Saturday, October 31, 2009
The Case Of Gay NYPD Officer Jai Aiken, Part 2
The story of former NYPD officer Jai Aiken's ordeal at the hands of his employer continues this week. Last Saturday, we began with a look at the NYPD's repeated attempts to ensnare Aiken in a criminal "sting" investigation. After an initial investigation into an allegation that Jai and his brother were running "guns and drugs" using their side business, a moving company produced no evidence, the NYPD wasn't satisfied. Instead of closing the case, the department's Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) embarked on an even bolder investigation of Aiken. Aware that Jai was an openly gay cop, the IAB came up with a plan in which an undercover operative would be sent in, pretending to be gay. Ostensibly interested in Jai as a sexual partner, the undercover was directed to entice Jai into buying merchandise "at a discount" from the undercover, who alluded to the possibility of his sleeping with Jai in exchange for purchasing electronic gear.
The entire operation was documented on hidden-camera video, and when Jai, believing the undercover to be a retail worker who was getting the items at an "employee discount", finally gave in and bought an iPod, and later a big-screen TV set, the IAB piunced. Jai was arrested, suspended from the NYPD and eventually tried in Manhattan Supreme Court, where he was acquitted of all charges by a jury. The jury found clear indications of entrapment, and were "outraged and incensed" by the NYPD's treatment of Aiken. Although the prosecution lost the criminal case against him, the NYPD was still trying to punish Jai for "departmental-rules violations" arising out of the IAB investigations. According to Aiken, the NYPD "was using whatever means it could" to remove him from among their ranks. A Future Forward investigation into the Aiken case, performed at Aiken's request, revealed some interesting facts:
Although IAB trial judge David Weisel, in commentary on the case, stated "[Aiken's] sexual orientation had nothing to do with the investigation, the NYPD specifically singled Aiken's sexuality out as a basis for creating a role to be filled by an undercover. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, remarked during the criminal trial that "this was the first time an undercover was placed into the role of a gay man" to perform a sting operation. According to city records, at the start of the operation against Aiken, the undercover was sent to Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, a well-known gay cruising area. The operative was instructed to approach Aiken, then already under surveillance, and appear "sexually interested" in Jai. This would seem at odds with the NYPD's assertion that this was nothing more than a criminal investigation. The undercover was further instructed to "keep Aiken interested" in him, purportedly to convince Aiken that "helping" the undercover would lead to sex between them.
In addition, although Aiken made it clear in both the moving-van case and the subsequent sting operation involving the merchandise, that he was not interested in breaking the law, the undercover was instructed by his handlers to "redirect [Aiken's] attention from sex to guns, drugs, and stolen goods." The video played during Aiken's trial bears this out, and suggests extreme intent on the NYPD's part to set Aiken up for a fall.
When a NYPD police officer is brought up on charges of any kind, the usual procedure is for the Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD's union, to send a delegate to ascertain the facts of the case, and together with a PBA lawyer, defend the accused cop against legal or administrative actions brought by their employer, the NYPD. However, in Aiken's case, the PBA was quick to wash its hands of any involvement with the Aiken case, saying Aiken's activities while off-duty were not covered under the PBA's mandate. Yet the PBA, in the case of off-duty officer Andrew Kelly, had assigned PBA attorneys to represent both officers involved in the case, which involved Officer Kelly's car fatally striking a pedestrian on a Brooklyn street. Two other cops in that case have been suspended for allegedly helping Kelly hide his apparent intoxication from investigators. The other officer in Kelly's car, although also off-duty at the time of the accident, has been suspended for fleeing the scene. All have been given PBA representation.
Unable to obtain PBA representation beyond his arraignment, Aiken next looked to the Gay Officers Action League a support organization for gay and lesbian cops. But he was rebuffed again by this organization, despite mounting evidence suggesting the department was targeting Aiken based on his sexual orientation. Eventually, Aiken was offered a settlement in which the NYPD would agree not to fire him, and award him a "three-quarters" disability pension in exchange for a pledge by Aiken not to sue the police department for its conduct in his case. A "three-quarters" disability pension is given to officers who become disabled beyond the ability to work as cops, as a result of injuries or illnesses related to their jobs. The offer made to Aiken was worked out on the theory that Aiken, who developed severe psychological symptoms as a result of stresses incurred during the NYPD's pursuit of him, qualified for the pension as a result. However, on the advice of his attorneys, Aiken has opted to refuse the agreement and take the city to court. The NYPD then moved to fire Aiken, which they did after a departmental trial in late 2006.
Aiken then sued the city and the NYPD for $15 million, charging civil-rights violations, wrongful arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. "I was harrased and prosecuted by the department", Aiken recalls, "even though I had a perfect record working for the NYPD 13 years." The lawsuit is still pending in Brooklyn Supreme Court. The long, sad story of Jai Aiken and the city's perhaps homophobically-fueled investigation and prosecution is not yet over, but there are some troubling questions raised by this episode involving one of the few openly-gay black cops on the force:
What caused the NYPD to investigate Aiken further after the initial moving-van case revealed no wrongdoing by either aiken or his brother, after nine months and thousands of man-hours? The NYPD's Public Information Office told Future Forward that the decision to continue investigating Aiken was made as part of an "ongoing investigation." Yet Aiken points out that normal IAB procedure when a case yields negative results, is to close the matter out.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne insists, as did the IAB trial judge, that "Officer Aiken's sexual orientation was not at issue in this case." If that's true, why use a purportedly gay, black undercover officer to set Aiken up, using sexual advances? Even as the NYPD asserted that Jai's sexuality was not the issue, they were also publicly stating that the Aiken case was the first time an undercover was instructed to act in the role of a gay would-be lover. They can't have it both ways.
The NYPD has, in fact, made considerable advances in its relationship with New York's LGBT community in recent years, even going so far as to create an in-house LGBT committee, complete with a full-time NYPD detective to address the concerns of the LGBT community. Yet, in its treatment of gay and lesbian cops on the force, it appears the NYPD has a long way to go. The Aiken case brings to light some profound issues for gays and lesbians of color who are on the force or considering a career with the Police Department. Its ultimate outcome will have far-reaching effects for the NYPD and those who wear the blue uniform under the rainbow flag.