Jo’Anna bird’s murder Hidden file reveals police failed to protect her from violent ex-boyfriend

A 781-page file kept secret by Nassau police for more than a decade detailed the repeated policing failures leading up to her murder in 2009.

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of domestic violence.

A long-suppressed Nassau County Police Department internal affairs file vividly documents how more than a dozen officers failed to protect a 24-year-old mother of two from the homicidal former boyfriend who took her life.

Kept secret by the department for more than a decade, and long sought by Newsday, the file details the repeated police failures that led up to the torture and murder of Jo’Anna Bird in 2009.

The 781-page file also reveals for the first time that the department charged 11 police officers, one detective and two sergeants with as many as eight counts of misconduct each in connection with the Bird case. The document does not, however, reveal the punishments imposed on all the officers.

Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder has refused to release that information.

Although the potential penalties were as severe as suspension or dismissal, Newsday confirmed through records and multiple sources that the department limited punishments to the loss of as little as four hours of sick and vacation time to a high of 24 days of accrued sick and vacation time. The department ordered retraining for one officer.

No one was suspended, fired or demoted in rank. Five of the 14 have been promoted. Two of them are now president and financial secretary of the Police Benevolent Association. The file shows no indication that internal affairs held top commanders accountable.

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Det. Jeffrey Raymond was docked four hours of time, sources said.

Raymond was fully familiar with the violent criminality of Bird’s obsessed pursuer, Leonardo Valdez Cruz, a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang. Despite a police commander’s fear that Valdez Cruz would murder Bird, Raymond worked successfully to have Valdez Cruz released from custody two days before he stabbed Bird in a fatal frenzy, according to the file.

Raymond is today one of Ryder’s key aides as commanding officer of the department’s burglary squad.

Newsday delved into the police conduct that led up to the murder while investigating how Long Island’s largest police forces have policed themselves. As happened in Bird’s case, the investigation revealed that the Nassau and Suffolk internal affairs systems allowed officers to escape all, or most, discipline after serious injuries or deaths in cases that Newsday reviewed.

Well before her murder, Bird had told family members that Valdez Cruz would kill her. Fatalistically, she gathered evidence to help convict Valdez Cruz after she was dead.

Bird’s futile pleas for help, followed by the horror of her death, made the killing a milestone in domestic violence enforcement on Long Island – even as Nassau police leaders refused full public accountability for the many times officers passed up opportunities to deter, if not stop, Valdez Cruz. Under state law, police are mandated to make an arrest in a domestic violence incident, regardless of a victim’s wishes, when there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or that an order of protection has been violated. Police failure to enforce those laws against Valdez Cruz helped push Nassau County to pay a $7.7 million settlement to Bird’s family.

Editors’ Note
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Long Island’s two major police departments are among the largest local law enforcement agencies in the United States. Protecting and serving, the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments are key to the quality of life on the Island – as well as the quality of justice. They have the dual missions of enforcing the law and of holding accountable those officers who engage in misconduct.

Each mission is essential.

Newsday today publishes the second in our series of case histories under the heading of Inside Internal Affairs. Planned for publication over the coming weeks, the stories will be tied by a common thread: Cloaked in secrecy by law, the systems for policing the police in both counties imposed no, or little, penalties on officers in cases involving serious injuries or deaths.

This installment in the series focuses on the murder in 2009 of Jo’Anna Bird, a 24-year-old mother of two, by a violent former boyfriend. Drawn largely from an internal affairs file that has been sealed for 12 years, the stories recount for the first time publicly the Nassau County Police Department’s repeated failures to protect Bird in the months leading up to her fatal stabbing.

The file revealed that the department charged 14 members of the force with rules violations, double the number it had reported in public statements. Additionally, personnel records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Law, showed that the department upheld a single charge each for 13 of the officers.

It blacked out the personnel record of the14th officer, concealing how the department resolved the charges he faced. That officer is Thomas Shevlin, who was elected last month as president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association.

Newsday’s investigation also uncovered that the PBA flexed its political muscle to limit punishments. Some were as small as the loss of four hours’ worth of pay and topped out at the loss of 24 days’ worth of pay, according to documents and well-placed sources. One officer was retrained.

