Will a Top N.Y.P.D Chief Who Let an Arrested Officer Walk Be Punished?

At 11:14 p.m. on the night before Thanksgiving 2021, Chief Jeffrey Maddrey strode into a Brooklyn precinct. He had gotten a call that a retired officer whom he once supervised was under arrest after being accused of brandishing a gun at three boys.

Chief Maddrey lectured the sergeant who had arrested the retired officer, Kruythoff Forrester, ordered the arrest voided and then warmly shook Mr. Forrester’s hand in the lobby, according to a report by the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board and video of the incident.

Last week, the board, which investigates misconduct and recommends punishments, sent Chief Maddrey a letter stating that he had abused his authority that night. It said Chief Maddrey, at the time head of community affairs for the Police Department, had “improperly influenced an arrest” when he ordered Mr. Forrester freed.

Now, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell must decide what — if any — punishment will be imposed on Chief Maddrey, who is now the department’s third-highest-ranking police official, a promotion that she awarded him. For Commissioner Sewell, it is a fraught decision: Chief Maddrey has denied wrongdoing, and Mayor Eric Adams, who appointed Commissioner Sewell, has publicly defended him.

On Friday, a group of Black church leaders plan to gather in front of police headquarters in Manhattan for a “unity prayer” in support of Chief Maddrey.

The department’s guidelines recommend a loss of 10 vacation days, the board’s letter said. The boys and their families, as well as police analysts, said that’s not nearly enough of a punishment for a highly ranked officer who used his power to help a friend who traumatized children who were 12, 13 and 14 at the time.

Mr. Adams, a former police captain, seemed to signal his support for the chief, who he said had “dedicated his life to this city.” The mayor has consistently defended Chief Maddrey since The City reported Mr. Forrester’s release and videos emerged showing the chief coming to Mr. Forrester’s aid.

“I’m just so proud to have him as chief of the department,” Mr. Adams said.

The situation is another instance in which Mr. Adams has shown steadfast loyalty to people whose conduct has been questioned. He appointed Philip Banks III, a former first deputy commissioner, as deputy mayor of public safety even though federal prosecutors had labeled him an unindicted co-conspirator in a bribery case. The mayor also has maintained a close friendship with two brothers, bar operators who pleaded guilty in 2014 to financial crimes.

Chief Maddrey was promoted to oversee all uniformed officers in November despite a record that included internal discipline for a 2015 incident in which he ordered police officers to leave a park in Queens where he had been fighting with a former officer who had been under his supervision.

The officer, Tabatha Foster, has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Queens in which she said that in the 2015 incident, Chief Maddrey had choked her and thrown her to the ground. The suit also accused him of persistent sexual advances. The case is awaiting trial, according to her lawyer, Matthew Blit. Chief Maddrey has denied the allegations, and has asked that the case be dismissed.

In the Brooklyn case, Commissioner Sewell should impose a severe punishment, said Corey Pegues, a law enforcement analyst and former deputy inspector who worked for the department for 21 years — to maintain credibility with the people of Brownsville, the neighborhood where the arrest happened, and with rank-and-file officers, he said.

If Chief Maddrey “gets a light punishment or no punishment at all, it is demoralizing to the hundreds of cops who have been given 25 days or 30 days for doing lesser things,” he said. “It shows the police are not held to a higher standard when they’re in the upper echelons of the Police Department.”

An internal affairs investigation cleared Chief Maddrey, said his lawyer, Lambros Y. Lambrou.

The department did not respond to messages for comment. Mr. Lambrou called the police review board’s decision “complete nonsense” and said the chief wants the case heard in a department trial.

“He feels confident he did nothing wrong,” Mr. Lambrou said. “He’s not just taking 10 days on the chin. He’s going to fight this all the way to the end.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Adams, a former police officer, fiercely defended Chief Maddrey and said the police commissioner would treat the allegations like any other.

“In no way am I interfering with the process,” Mr. Adams said. “I’m allowing the police commissioner to do her role of the process, and she will analyze and make a determination.”

The boys in the case, who agreed to be identified by their first names during an interview in the presence of their mother, Crystal Merritt, said that accountability for Chief Maddrey would show the city’s leaders care about their safety. Brendan, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, said he barely goes to the park anymore to play basketball.

That night “changed how I see cops,” he said. “I thought cops were here to protect me. I’m seeing that it’s not that at all.”

On Nov. 24, 2021, Mr. Forrester was arrested after the three boys called 911 to report he had come after them with a gun. He was initially charged with menacing, the crime of putting another person in fear of immediate physical injury.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office said it found “no criminality” by Mr. Forrester after reviewing video footage from police body cameras and surveillance cameras on the street, which did not show Mr. Forrester holding a weapon.

No one from the office ever interviewed Brendan, his brother Kyi-el, 15, or their cousin, Kuwan, said their lawyer, M.K. Kaishian.

The boys said they had been walking past a building that belonged to Mr. Forrester’s family, when one threw a basketball that broke a surveillance camera, video from street surveillance camera shows. The boys immediately ran, and soon after, they said, they were confronted by Mr. Forrester, who they said brandished a silver and black gun, then followed them for several blocks.

As they fled, one of the children called 911 and begged the operator not to tell his mother he had hit the security camera, the review board report said.

Police found two of the boys with their relatives outside the building and Mr. Forrester in the lobby. One officer searched Mr. Forrester and found a silver, brown and black gun in his holster.

“I’m not stupid, bro,” he told officers. “I never took it out,” the body camera video shows.

He acknowledged he told the boys he would shoot them if they returned to the building.

The sergeant determined there was probable cause to arrest him.

“It’s hard to say someone’s got a gun and describe the gun and that guy has a gun and it matches,” the sergeant said to the officers, who nodded, an exchange captured on the body camera video.

Mr. Forrester, 52, was calm as he was arrested, asking if he could bring his lip balm to the station. He said that he would “reach out” to Chief Maddrey, the video shows.

Mr. Forrester did not respond to messages for comment.

When Chief Maddrey, along with Chief Scott Henderson, arrived at the precinct, they reviewed video, then spoke with the sergeant who had ordered the arrest, according to the C.C.R.B. report. Chief Maddrey told him that, as a retired officer, Mr. Forrester was allowed to carry a firearm and “that the children should have been arrested for criminal misconduct,” the report said.

The sergeant later told his supervisor that Chief Henderson instructed him on what “should be written in the narrative of the arrest report,” which made no mention of a firearm. Chief Maddrey denied dictating the report’s content, according to the review board.

The next day, someone from the precinct called the children’s relatives and told them the arrest had been voided.

“The caller stated that he did not agree with what happened and advised the family to contact C.C.R.B.,” the panel’s report said.

Chief Maddrey said he called for voiding the arrest because there was no direct evidence that Mr. Forrester had menaced the children, and he did not find the children credible because they had “apparently lied” about damaging the camera, the report said.

But the report noted that Chief Maddrey could not explain how the children each described Mr. Forrester’s “distinctive firearm so similarly” and said the sergeant had probable cause for the arrest.

Ms. Merritt, the mother of Brendan and Kyi-el, said that the affair shows that leaders — whatever their rank — have a duty to nurture children.

“We have to find some kind of humility as adults and a way for people in high power to understand that we need to teach children instead of trying to run them down and hurt them,” she said.

Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.

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