Jury selection is under way in what promises to be one of the most watched trials in Nassau County this year: The case of a former top police commander accused of helping to quash the burglary arrest of a police benefactor's son.
Opening arguments in the trial of retired Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan could take place in Nassau County Court as early as this week, lawyers said. If Flanagan, 55, is convicted of the top charge against him, receiving reward for official misconduct, a class E felony, he could be sentenced to up to 4 years in prison.
The outcome of Flanagan's case will also set the stage for what happens to two fellow officers who were arrested with Flanagan but whose misdemeanor cases were severed from his by a judge. The officers are retired Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter and retired Seventh Precinct Squad deputy supervisor Alan Sharpe. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Jim Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham University, said Flanagan's case is "vitally important" to Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who took a risk by bringing charges against a high-ranking member of the same police department she must work shoulder to shoulder with every day.
"It's important for her to win," Cohen said. "You don't challenge the king unless you can kill the king."
But Cohen said the case is also important to the larger community, since Flanagan's fate may help shape public opinion about the Nassau police department. Flanagan's arrest followed several incidents that had already damaged the department. In 2009, 10 officers were disciplined after investigators found they failed to respond to calls by Jo'Anna Bird, 24, who was later murdered by her boyfriend in her New Cassel home. In 2010, the department's crime lab was shut down amid allegations of shoddy procedures there.
According to the indictment of Flanagan handed up by a grand jury in March, the conspiracy stemmed from a 2009 incident in which Zachary Parker, 21, of Merrick, the son of police benefactor Gary Parker, stole about $11,000 worth of electronic equipment from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore. He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison.
Flanagan, who has said he was friends with Gary Parker, is charged with using his position in the department to get the equipment returned to the school so that school officials would drop the charges against Zachary Parker. Later, Gary Parker gave Flanagan $300 worth of restaurant gift cards as a show of thanks, a law enforcement source and court records said. Flanagan admits that he received the gifts, but says they were not in exchange for preferential treatment, and that he never cashed them in.
Both Flanagan and his lawyer, Bruce Barket, of Garden City, have said that there is nothing wrong with what he did.
"I said if we don't need it . . . [the stolen equipment], then why not give it back?" Flanagan said in an interview in May. "And that was my entire dive into this thing."
A Rice spokesman declined to comment before the trial.