Saturday, October 24, 2009
The Case Of Gay NYPD Officer Jai Aiken (Pt. 1)
This is former NYPD officer and gay man of color Jai Aiken, a man who has had his life turned upside-down by the City Of New York. Jai joined the NYPD in 1994, hoping to make a career in law-enforcement as an openly gay man. He did quite well at it, too, with a stellar record right up until 2003, when some (anonymous) individuals decided gay men didn't belong in the NYPD, and created criminal allegations against him. That's when the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB), the unit which investigates accusations of wrongdoing against the city's cops, began building a case against Jai. According to the NYPD, a confidential informant alleged that Jai and his brother were using their side job, a moving business, to transport "guns and drugs" around the city. The IAB then began a nine-month investigation, totaling over 3,000 man-hours, but ultimately found no evidence of gun- or drug-running by Jai or his brother.
Ordinarily, you might imagine, at this point the NYPD would consider the matter closed, and move on to the next pending case in its files. But for Jai, this was merely the beginning of an ordeal that would ultimately see his personal and professional life shattered, in a case which raises troubling questions about law enforcement's attitudes towards gays and lesbians in their ranks. The NYPD, unsatisfied with the results of its long investigation of Police Officer Aiken, decided to try luring him into crimial activity by focusing on his sexuality in 2005. That's right, the city actually sent in an undercover cop posing as a gay man to gain Jai's confidence and persuade him to break the law.
The undercover was set up to meet Jai at a "well-known gay cruising area" in Harlem. This IAB operative was instructed to appear "sexually interested" in Jai, and to entice Jai to perform purportedly criminal acts in exchange for sex. The undercover later admitted, as hidden-camera videotapes corroborated, that Jai was interested only in having sex with the operative: "Every conversation we had, he talked about sex. I would redirect to guns and drugs. I let him believe I might have sex," he said. Eventually, the IAB officer let slip that he would let Jai sleep with him if he started buying stolen goods. According to the NYPD, Jai eventually gave in and purchased a $150 iPod from the undercover. The videotape, however, shows that Jai "gave in" because the undercover was relentlessly badgering him, and never made mention that the item was stolen, instead saying that he worked retail and would let Jai have the iPod "at a discount". But curiously, this wasn't enough for the NYPD to end the operation and make an arrest. They weren't happy with a "mere" misdemeanor. They wanted to haul this black, gay cop in for a felony. The undercover was directed to go back to work on Jai.
This time, it was decided to see if Jai would buy a bigger item--in this case a "stolen" $3,000 flat-screen TV, its value alone making its purchase a felony--and the undercover ramped up his efforts. The video seems almost a comedy of errors, with the IAB operative trying to get Jai to buy--again--"discounted retail" merchandise, and Jai trying to get the undercover to sleep with him. Eventually, Jai agreed to take the television set in exchange for sleeping with the undercover. That's when the NYPD moved in and arrested him. The case went to trial in both Criminal Court and later in the NYPD's own departmental-rules court. In the February 2007 criminal trial, the jury saw the tapes, and took just ten hours to acquit Jai of all charges against him. "Why does the NYPD want to humiliate and embarrass themselves in front of a jury about what they did to him?" said Aiken's lawyer, Kenneth Ramseur in the Daily News. "All the 12 jurors who found him not guilty were livid and outraged at what the New York City Police Department did to one of their own." Police Commissioner Ray Kelly acknowledged that the Jai Aiken case "was the first time we'd placed an undercover in the role of a gay man."
Jai Aiken's acquittal at trial was not the end of his story. The NYPD wasn't finished with him yet. Next Saturday, find out what happens to Jai, and what the ramifications of his case ultimately hold for all of us in the LGBT community.