Newsday has long been committed to covering the Island’s police departments, from valor that is often taken for granted to faults that have been kept from view under a law that barred release of police disciplinary records.

Last year, propelled by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the New York legislature and former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo repealed the secrecy law, known as 50-a, and enacted provisions aimed at opening disciplinary files to public scrutiny.

Newsday then asked the Nassau and Suffolk departments to provide records ranging from information contained in databases that track citizen complaints to documents generated during internal investigations of selected high-profile cases. Newsday invoked the state’s Freedom of Information law as mandating release of the records.

The Nassau police department responded that the same statute still barred release of virtually all information, including the file generated by the internal affairs investigation of the events leading up to Bird’s murder.

In contrast, the Nassau County district attorney’s office determined that last year’s legislative action obligated it to release the document after news organizations working with USA Today made a Freedom of Information Law request for a batch of records that turned out to include the file. USA Today then partnered with Newsday.

Suffolk’s police department delayed responding to Newsday’ requests for documents and then asserted that the law required it to produce records only in cases where charges were substantiated against officers.

Hoping to establish that the new statute did, in fact, make police disciplinary broadly available to the public, Newsday filed court actions against both departments. A Nassau state Supreme Court justice last month upheld continued secrecy, as urged by Nassau’s department. Newsday is appealing. Its Suffolk lawsuit is pending.

Under the continuing confidentiality, reporters Paul LaRocco, Sandra Peddie and David M. Schwartz devoted 18 months to investigating the inner workings of the Nassau and Suffolk police department internal affairs bureaus.

Federal lawsuits waged by people who alleged police abuses proved to be a valuable starting point. These court actions required Nassau and Suffolk to produce documents rarely seen outside the two departments. In some of the suits, judges sealed the records; in others, the standard transparency of the courts made public thousands of pages drawn from the departments’ internal files.

The papers provided a guide toward confirming events and understanding why the counties had settled claims, sometimes for millions of dollars. Interviews with those who had been injured and loved ones of those who had been killed helped complete the forthcoming case histories and provided an unprecedented look Inside Internal Affairs.

Through heavily redacted records surrendered under the Freedom of Information Law, Newsday determined that the department settled the disciplinary actions by upholding a single charge for at least 13 officers.

For 10, the charge was failing to “promptly and faithfully perform duties,” a designation that encompasses serious breaches of an officer’s obligation to protect the public. Three were found to have violated department rules. The department blacked out whether it upheld a charge against one officer in a personnel history released to Newsday.

That officer, Thomas Shevlin, was elected president of the Nassau Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in November. His LinkedIn page states that he has also been a PBA delegate. The file describes him as responding to a call from Bird’s family in the same manner as officers whose charges were upheld.

Lawrence Mulvey, who served as police commissioner when Bird was murdered, this year told Newsday why the department stepped down from a total of 46 charges and meted out penalties that he saw as too light: political pressure.

The Nassau Police Benevolent Association, the politically powerful police officers’ union, succeeded in reducing the penalties through then-Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, he said. Mulvey said that he wanted to suspend some officers for four months but that was rejected.

joannabird

The PBA thought the discipline I had in mind was too harsh.’

Lawrence Mulvey, former Nassau police commissioner

“The PBA thought the discipline I had in mind (plea offers) was too harsh and behind the scenes they had Mangano’s ear. The process of negotiating plea agreements lingered and dragged on until I retired,” Mulvey wrote in an email, adding that his frustrations sped up his decision to step down.

“I knew what was going on and it hastened my retirement,” he said.

James Carver, who was PBA president at the time, denied dealing with Mangano. Two high-level police sources said Mangano tried to use the promise of softer discipline to leverage concessions when negotiating the next police contract.

Mangano is appealing a March 2019 conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents in connection with a bribery scheme. He declined comment through his attorney, Kevin Keating.

