caught up in a 2007 steroid investigation of a Brooklyn pharmacy.
Marino has denied any wrongdoing, saying he received legitimate medical treatment.
"We're awaiting a decision," said his attorney, Michael Shapiro, who declined further comment on the steroid case and on Schoolcraft.
What ultimate impact the Schoolcraft case will have on the NYPD is unclear.
The Halloween episode "is still being looked at, but there's been no disciplinary action so far involving any of the parties involved," said Paul Browne, the NYPD's top spokesman.
Schoolcraft himself remains in limbo.
"This has been incredibly difficult for Adrian," Norinsberg said. "He's trying to go on, he's doing his best, but the fact of the matter is Adrian is an absolute whistleblower and they were going to shut him up but good."
Perhaps the attitudes on both sides were best captured on the "Home Invasion" tape, in a final exchange between a fed-up deputy chief and a defiant officer.
"I don't know what your agenda is or why you're doing this. There's no need for this," Marino says.
"You're too good for me, boss," Schoolcraft replies.
"As good as you deserve, son."