Deliberate silence as former Nassau police official pleads guilty

William Petrillo, attorney for retired Nassau County Deputy Police Chief John Hunter, discusses Hunter's reasons for pleading guilty Wednesday to three misdemeanors – two counts of official misconduct and one count of conspiracy. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (May 1, 2013)

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

John Hunter, Nassau's retired deputy chief of patrol, became the second former high-ranking member of the department convicted of official misconduct.

There was no crowd of friends and supporters in the courtroom when Hunter made his plea to two counts of official misconduct and one of conspiracy, all misdemeanors. His defense lawyer said Hunter didn't want them there.

The silence in the hallway outside the courtroom, the mostly empty benches inside the room, offered a sharp contrast to what had happened during the trial of Hunter's superior, William Flanagan, a retired second deputy commissioner.

Flanagan had plentiful -- and often, in the hallway outside the court, vocal -- supporters during his trial. Former police commissioner Lawrence Mulvey even visited once.

Flanagan was convicted, after a jury trial earlier this year, of the same three misdemeanors as Hunter. At sentencing, he could face up to a year in jail.

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Wednesday was different. Somber even.

Hunter, to his credit, openly acknowledged his guilt in conspiring with others to stop the arrest of Zachary Parker, who later would plead guilty to taking about $11,000 worth of electrical equipment from his high school in Bellmore.

He also, among other things, acknowledged directing retired Seventh Precinct Squad Deputy Cmdr. Alan Sharpe -- the third defendant, whose case is still pending -- to return stolen property to the high school.

That property, according to testimony in Flanagan's trial, should have been cataloged as evidence instead.

In a statement to the court, Hunter apologized to his former department and his former colleagues. He continued to call Parker's father, Gary, his friend, and described himself as Parker's former mentor.

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At sentencing, Hunter received probation, community service and the right to keep his gun permit. He also gets to keep the generous pension he earned working 35 years for the department.

Hunter's crimes, however, hurt more than himself and his family.

They've stained the reputation of Nassau's police department, leaving every officer, every supervisor responsible for rebuilding the public's trust.

There are plenty of fathers and sons facing serious criminal charges who would appreciate having evidence in a felony case disappear.

Hunter and Flanagan went out of their way -- elbowing away department protocol -- to make that happen for a wealthy friend and generous supporter of the department.

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In Flanagan's case, a jury said that was wrong -- and a crime. Hunter acknowledged the same Wednesday, too. But it's not his task to set things right.

That now rests with the department his crimes soiled.

It is essential that the public expect that crimes will be investigated; and that criminals will be arrested. That did not happen in Parker's case. What Hunter and Flanagan did might never have been made public either, had the DA's office not been determined to take on the case.

Now we know what can happen when police aggressively put friends before the public interest. It was, and should continue to be, a crime.

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