Valdez Cruz murdered Bird on March 19, 2009. Newsday and other media extensively covered the killing, the police department’s admission that it had failed to protect her and Valdez Cruz’s homicide trial, after which he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Westbury home where Bird was murdered in 2009. Photo credit: Pablo Corradi

Family members console each other after learning about her death. Photo credit: Howard Schnapp

Yet the extensive coverage was incomplete because New York State law kept police discipline records confidential. In 2020, the Legislature and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo revoked the secrecy law, known as 50-a.

Still, Ryder has maintained that state law requires continued confidentiality under most circumstances. He denied a Newsday Freedom of Information Law request for access to Bird-related disciplinary records, as well as internal affairs documents produced in numerous unrelated cases.

Ryder is also fighting a Newsday lawsuit that argues the new statute opened many police disciplinary records to public examination. In November, a Nassau Supreme Court justice ruled that the police department could withhold the documents. Newsday is appealing.

Like the leaders of many New York police departments and police unions, Ryder has asserted that releasing internal affairs case records that did not conclude with substantiated findings would violate officer privacy.

Going further, he refused to release the records even of substantiated complaints that resulted in discipline, as happened with the officers found guilty of misconduct in Bird’s case. There he argued that the 50-a repeal was not meant to be applied retroactively and that contracts with police unions assumed these records would remain private.

Independently, in a nationwide look at policing, a consortium of New York news organizations working with USA Today asked the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office for copies of records that prosecutors are required to turn over to criminal defense attorneys. Such records contain information defense attorneys may use to impeach prosecution witnesses. Upon request, the district attorney’s office routinely releases such records.

The DA’s office emailed the long-sought file to USA Today because a police officer scheduled to testify in a case was named in the records.

USA Today’s editors proposed a partnership that would rely on Newsday’s deep Nassau contacts and knowledge about criminal justice on Long Island.

While Ryder has maintained that the police department has the power to seal the file from public view, the district attorney’s office determined that the repeal of the secrecy law mandated releasing the document.

“This agency disclosed records responsive to a 2020 request based upon our interpretation of our obligations under the FOIL statute following the legislature’s repeal of § 50(a) of the New York State Civil Rights law,” the district attorney’s office explained in a written statement.

Opening the emailed file revealed a dark chapter in the annals of Nassau’s largest police force.

Although Bird’s grief-stricken family demanded answers, they were denied the full story of what had happened.

Only a select few at the top of the NCPD knew the scope of how the department failed Bird. The file shows that internal affairs investigators interviewed 28 cops, one dispatcher and one emergency medical technician. One dispatcher and 22 cops were subjects or targets of the investigation.

And only a few members of the top brass knew that the department had charged a total of 14 members of the force with rules violations as Bird’s last few months moved toward murder – double the number the department had publicly acknowledged.

In 2010, Newsday filed a motion in court seeking to have the Bird file unsealed. The motion was denied.

In December 2010, civil rights attorney Fred Brewington scheduled a press conference at which he planned to make public a copy of the file that he had received while representing Bird’s family in a suit against Nassau County. The county won a court order gagging him.

To this day, he is barred from talking about it.

In 2012, Nassau County legislators were given access to the file as they contemplated approving the $7.7 million settlement with Bird’s family. After Legis. Peter Schmitt told a News 12 reporter that 22 officers “ought to be ashamed to look at themselves in the mirror every morning,” the PBA won a court action to hold Schmitt in contempt for violating the confidentiality order.

In 2013, Newsday sued Nassau again, seeking to compel the department to fulfill its Freedom of Information Law request for the Bird file. A judge dismissed the case.

Although the Nassau police department refuses to make most internal affairs records public, it does have a policy of notifying complainants of the results of such investigations. That did not happen in the Bird case.

Family members said that, before being informed by Newsday this year, they did not know the outcome of the investigation, even though Brewington has kept a copy of the file locked in a safe.

joannabird

I never even got to know what ever happened to the police officers.’

-Sharon Dorsett, Bird’s mother

“I wanted them to open up the internal affairs report because I never got a chance to see it,” said Bird’s mother, Sharon Dorsett. “And I feel that me being her mother and everything she went through, and we went through, I had the right to see it, as her mother, to know what was in it.”

