Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano forced out the county's top law enforcement official Thursday after prosecutors found Police Commissioner Thomas Dale personally directed officers to arrest a witness in a politically charged election-year case.
In a statement, Mangano said he met with Dale, 64, who began working as commissioner in January 2012 after a more than 40-year-long career with the New York City Police Department, Thursday morning and the commissioner tendered his resignation. Mangano also replaced Chief of Detectives John Capece, while a police sergeant involved in the case retired last month.
Dale, who did not return a call for comment, will be replaced on an interim basis by Victor Politi, Mangano's deputy county executive for public safety.
No criminal charges
In a letter to Mangano Thursday outlining her findings, District Attorney Kathleen Rice said that while Dale's "judgment and involvement may justifiably receive scrutiny on an administrative level," no criminal laws were broken.
Rice described Dale's decision to intervene in the case "unusual." She said that "given the case's political overtones and given the motivations of the complainant -- to gain ballot access for a candidate running in a race that involved the re-election effort of an administration that serves as Commissioner Dale's direct supervisor -- this was a judgment potentially fraught with peril." However, Rice said, Dale's "involvement in this case is not evidence of a crime."
She also called the fact that the witness was served with a civil subpoena while in custody "deeply troubling" and said it was still under investigation.
Rice, a Democrat, said Mangano, a Republican who won re-election last month, and members of his staff were not aware of Dale's actions.
"District Attorney Rice today brought a troubling matter to my attention regarding questionable influence within the Nassau County Police Department," Mangano said in a statement. "Upon further investigation, the district attorney found no evidence to indicate criminality, but the investigation itself indicates a fresh look at internal procedures is warranted."
Mangano said the personnel changes were "necessary to maintain the highest standards of police internal administration. New leadership sends a clear message that stringent administrative review and application is underway."
Hardship with Hardwick
The case dates to former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick's failed attempt to mount a third-party bid for county executive. Democrats charged that Hardwick was in the race to siphon votes from Democratic candidate Thomas Suozzi, and challenged the legitimacy of signatures Hardwick collected to get on the ballot. Hardwick said he was running because he was the most qualified candidate.
Among those testifying against Hardwick, who did not return a call for comment, was Randy White, 29, of Roosevelt, who collected nominating petition signatures for the Hardwick campaign. White testified in State Supreme Court in early October that Hardwick paid him $1.25 for each signature he collected. Petitioners legally can be paid per hour, but not per signature. Hardwick has denied White's claim.
On Oct. 4, Hardwick operatives recorded a phone call with White in which the campaign claims White admitted to being paid legally by the hour. Hardwick's attorney drafted a subpoena for White to appear in court on Oct. 7.
Dale's search for White
Rice's letter said that hours later, Gary Melius, owner of the Oheka Castle catering hall and the sole donor to Hardwick's campaign, called Dale and said the campaign wanted to file a perjury charge against White.
Dale told Melius to report his allegation to the First Precinct in Baldwin, Rice said. The commissioner, Rice said, then instructed Capece and a department lawyer to go to the First Precinct and meet with a Hardwick attorney and several campaign operatives regarding the perjury complaint.
Rice said the involvement of high-level police employees in a "low-level" criminal allegation was not typical.
After reviewing the complaint and listening to the audiotape, which was found to be inaudible, police declined to charge White with perjury.
Rice said that as part of their investigation, police performed a standard criminal background check on White and found an outstanding warrant from August for his arrest for failing to pay a $250 fine after he pleaded guilty to selling bootleg DVDs.
Dale "then ordered that Mr. White be located and arrested on the outstanding warrant," Rice's report said.
Dale said he received calls the next day from an individual he described as a "confidential source" who gave him "up-to-the minute information" about White's whereabouts, Rice wrote.
At 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, a Nassau police sergeant and two detectives, all of whom were unnamed in Rice's report, boarded a parked Nassau bus in Roosevelt and arrested White on the outstanding warrant.
"Commissioner Dale claimed it was not unusual for the department to go to such great lengths to apprehend the subject of a 'failure-to-pay' warrant," Rice said.
While White was in police custody in Mineola, "an off-duty NCPD Sergeant, Sal Mistretta, arrived at the facility and Mr. White was served with a civil subpoena," drafted by Hardwick's lawyer, Rice said. Rice's office is continuing to investigate the subpoena. Dale told Rice he was not aware of the subpoena.
Melius backs Dale
White's father, Rasaan Hoskins, said Thursday that his son, whom he described as "emotionally challenged," was "traumatized" by the incident.
"He's a changed man," said Hoskins, a Democratic committeeman. "He's frightened that the police are following him every time he goes out." Hoskins called Dale's actions "horrific" and said they "put a taint on the entire police department."
Rice noted that the $250 fine has not been paid, but Hoskins said it would be taken care of immediately.
Melius said neither he nor Dale did anything inappropriate. "I did not ask him to do anything wrong and he did not do anything wrong," Melius said.
Melius said White, who served three years in prison a decade ago on an attempted robbery charge, was "not a choir boy that was picked up on his way home from church."
But Melius said he regrets asking Dale to intervene in the case and "feels responsible" for his departure.
He said Mangano, whose campaigns he has financially supported, "made a terrible decision by replacing Dale."
"This shows that even for police commissioners, inappropriate behavior isn't tolerated," said Police Benevolent Association president James Carver. "This shows that there are checks and balances."
Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said he disagreed with Rice's decision not to prosecute Dale.
"How is it possible that a private citizen can call up the commissioner of police and order the arrest of another citizen?" Jacobs said. "Someone in the Mangano government had to approve this."
County spokesman Brian Nevin said Mangano "took decisive action and Jay Jacobs is nothing short of bitter over his failed political career."
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) said "the buck stops with the county executive and Mangano has to answer for their conduct and waste of taxpayer money."
Politi's police background
Capece retired Thursday after Mangano told him he would be demoted, Nevin said. He will be replaced by Narcotics/Vice Squad Insp. Kevin Smith. Capece did not respond to a request for comment.
In an email Thursday, Mistretta said he voluntarily retired effective Nov. 23 and that he "worked in an administrative unit that didn't effect any arrests."
Brian Hoesl, president of the Superior Officers Association, said Mistretta previously served as commanding officer of the Pistol Licensing Unit and "retired in good standing."
Politi, the interim police commissioner, is a physician and former New York City police officer, who rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Emergency Service Unit.
As deputy county executive for public safety, he oversaw the police department, the Office of Emergency Management, Probation Department, sheriff's office, Department of Corrections, fire marshal's office, Traffic Parking Violations Bureau, medical examiner's office and Department of Health.
Smith, a 30-year veteran of the Nassau police force, is a former patrol sergeant in the Fifth Precinct in Elmont and ex-department spokesman.
With Celeste Hadrick and Aisha al-Muslim