If the tragedy of Jack Franqui were just negligent policing on the night he died, that would demand investigation and punishment. But a Newsday-News 12 report about the Rocky Point man’s death and the official investigation of the incident show something worse: Some in the Suffolk County Police Department are swaggering and vindictive, and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota is too cozy with cops to be trusted when an officer needs to be investigated.
With bluejeans tied to bars, Franqui hanged himself in a cell at the Suffolk police Seventh Precinct in Shirley on Jan. 23, 2013. It would have taken him about 10 minutes to die that way. Twice that day, officers confiscated clothing Franqui had tied to the bars. Another prisoner’s attempts to get help went unheeded. An intercom was shut off. A TV set officers were watching was too loud for them to hear Franqui’s screams.
But the tragedy began 13 months before, when Franqui was arrested in a confrontation with police after his then-girlfriend called authorities as he threatened suicide. The arrival of several officers and the chaotic scene frightened Franqui, who came out of his home, then retreated inside. Exactly when Franqui grabbed a gun or in what direction he fired it, as well as the level of force police used in handling him, were contested by officer testimony that contradicted itself and other witnesses. Franqui was charged with several felonies. He ended up known to officers as a guy who tried to shoot a cop, and they targeted him.
Franqui pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and served about a year in prison. Two months after he got out on probation, the home where he was staying was raided by police with guns drawn, according to Franqui’s father. The son was charged with a felony when officers found a toy slingshot in the house.
Days later, while he was hanging out with a friend in the latter’s neighborhood, a neighbor called 911 to report a “suspicious vehicle.” Officers at the scene knew the car was Franqui’s and acted like thugs, according to witnesses. They arrested Franqui and his friend and injured Franqui.
In jail later that day, Franqui soaked himself in toilet water, bellowed, repeatedly made preparations and then hanged himself.
In a separate case in 2011, two detectives who investigated Franqui’s death obtained a now-discredited confession from a Huntington cabbie shot by a drunken off-duty Nassau cop. That Nassau cop, since fired, has never been charged by the Suffolk County district attorney, nor have the two Suffolk detectives.
And two cops who were in charge of the cell where Franqui died will never be charged, because Spota gave them immunity to testify to a tardily convened grand jury about a death they could have prevented.
Spota was also the mentor of James Burke, the former Suffolk police chief recently indicted on charges of beating a suspect and covering it up. Having had such a close associate of the district attorney in charge of police strikes good-government advocates as a very bad idea.
Law enforcement in Suffolk needs to be investigated by someone with no ties to the culture and the players. The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District is the person to do it. There is too much rotten with the relationship between the county district attorney and the police to condone the status quo, or to believe anyone in the middle of the culture can fix it.