She added: “And I never even got to know what ever happened to the police officers.”

Newsday sought interviews with the 14 officers . They either declined to comment or said the department had barred them from speaking.

Ryder declined interview requests. He issued this statement:

“Following the murder of Jo’Anna Bird, the Department conducted an extensive internal investigation. As a result of that investigation, several officers were penalized with loss of pay, were retrained and transferred. The Department also reviewed and revised its existing policies regarding domestic incidents and created and implemented new procedures to further enhance those policies to enforce the law and protect our victims.”

Although voluminous, the internal affairs file was limited in the scope of what it investigated.

The investigation examined how officers in the field responded to 10 domestic violence incidents over the last three months of Bird’s life, from December 2008 to March 2009, but did not review how officers handled eight earlier calls for help by Bird.

In June 2007, for example, she reported that Valdez Cruz had punched her over her right eye during an argument about money. In February 2008, she reported that he had pulled her hair during a violent argument. While noting that Bird had summoned police, the file does not name the responding officers or delve into why they did not arrest Valdez Cruz as mandated by law.

Similarly missing was a study of the police response on the day of Bird’s homicide. Her family members have asserted, and the department has denied, that officers delayed responding to pleas for help for hours and joked with one another at the scene of the murder.

Crucially, according to law enforcement experts, the file presents a damning pattern of misconduct by multiple officers without holding commanding officers accountable for failing to properly supervise the precinct.

John Eterno is a retired New York Police Department captain who leads the criminal justice program at Molloy College in Rockville Centre. Given a detailed summary of the file, he attributed the breadth of the police misconduct to flawed leadership and questioned why only the “lower ranks,” including sergeants, were penalized.

“It just seems very odd that they would all be singled out for the most discipline, yet the higher ranks, there’s nothing,” he said

Finally, the file makes clear that police knew Valdez Cruz was dangerous. He had been arrested 23 times, beginning at the age of 12, when he pointed a BB gun at the head of a child in elementary school. The arrests included 13 felonies, six of which were violent, ranging from drug dealing to an unprovoked assault on an 11-year-old boy when Valdez Cruz was 22.

Even so, and despite increasing 911 calls by Bird, the file names just one officer – Raymond Cote, who then was commanding officer of the Third Precinct – as expressing concern for her safety.

“We realized the severity of what he was doing to her,” Cote said in a Newsday interview. “We realized how dangerous he was.”

joannabird

We realized how dangerous he was.’

Raymond Cote, then-commanding officer of the Third Precinct

Yet, the internal affairs file details how officers of the Nassau police department enabled Valdez Cruz to torment Bird as he ultimately took the life she had predicted: hers.

“What happened to this woman could have been prevented,” Eterno said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Officers failed to take Valdez Cruz into custody under a state law that mandates arrests in most domestic violence incidents.

After murders of women by abusive partners in the mid-1990s, the New York Legislature passed a law requiring police to make an arrest, regardless of a victim’s wishes, when there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or that an order of protection has been violated.

Nassau police failed to arrest Valdez Cruz on at least six occasions under the mandatory arrest law.

Two days before Valdez Cruz murdered Bird, for example, her family called 911 when he came searching for her. Although officers Jason Contino and Christopher Jata found Valdez Cruz banging on the family’s front door, they failed to arrest him for violating the order of protection after Bird made excuses for him.

Officer Christopher Jata

Officer Jason Contino

“If there’s a felony, or an active order of protection, the officers must make an arrest,” said Eterno, the former NYPD captain. “I’ve responded to scenes – and I’m going all the way back now to the late ’80s, early ’90s – where I’ve ordered officers to make arrests at scenes that had felonies or orders of protection where I’ve told the officers, ‘You cannot not make, you don’t have the discretion under the law not to make an arrest here. You have to make an arrest.'”

The internal affairs file does not mention New York’s mandatory arrest law. The police department imposed no discipline on officers for failing to use it.

Officers repeatedly ignored Bird’s orders of protection.

