Nassau PBA president James McDermott

Nassau PBA president James McDermott Credit: Howard Schnapp

On Sept. 11, 2020, Nassau County Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott was in meetings over attempts to get a new contract when he stepped out for a call.

The 14-minute conversation was with retired Nassau Officer Christopher McCarthy. McDermott’s purpose was convincing McCarthy and his wife, Nadene, to stop pursuing legal action against a high school football teammate and pal of McDermott’s, Steven Cottage. Cottage had allegedly harassed Nadene for years when the two encountered each other in their Seaford neighborhood while walking dogs.

Nadene McCarthy’s complaints included claiming, in one police report, that Cottage commanded his pit bull mix to attack her Siberian husky and threatened to sodomize or kill her after she told Cottage to leash his dog.

Cottage, though, says he’d been friendly and never threatening. He told police his dog was not menacing and alleged Christopher McCarthy threatened to shoot him.

When Newsday’s story on McDermott’s call appeared, the big splash was the attempt by McDermott, who’d just announced he’d retire on Sept. 1, to intervene for Cottage.

But to really understand the system, it helps to realize that Christopher McCarthy himself, so infuriated about McDermott’s call asking him to drop the issue, called a high-ranking friend in the Nassau department for help. McCarthy sought aid because he felt the first complaint his wife filed was ignored, and feared an additional complaint would be, too.

Apparently, McCarthy doesn’t oppose powerful people influencing the outcomes of criminal cases. He just doesn’t approve of it being done to him, rather than for him.

McDermott’s tone with McCarthy in the call is wheedling, but not threatening. The two are clearly acquainted. McDermott sheepishly acknowledges that McCarthy should do whatever he feels he needs to do to protect his wife. McCarthy is angry that McDermott wants him to drop the case, and that McDermott has not asked after the well-being of his wife.

After the call, McCarthy wanted McDermott criminally charged for stepping in for Cottage, and went to internal affairs and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. He gave the recording, which he made without McDermott’s knowledge, to Newsday, after the DA’s office declined to prosecute.

The most telling parts of the tape are when:

  • McCarthy expresses surprise that McDermott is intervening in favor of a friend in conflict with an ex-cop, rather than the ex-cop.
  • McDermott, grousing about his own neighbors whom he’s failed to win over with the gift of PBA cards, says, "If you weren’t a cop, wouldn’t you like the [expletive] president of the police union next door to you?"

They both expect influence to matter, in their favor.

Nassau police arrested Cottage on Sept. 24 for harassment and stalking. Nadene McCarthy obtained an order of protection requiring Cottage to stay at least 100 yards from her.

Hopefully, the case will be adjudicated in a way that ignores the powerful connections of both ex-cop McCarthy and cop-friend Cottage and focuses on the facts. Both men were wrong to try to use personal connections. McDermott was wrong to go along, and if McCarthy’s Nassau brass pal stepped in, he was wrong, too.

No cop should ever exercise influence in a way that equates to favoritism for friends, family, acquaintances, other cops, or people with PBA cards.

People love to express anger that the world is unfair. Dig a bit deeper and it often turns out they want it to be unfair … but in their favor.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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