NYPD chief confronted in radio interview about deadly police shooting amid social media war with press

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell
Chief of Patrol John Chell
Photo by Dean Moses

The NYPD’s ongoing imbroglio with New York City journalists came to a head Monday when Chief of Patrol John Chell faced a barrage of hard-hitting questions from WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer, specifically about a deadly police shooting in which Chell had been involved earlier in his career.

Since March, Chell has stood steadfast over his use of the platform X (formerly known as Twitter), telling both New Yorkers and journalists that he will not stand idly by and be a punching bag to false narratives. This plan to “fight back” drew widespread criticism following a very public back-and-forth between Chell and Daily News columnist Harry Siegel.

Brass like Chell have maintained that their anger stems from a factually inaccurate column that was published soon after the line of duty death of Queens cop Jonathan Diller. Though a correction was made, the brass and Siegel continued their feud into this past weekend, during which Siegel penned a published column noting that it is not “anti-cop” to criticize the NYPD. Chell responded on X that Siegel shouldn’t “let your inner feelings from the past cloud your journalistic integrity to the public which you serve.”

However, the unrelenting social media feud between NYPD brass and the city’s press corps has left a bad taste in the mouth of many — including several officers within the department, who told amNewYork Metro anonymously that they find the practice “embarrassing.”

On Monday morning, Chell appeared alongside Lehrer, during which the radio host asked the chief if the social media responses were his way of intimidating the media. The chief denied the claim.

“The media is a stakeholder in this, we are not trying to intimidate people. But some people have to look in the mirror, everything that is said to me applies to them,” Chell said.

Lehrer followed this by digging into Chell’s past, bringing up a 2017 incident in which differing accounts suggest that he either intentionally or accidentally shot a man to death during a car chase.

Official reports say that Chell fell over and accidentally shot and killed him while Lehrer pointed out that ballistics evidence said he had fired from a standing position which caused a jury to award $2.5 million to the deceased’s mother.

“With respect, Chief Chell, if NYPD Twitter is calling a journalist deceitful for something he wrote, a jury apparently found you deceitful for fatally shooting somebody,” Lehrer said.

But Chell, while calling the episode “a tragic accident,” did not directly respond to Lehrer’s contention.

“That was a tragic, tragic accident. A district attorney cleared me on this, the communities I’ve worked for over years have cleared me on this. I’ve served the city 15, 16 years after that and that was a civil trial and I will leave it at that,” Chell replied.