A high school principal who is a key prosecution witness in the misconduct trial of a former top Nassau police commander said in court Thursday that she was crystal clear when she told police she wanted them to arrest the son of a police benefactor for stealing electronics equipment from the school.
The testimony of John F. Kennedy High School Principal Lorraine Poppe is critical to the prosecutors' case against retired Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan. That's because Flanagan's lawyer has said it was Poppe's ambivalence about arresting student Zachary Parker, not Flanagan's influence, that stopped police from arresting him.
"We wanted to have Zachary arrested," Poppe said on the witness stand. Asked to describe her demeanor when she asked police to investigate, Poppe said, "very direct in what I wanted to have accomplished."
Prosecutors say Flanagan, a friend of Zachary Parker's father, police benefactor Gary Parker, abused his authority by directing officers to return the equipment Zachary Parker stole to the school -- something he believed would help persuade school administrators not to press charges. Flanagan has said there is nothing improper about returning stolen property to its owner, and he would have done it for anyone, not just a friend.
Police never charged Zachary Parker with the theft, but Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice later presented the case directly to a grand jury and Zachary Parker was indicted. He pleaded guilty in March, and is serving 1 to 3 years in prison.
Flanagan faces up to 4 years in prison. Two other police officials charged in the conspiracy will be tried separately.
Before trial, Flanagan's lawyer, Bruce Barket, discovered a series of email messages, sent by Poppe to the Bellmore-Merrick district superintendent and the lead detective in the case. In the emails, Poppe told police to "put everything on hold" until further notice. Barket said at the time that proved school officials were unsure whether they wanted Parker arrested or would handle the matter internally.
A friend of Zachary Parker's, Lother Keller, testified Thursday that on at least one occasion Parker got special treatment from police. Keller said he was a passenger in Parker's car when the two smoked marijuana and then Parker drove 110 mph down Ocean Parkway. When a state policeman pulled them over, the scent of marijuana was strong but Parker flashed an honorary badge he kept in his wallet.
The officer said, "OK. Have a good day," Keller testified.