The Nassau County Police Department Monday fired officer Anthony DiLeonardo, who was off-duty and not in uniform when he shot a retreating, unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station after a night of drinking with another cop, a department spokesman said.
DiLeonardo's termination is effective immediately, Insp. Kenneth Lack, the spokesman, said in a statement. DiLeonardo, who was hired in November 2007, loses his pension and benefits as a result, a source said.
DiLeonardo, who police internal affairs investigators found recklessly escalated a roadside dispute, was never suspended after the Feb. 27, 2011, incident in which he fired his service weapon five times at cabbie Thomas Moroughan. An internal affairs report said Moroughan was backing away in fear from the officer with his pregnant girlfriend in the passenger seat of his cab. DiLeonardo was most recently assigned to the Third Precinct in Williston Park on restricted duty, where he performed administrative tasks and was prohibited from patrol duty, a source said.
"The egregious conduct and breach of public trust by former Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo will not be tolerated by the Nassau County Police Department," said Nassau Police Acting Commissioner Thomas Krumpter in a statement to Newsday.
Krumpter declined to comment further, citing the state's Civil Rights Law 50-a, which makes confidential all information used to evaluate police officers, including investigations into officer misconduct.
It was that law that kept the case hidden from the public for two years, until a Newsday reporter last June found that the internal affairs report of the incident had been accidentally left unsealed in the court file of a $30 million federal civil-rights lawsuit Moroughan filed.
Department charges urged
The internal affairs investigation concluded in 2012 that DiLeonardo be brought up on 19 departmental charges, but disciplinary actions against the officer did not begin until after Newsday reported about the lawsuit.
DiLeonardo's attorney, Bruce Barket, declined to confirm his client's firing, but vowed to sue the department if he was terminated. He said DiLeonardo would not comment.
"Anything that happened with Anthony would be confidential," Barket said. "Our position remains that Anthony did nothing wrong. If he's terminated by the police department we will sue the police department to get his job reinstated. There's been no judicial review of any of the events that took place that night in Huntington."
Lack declined to comment on Barket's threat of litigation.
County records show that DiLeonardo was paid $103,119 last year, down significantly from the previous year's $110,316 and from the $118,000 he earned in 2010 and 2011.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver declined to comment on DiLeonardo's termination. A spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, who has said he wants a police commissioner who will serve as a disciplinarian, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
The report also recommended five departmental charges be brought against officer Edward Bienz, who was with DiLeonardo the night of the shooting, for committing two unlawful acts and three counts of violating department rules. Bienz, hired in January 2007, earned $147,013 last year and remains on the force. He lost several weeks of pay as punishment for his involvement in the incident, according to a source.
Both off-duty officers were found to have engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer and were unfit for duty by reason of intoxicants, among other violations of department rules. The report did not address whether the officers should be charged criminally, and it did not indicate whether the recommended departmental charges were ever brought.
No criminal charges have been filed against either DiLeonardo or Bienz. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who has jurisdiction over the case, empaneled a grand jury to investigate the shooting in July 2013, a few weeks after Newsday published details of Nassau's internal affairs investigation. A spokesman for Spota did not respond Monday to a request for an update on the status of the investigation.
'That system is broken'
Moroughan's attorney, Anthony Grandinette, said in an email that although he was "pleased" that DiLeonardo had been fired for the "unlawful and outrageous" acts he committed, his client remains "grossly disturbed that it took the department this long to take action. When it takes over three years for a police department to terminate an officer who shoots an innocent and unarmed citizen after a night of drinking, clearly that system is broken."
The cabbie's criminal attorney, William Petrillo, added, "Tom was pistol-whipped, shot and falsely arrested. The only thing surprising about his assailant's termination is how long it took to happen."The department's internal affairs report on the case found that DiLeonardo shot at Moroughan five times with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson. The cabdriver was hit once in the left arm and once in the chest, as his girlfriend sat beside him in the front seat, according to the unit's report obtained by Newsday.
Moroughan got into a dispute with the two officers just after 1 a.m. in Huntington Station while driving his cab to pick up a fare. The incident escalated when DiLeonardo shot at Moroughan's cab, striking him twice. Moroughan told investigators he didn't know the men were off-duty cops.
DiLeonardo told investigators he shot Moroughan because the cabdriver tried to run him over, according to the report.
A pair of Suffolk detectives wrote a statement for Moroughan and had him initial it while he lay in a hospital bed, on morphine, with two bullets still inside him and with a broken nose.
Moroughan later told investigators that the statement included information he never said and that he was told he didn't need an attorney despite repeatedly asking for one. The statement, according to the report, helped exonerate DiLeonardo and incriminate Moroughan, who was arrested on charges of assault and reckless endangerment.
Attorney: Report 'worthless'
Barket blasted the internal affairs report, calling it "virtually worthless," and its chief investigator, who he said had never previously investigated a use-of-force case. He said the department's Deadly Force Response Team had found DiLeonardo's conduct appropriate. Any action by the department against DiLeonardo, Barket said, is a "political move" because the internal affairs report "embarrassed the commissioner."
A Supreme Court judge last week upheld an earlier ruling by Nassau County's Indemnification Board that found DiLeonardo's actions on the night of the shooting weren't "within the scope" of his job; and therefore, Nassau's attorneys would not represent DiLeonardo in the Moroughan lawsuit and the county would not cover any judgments against him in the case. The same board ruled Bienz's actions fell within the scope of his duties.
The last officer terminated from the department was Michael Incandela, who was fired June 3, 2013, after having "inappropriate communication" with a female defendant whom he arrested, a source said.