P.S. 41 parents want officer who pulled gun to be disciplined

From left, P.S. 41 parent Heather Campbell; Raniece Medley, C.C.R.B. outreach director; and Deputy Inspector Joseph Simonetti and Detective Jimmy Alberici, of the Sixth Precinct. Photo by Michael Ossorguine
From left, P.S. 41 parent Heather Campbell; Raniece Medley, C.C.R.B. outreach director; and Deputy Inspector Joseph Simonetti and Detective Jimmy Alberici, of the Sixth Precinct. Photo by Michael Ossorguine

BY MICHAEL OSSORGUINE | After P.S. 41 was put on a “soft lockdown” when an off-duty police officer drew his handgun on a cyclist nearby, school parents were stunned that the cop, Sergeant Gregory Abbott, got off scot-free. Complaints were filed, concerned calls were made to police, and last Wednesday evening, a meeting was held at the L.G.B.T. Community Center, at 208 W. 13th St., to address the situation.

City Councilmember Corey Johnson organized the meeting, along with state Senator Brad Hoylman, whose daughter attends the W. 11th St. school.

Also at the meeting were Deputy Inspector Joseph Simonetti, the Sixth Precinct’s commanding officer; Lieutenant Daniel Albano of the New York Police Department’s legal division; Detective Jimmy Alberici, Sixth Precinct community affairs officer; Raniece Medley, director of outreach for the Civilian Complaint Review Board; and Heather Campbell, a P.S. 41 parent.

In the incident, a bicycle deliveryman, Dejaune Jones, 21, slapped in Abbott’s side-view mirror after he felt the cop was cutting him off with his car. According to Jones — who was riding with three other friends — Abbott then got out of his car and approached him on foot. As Jones was walking back toward Abbott and reaching into his pocket for his cell phone, Abbott then drew his weapon and told him to get on the ground. A video of the incident taken by Jones’s friends shows the cyclists angrily shouting at the officer, “Put that away! Put that away! You’re on camera!” Jones can be seen advancing on the cop, though an alleged “8-inch ice pick” was neither seen on the clip nor later found. No weapon other than the officer’s gun was seen in the video. No shots were fired.

The police, school representatives and Medley summarized the current situation from their respective party’s perspective, and then opened up the conversation for questions and comments.

“As of now, the officer has not been disciplined, has not been found negligent in any way,” Simonetti said. He noted that the investigation is still open, and that numerous witnesses have been interviewed.

However, parents were not happy with the scope of the investigation, saying they felt left out.

“Why am I not being reached out to?” asked an angry parent who said she was an eyewitness. “It makes me feel very much like it’s over.”

Another parent said, “This person was standing right there. She can tell you exactly what happened. Why does no one want to hear from her?”

Parents described a chaotic scene on June 13 of terrified children running from an unidentified gunman.

Simonetti countered by repeating that the police are encouraging parents to contact the C.C.R.B. or the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau if they wish to provide information on the case.

Medley of the CCRB explained that it is an independent agency that investigates civilian complaints against police officers regarding excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy or offensive language.

The C.C.R.B. will hear a complaint, or a recounting of the occurrence, then “parses out” allegations within the complaint that fall into categories under its purview, and conducts a professional investigation into the allegations.

When the C.C.R.B. completes its research into a given complaint, each accusation is given a classification of “substantiated” or “exonerated.” If a claim is substantiated, the C.C.R.B. will recommend disciplinary action. If it is exonerated, then the board takes no further action.

“There is never too much information to be had,” the Medley said.

A complaint filed with the C.C.R.B. over the P.S. 41 incident charged that the police officer did not identify himself or show his badge while drawing his weapon, and displayed an alarming lack of judgment, drawing a gun only a short distance away from the schoolyard.

A flustered school mother demonstrated her grievances by posting two photos on a bulletin board for display: one of the officer with his pistol in hand, and the other an eye-level view of the schoolyard from where Abbott was standing. The photo was taken around 3 p.m., the same time as the original incident, and shows a schoolyard filled with children.

“You had hundreds of children right there, literally right there,” the parent said. “He’s looking at this image, and deciding, in his best judgment, ‘I think I’ll take out my gun right here.’ How does that make sense?”

Lieutenant Albano responded, “This is something that’s being looked at. We’re separately investigating this with our Internal Affairs Bureau.”

Simonetti also contended that Abbott said, “Police!” at some point during the altercation, and noted that he was using an N.Y.P.D.-authorized firearm.

There is also no regulation regarding an officer producing a firearm in a school zone. All of these factors were cited by police representatives.

According to police, the sergeant made an off-duty arrest, which is permissible. Their records also show that apologies were made on both sides, yet the cyclist walked off facing multiple charges, including criminal mischief. Parents, however, were angrier that the officer was not disciplined.

“I feel like the decision has been made. He told his story and that’s it,” said Alexandra Van Schie, a fourth-grade parent.

Simonetti told Van Schie that the situation has not been resolved, but that many details of an active investigation cannot be disclosed.

The meeting lasted one hour and had to end abruptly due to time constraints. Though the forum seemed to conclude with a common understanding of the situation, the parents were frustrated that the same thing could happen, and that the N.Y.P.D. would again stand behind their officers. Many speakers implied that there was a bias in favor of Abbott since he is a police officer.

“It feels like that officer’s point of view outweighs ours,” Van Schie said.