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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Cops covering up for cops all too common

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Chalabala

When cabdriver Thomas Moroughan was shot and beaten after allegedly cutting off a driver and getting into a verbal altercation with him in 2011, police officers in two counties swung into action.

It was possible that then-Nassau County Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo, a brother in blue, would face consequences after shooting Moroughan after a night of off-duty drinking, and that could not be allowed to happen.

When former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke savagely beat a heroin-addicted thief named Christopher Loeb in 2012, Suffolk police officers swung into action. It was possible that Burke would face consequences for beating Loeb after he broke into Burke’s SUV and stole the top cop’s gun belt, what Loeb testified was "disgusting pornography," sex toys and other items, and that could not be allowed to happen.

DiLeonardo was eventually fired but never charged after his story of Moroughan trying to run him down in a "revving" Prius was discredited, and police union leaders and departmental brass said in interviews that he was just a rare bad apple. That level of criminality among police officers is highly unusual.

But Anthony DiLeonardo’s partner, Edward Bienz, who had been out drinking with his wife, DiLeonardo and DiLeonardo’s girlfriend for hours that evening, is still a Nassau cop, since promoted to sergeant. That’s despite the Internal Affairs Unit’s report concluding Moroughan had been backing away in fear — with his pregnant girlfriend in his Prius cab — when DiLeonardo shot the retreating, unarmed taxi driver, in direct conflict with Bienz’s report.

Moroughan had a bullet wound to his chest and another to an arm, and a broken nose sustained after DiLeonardo allegedly busted out his car window and attacked him.

But even so, two Suffolk police officers convinced a drugged, hospitalized Moroughan to sign a confession to crimes he did not commit, to protect DiLeonardo.

That level of protectionism among police for fellow officers is common.

Burke pleaded guilty to beating Loeb, and orchestrating a cover-up, and was sentenced to 46 months. Burke’s past was full of outrageous behavior, and his level of criminality is highly unusual among police officers.

But the cover-up of Burke’s wrongdoing included egregious lies from a minimum of six other officers, many of whom admitted their dishonesty when called to testify in the trials of former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and Spota’s deputy, Christopher McPartland.

At that trial, several of those officers testified that they were expected to lie to protect Burke. That level of protectionism among police officers is common.

Late last month, when a federal judge ruled most of Moroughan’s claims can go forward in a civil rights lawsuit that could cost both counties a fortune, several former police department and union leaders were willing to be interviewed, off the record, about the cover-up culture. The consensus was that cops still won’t volunteer information about crooked co-workers, but may tell the truth if confronted. Their point was that it’s now much better than 30 years ago, when "You couldn’t even think about ratting," one Nassau retiree said. "They’d burn your house down."

When a police officer knows another officer has committed a crime or lied in an official capacity, he or she has two choices: the honorable path of snitching or the criminal path of cover-up.

Cop culture pushes them to protect fellow cops, punishing their victims and undermining a society that must trust cops for law enforcement to work.

And most of the time it doesn’t get any headlines.

Because most of the time, it works.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.