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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cops Reassigned After Crime Scene Blunders

Sean Bell cops reassigned: 8-week trial highlighted blunders in the NYPD's crime scene procedures
The New York Daily News by ALISON GENDAR - October 15, 2008

The NYPD captain in charge of collecting evidence after the Sean Bell shooting is being transferred as part of a housecleaning of the famed crime scene unit, police sources said. Capt. Michael Kletzel is being booted to the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau as part of the NYPD's quiet overhaul, sources said. His transfer comes on the heels of the NYPD shipping the commanding officer of the crime scene unit, Deputy Inspector Gary Gomula, to the Narcotics Bureau last month. Gomula was on vacation when police shot and killed the unarmed 23-year-old Bell outside a Queens strip club Nov. 25, 2006. The officers involved were acquitted in Bell's death, but the eight-week trial highlighted a series of blunders in how crime scene detectives handled the investigation. Ballistic evidence was missed; a door hinge of Bell's car was lost when detectives ripped the car apart to see if anyone fired from inside the car.

Rank-and-file crime scene detectives blasted Kletzel for trying to micromanage the crime scene. At trial, NYPD detectives testified that police brass trampled across the scene of the problematic shooting, wanting to see it for themselves. A dent in the back of Bell's car was not photographed before it was removed; no paint samples were taken to see where the dent came from. That discovery was important to the defense, which said cops opened fire after Bell hit undercover Detective Gescard Isnora with his car and then backed up and rammed an unmarked police van. Kletzel was grilled in May at an internal NYPD disciplinary hearing over how the crime scene unit collected and processed key evidence in the fatal shooting. Similarly sloppy work was done in East Harlem after a police shooting on Sept. 28, 2005, sources said. A Manhattan Supreme Court justice declared a mistrial in the attempted-murder case of Cedric Rooks, accused of firing at six officers outside Manhattan's Taft Houses.

The judge declared the mistrial after learning that Gomula ordered one detective to forge another's signature on key ballistic evidence. "It is clear ... that this crime scene investigation was compromised by the deputy inspector at the time and in a manner that was so serious that it suggests misconduct," Justice William Wetzel said. Police said Rooks fired five to seven times at the cops before his gun jammed. Six officers returned fire with 77 rounds; Rooks was wounded. He was charged with six counts of attempted murder. Crime scene investigators recovered only one of the rounds cops say Rooks fired, the sources said. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly asked Deputy Police Commissioner Phil Pulaski to overhaul procedures within the NYPD's entire forensic division. Deputy Inspector William Aubry, from Brooklyn's 67th Precinct, was tapped to command the forensic division, and Capt. Kevin Radday of Manhattan warrants took Gomula's post.

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