By BOB HERBERT
In a column earlier this week I wrote about a cop who grotesquely abused his power by invading a high school classroom in the Bronx because a girl had uttered a curse word in a hallway. Not only did the cop handcuff and arrest the girl in a room filled with stunned students and a helpless teacher, but he arrested the school’s principal, who had attempted to reason with the officer.
The principal was suspended from his job immediately after the arrest in February 2005, but was reinstated when the charges — bogus from the very beginning — were eventually dropped. Still, the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, defended the police officer’s action, telling reporters at the time, “The principal was simply wrong.”
As I continued to look into this case, it became clear that police officials were trying to withhold important information about the officer, Juan Gonzalez. In response to a question, a spokesman for Commissioner Kelly said that Officer Gonzalez, now 29, had been placed on modified duty and that his gun and shield had been taken away.
But why? Despite repeated requests, the department would not say.
Then I found out through other sources that Officer Gonzalez had gotten into trouble for stalking, kissing and otherwise harassing a 17-year-old girl at another high school in the Bronx. The girl, extremely upset over the unwanted advances, notified school authorities and they notified the Police Department.
The Police Department confirmed this yesterday.
The encounter with the girl occurred in September 2005 outside Truman High School. The girl, questioned at a hearing by a lawyer representing the city, said she had just left the school and was on her way to a bus stop when Officer Gonzalez, in uniform, walked up to her.
He let her know that he had been watching her, and he followed her as she tried to walk away. He asked to see her school program, which lists, among other things, a student’s classes and schedule. She handed it to him.
According to the girl, the officer said, “It doesn’t have what I’m looking for.”
She said that when she asked what he was looking for, he replied, “Your address.”
The girl said Officer Gonzalez began touching her as they were passing another school. “He started touching my hair,” she said, “and pulling it all towards one side to touch my neck.” She backed up against a wall, she said, and the officer leaned over her, pressing his arms against the wall.
“I wasn’t looking at him,” the girl said. “I was turning my face away, and he touched my face and put my face to look directly towards, at him. He said, ‘Why can’t I look at him?’ And he touched my waist and pulled me closer to him, and he kissed me on my cheeks.”
The girl said, “I tried to push him away, but I couldn’t. So I had to duck under his arms.”
Officer Gonzalez followed her as she resumed walking toward the bus stop. He suggested they go out on a date. The girl said she told the officer, “I don’t think so.”
Then, she said, he told her what a powerful man he was, how he had kicked down doors and even arrested a high school principal.
This week, even as I continued asking questions about Officer Gonzalez’s status, the Police Department gave him back his gun and his badge and put him back on patrol.
It was a wildly irresponsible decision. Parents across the city should be warned about this officer.
Over the past several weeks I have heard one credible story after another of police officers ruthlessly harassing, and frequently arresting, youngsters who have done nothing wrong. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly seem to be in denial about this problem, which is widespread. There is an astounding reluctance to criticize or properly discipline police officers, no matter how egregious their conduct.
The big losers are the good kids who are treated like criminals by bullies and predators masquerading as New York’s finest. Other losers are the many cops who routinely take their crime-fighting mission seriously, but are undermined by these lowlifes in blue.
Jonathan Moore, a civil rights lawyer who represents the girl harassed by Officer Gonzalez, said his client had agreed, with “some hesitation,” to my request to tell her story in a column. She is still afraid, he said, that Officer Gonzalez will “track her down and cause her harm.”Read full post and comments:
"A Girl’s Fear and Loathing" >>