A high-ranking former Nassau police commander abused his authority and betrayed public trust when he ignored the law to help a rich friend, prosecutor Christiana McSloy said Tuesday at the start of the retired lawman's conspiracy trial.
"What the public and the community deserves is officials who are going to do the right thing for the right reason for all the people of Nassau County," McSloy said in her opening argument in William Flanagan's trial on a felony misconduct charge. "They do not expect the police force to conspire to sweep crimes under the rug for their wealthy friends."
But Flanagan's lawyer, Bruce Barket, of Garden City, said the claims about his client have been distorted, taken out of context and manufactured.
"The allegation here is, at its core, a bald-faced lie," he said.
The courtroom Tuesday was crowded with high-ranking Nassau prosecutors, and current and former police officials supporting both sides of the case.
Flanagan, 55, who is not in custody, sat at the defense table wearing a stern expression. He faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted of the top count against him.
Flanagan is one of three police officials charged in the conspiracy. Retired Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter and retired Seventh Precinct Squad deputy supervisor Alan Sharpe have had their cases severed from Flanagan's by a judge, though their lawyers were in the courtroom to observe Tuesday. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
According to McSloy, the conspiracy stemmed from a 2009 burglary in which Zachary Parker, then 17, of Merrick, the son of police benefactor Gary Parker, stole about $10,000 worth of electronic equipment from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore.
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 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 not press charges against Zachary Parker. Later, McSloy said Gary Parker gave Flanagan hundreds of dollars worth of restaurant gift cards as a show of thanks. Flanagan admits that he received the gifts, but said they were not in exchange for preferential treatment, and that he never cashed them in.
"A man who had wined and dined him called in a favor," McSloy said in court.
But Barket said school officials told police to hold off arresting Zachary Parker; his father's influence had nothing to do with it.
"Ask yourselves what it is that they are actually accusing him of doing," he said in court. "The return of stolen property to its owner is a core function of the police department."