A judge will issue an order of protection when there are grounds to believe that someone’s safety is in danger. Typically, such an order bars a person who is seen as a threat from approaching the potential victim, but it can include more stringent conditions.

Violating an order of protection in New York as a first offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or $1,000 fine. The penalty increases if there are multiple violations of the order.

Beginning in the spring of 2008, Bird secured three orders of protection directing Valdez Cruz to stay away from her residence, her family’s home, her job and her school. They also barred him from contacting her or her co-workers or threatening her family members. The law required police to arrest him for merely showing up at her home.

On at least four of the six calls for police help, officers failed even to verify, as required, that Bird had an order of protection, even after she and family members said she had one.

After midnight heading into the morning of March 15, 2009, for example, Valdez Cruz tracked Bird down at her parent’s house, where she was staying out of fear. Three times over a four-hour period, he barged in, once pinning a pillow over Bird’s face, and once climbing through a bathroom window to get at her. Each time, Bird’s family called 911.

Officer Christopher Acquilino

Officer Steven Zimmer

Officers Christopher Acquilino and Steven Zimmer responded to the three calls. Officers Joseph Massaro and Thomas Shevlin responded to one. Although Bird’s family reported that Valdez Cruz had chased Bird with a knife, the officers sent Valdez Cruz away after each episode without checking whether he had violated an order of protection, according to the file.

Acquilino and Zimmer told internal affairs that they heard nothing about a knife or an order of protection.

Officer Joseph Massaro

Officer Thomas Shevlin

“The police do not make an arrest of him that night, and we don’t know why,” then-Assistant District Attorney Madeline Singas said at Valdez Cruz’s murder trial.

Jurors found the police inaction incomprehensible.

“She’s terrified. Why aren’t you arresting him?” jury forewoman Karen Brandon said in a Newsday interview. “Each time, ‘Buddy, take a walk. Buddy, take a walk.'”

Valdez Cruz thought he was lucky to avoid arrest.

“I’m out there like, ‘Whew, that was a close one,'” he said in an interview at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville in August.

Police left without helping Bird after spending just minutes at the scene.

Officers often came and went without interviewing witnesses or identifying who was there, according to witnesses and the internal affairs file. In some cases, they failed to identify Bird. The file shows that they closed their 911 responses in as little as five minutes.

When Bird called 911 at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 26, 2008, telling a dispatcher that “her baby’s father was beating her up” and asking for police to come quickly, the response extended for slightly longer.

Officer Gary DiPasquale acknowledged to internal affairs that he knew both that Valdez Cruz had a record of domestic violence against Bird and that Bird had secured an order of protection. Officer James Shanahan told internal affairs that he expected “a heavy call.”

Officer Gary DiPasquale

Officer James Shanahan

Nonetheless, they let a woman, later identified as Bird, walk by and drive away. They did not ask who she was and did not investigate after she said, “He was here. He left. Everything is fine,” an apparent reference to Valdez Cruz, whose presence would have violated an order of protection.

They stayed at the scene for 13 minutes, the file states.

“Every time the police come and leave, it just emboldens him,” Singas said in her closing argument at Valdez Cruz’s homicide trial.

joannabird

Every time the police come and leave, it just emboldens him.’

Madeline Singas, then-Nassau assistant district attorney

Police delayed three days after Bird asked officers to arrest Valdez Cruz.

On Jan. 9, 2009, Bird walked into the Third Precinct, reported that Valdez Cruz had threatened her and stated, “I am requesting an arrest be made.” She spoke with officers for 75 minutes.

Three days later, Det. Nicholas Occhino went to Bird’s apartment and left a contact number after being told she was not there. Bird called him back. Forced by Valdez Cruz to recant, she told Occhino that everything she had reported at the precinct was a mistake.

After Bird also said that she was not under duress, Occhino closed the case. Internal affairs investigators concluded that he handled the complaint properly.

The file does not indicate that internal affairs considered the police response more broadly.

