Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota just didn't get the job done. Another prosecutor must.
Anthony DiLeonardo, who was an off-duty Nassau County police officer when he shot an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station in 2011, has not faced any criminal charges. However, DiLeonardo was terminated from his job after an internal police department hearing found that he had committed four felonies and one misdemeanor on the night of the shooting. Spota has a couple of excuses for his ineffectiveness, but the main one was his inability to obtain Nassau's police internal affairs report -- the same one Newsday has had on its website for more than a year.
A lengthy report last week by Newsday and News 12 Long Island shreds Spota's explanations and makes you question how hard he really tried. It's a case study of how cops get treated differently by the criminal justice system.
Granted, Spota had some challenges. Shooting victim Thomas Moroughan, who took two bullets from DiLeonardo, declined to testify. He has, however, filed a $30-million federal lawsuit claiming both Nassau and Suffolk police departments conspired to cover up the incident. He alleges that he was forced to sign a false confession that said DiLeonardo fired in self-defense because the cabbie was trying to run the cop down with his Prius. It was in that case file that Newsday found the damning internal affairs report.
This case, which some powerful players clearly want to disappear, has none of the trappings of other police shootings of unarmed civilians. No fatality. No larger national racial narrative to define it; both the shooter and the victim are white. No emotional news conferences by the families. It's just another incident in the long history of Long Island's out-of-control police culture trumping the law.
After Newsday's follow-up reports found that DiLeonardo was still employed as a cop more than two years after the shooting, Spota had no option but to empanel a grand jury. However, the district attorney said he couldn't get copies of Nassau and Suffolk police internal affairs reports because of a confidentiality agreement among the parties. But even if that effort failed, Spota could have been bolder. He could have issued grand jury subpoenas to the Nassau and Suffolk police departments for the reports. If the departments still refused to turn them over and cited the state's 50-a law that shields police personnel records, he could have asked the courts to disregard the statute in this instance. Shielding this kind of misconduct could not have been what the State Legislature had in mind when it passed the 50-a legislation.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should take steps to pick up where Spota was unable or unwilling to go. Justice has not been served, and the search for it should not end.
Cuomo has the power to initiate a process that allows Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to name a special prosecutor to give the case a fresh look. Spota conceded as much in an interview last week with News 12 when told this is what legal experts recommended.
"Let the governor do it then," Spota said. "In my view, there should be a prosecution in this case. If the attorney general can be more successful than I have been, God bless him."