ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – A former deputy police commissioner on Long Island was rightfully convicted for his role in hushing up the investigation into a wealthy friend’s son’s alleged theft, New York’s high court ruled Thursday.
William Flanagan’s 2013 sentence capped off a multi-year investigation into a conspiracy involving several police officers in the Nassau County Police Department who had tried to pressure a high school principal into dropping charges against a student who stole electronic equipment.
The bizarre case began in May 2009, when Bellmore High School authorities reported the theft of $3,000 worth of electronic equipment, which had followed a string of similar thefts throughout the school year.
The school principal showed Nassau County police surveillance video of a student, named Z.P. in court papers, on school grounds without permission after hours. Witnesses claimed to have seen Z.P. trying to break into the auditorium, where the equipment was stored.
The student was suspended for five days for the alleged theft, and the case was assigned to detectives for further investigation.
However, it was revealed that Z.P. had obtained an internship with the police department through his father, and was technically an employee during the alleged theft. That fact was reported to internal affairs, but hours later the deputy chief of patrol said the case would stay with the detectives, court records show.
The detective in the case interviewed witnesses but allegedly never took notes. According to court documents, he also was told by “higher ups” within the police department that the case should not result in an arrest, even though the principal and other school officials insisted that Z.P. be arrested for the crime.
By that Memorial Day weekend, Z.P.’s father, Gary Parker, allegedly talked with the principal and said his son had confessed to the theft and pleaded against having him arrested. Parker had been a benefactor to the police precinct over the years and had contacts within the department.
That weekend the stolen property was retrieved by police and placed into storage, but it was not logged into evidence, according to court records.
However, after Memorial Day the principal and superintendent decided to press charges, but the officer handling the case did not investigate further.
When the principal was given the stolen property back that June, she was told to sign a document stating she would withdraw charges. The principal refused, and the stolen electronics were brought back to the police precinct.
Throughout the summer, Parker allegedly inquired with one of his contacts within the police department, Deputy Commissioner Flanagan, to get his son’s case resolved without an arrest. The principal refused to back down, however, at one point emailing police saying that “it is clear the police want to bury this case,” according to court documents.
The officer assigned to the case eventually returned the stolen equipment to the school again, even though the principal had not waived the charges. The officer would later sign off on a false report saying the principal no longer needed police assistance in the case, court records show.
Parker learned that the equipment had been returned and thanked Flanagan by sending him gift cards to Morton’s steakhouse, according to court papers and news reports.
The case was officially closed in September 2010.
However, it was reopened six months later when a newspaper published a report about the theft and the Nassau County District Attorney looked into the police investigation.
Parker tried to distance himself from Flanagan and the rest of the police, to which Flanagan allegedly wrote “remember what I told you, ‘you’re family’” and “we take care of our own.”
Flanagan and two others would eventually be charged with conspiracy and two counts of official misconduct in their attempts to hush up Z.P.’s alleged theft.
Flanagan, who had spent nearly three decades on the force, resigned in 2012, but the investigation continued and he was eventually convicted. He received a 60-day prison sentence for the conspiracy charge and five months for the misconduct convictions.
Flanagan’s appeal wound its way to New York’s Court of Appeals, where he argued there was insufficient evidence to convict him and that as a police officer he had some “measure of discretion” as to how he investigated the electronics theft.
In Thursday’s ruling confirming the conviction, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote that Flanagan’s argument “completely undermines a statute intended to criminalize public corruption” and that “this was not a failure of an officer to perform a discretionary duty, but a disavowal of a sworn duty by a public official.”
“The evidence was sufficient to prove that defendant committed the crime of official misconduct by nonfeasance when he directed his accomplice officers to refrain from performing their fundamental duty to investigate a crime, a duty inherent in the nature of their office,” the ruling states.
DiFiore was joined in the opinion by Judges Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Leslie Stein, Eugene Fahey and Michael Garcia.