“Everything that you do in domestic violence cases is homicide prevention,” said Melba Pearson, past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association and a former domestic violence prosecutor. “If the police do not respond accordingly and do not escalate their tactics to make sure that they’re responding quickly and in a timely manner, that defeats the whole purpose of having [an order of protection].

joannabird

Everything that you do in domestic violence cases is homicide prevention.’

Melba Pearson, past president of the National Black Prosecutors Association and a former domestic violence prosecutor

“Because once you violate the restraining order, there needs to be a swift response or else you’re going to say there’s no value to this piece of paper. It’s just a piece of paper.”

Asked how the police should have acted, Pearson said they should have immediately made sure that Bird was safe, possibly by offering her temporary relocation or increasing patrols around her home. Pointing out that domestic violence can escalate rapidly, she also said:

“The next step is as soon as she leaves, immediately go and try to find this person to take them into custody because again, the longer they’re out, the more opportunity they have to intimidate the survivor so that they don’t move forward and testify further and it’s again reinforcing that mindset that nobody’s going to help you.”

She said that police inaction helps abusers convey to their victims: ‘No matter who you tell, I’m always going to be in charge. I’m always going to be the one to have your life in my hands.'”

Officers failed to file reports aimed at spotting patterns of domestic violence.

State law requires police to make a Domestic Incident Report after every call. The reports can alert police commanders to threatened violence that needs special attention.

Officers ignored their duty to file the reports five times after Bird or family members called 911 for protection from Valdez Cruz.

“Without the incident report, those that are involved with domestic violence will not be knowledgeable of what’s going on,” Eterno said, adding that, had officers filed reports, “a pattern would have been seen, and any seasoned investigator would have picked up on it.”

Officers chose not to arrest Valdez Cruz for crimes that could have imprisoned him for extended periods.

Most starkly, when Valdez Cruz climbed through a window to get at Bird in her parent’s home, he had committed attempted burglary and could have been charged with a felony.

The responding officers, Acquilino and Zimmer, acknowledged to internal affairs that Bird’s parents had reported the break-in to them. Even so, the officers never entered the house, checked for an order of protection or put out an arrest alert for a burglary suspect, the file states. Instead, they wrote “condition corrected” in their memo books and took no further action.

Police did not add protection for Bird after Valdez Cruz held her captive at gunpoint.

On the night of Jan. 25, 2009, Valdez Cruz pointed a gun at Bird, saying, “This s–t is going to end today. Don’t move or say anything, or I’m going to kill you.”

He tried to force her into the trunk of a car. She fought and ran. He pulled her to the ground and started to choke her. She calmed him by saying she loved him. He released his grip and went home with her that night. The next day, after he left, her family took her to a hospital and asked hospital security to call police.

Det. Jeffrey Raymond

Det. Raymond arrested Valdez Cruz. He was jailed, and from there, he called Bird.

Although Bird gave police a five-page statement, she failed to show up to testify – apparently out of fear. Cote, the Third Precinct commander, contacted the department’s domestic violence liaison to help her. Alarmed, he said in a Newsday interview that he also relayed a warning to the district attorney’s office:

“If you let this guy out, he’s going to kill her.”

Valdez Cruz was released from custody.

Still, the police department took no extra steps to protect Bird or find grounds to arrest a violent felon who had been armed with a gun and was judged a mortal danger.

Darrel Stephens, former president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said police could have flagged the family’s address to ensure “that police officers responding knew that this was a continuing situation that was evolving, and that the commander was concerned that if measures weren’t taken, that it might have a bad outcome.”

Christine Cole, executive director of the Crime and Justice Institute, a policy nonprofit based in Boston, said that it is well known that domestic violence situations escalate and are often lethal.

“I recognize that it’s very difficult to assess the lethality of a situation, but they have lots of calls for service from here,” she said. “So, it seems as if there was not a high regard for her safety.”

Police actively enabled Valdez Cruz to torment Bird in violation of an order of protection.

Two days before Valdez Cruz murdered her, Officer Anthony Gabrielli arrested Valdez Cruz for making an illegal U-turn while driving Bird’s car with a suspended license.

There is no evidence in the file that he or other officers acted to determine whether Valdez Cruz criminally possessed the car in violation of an order of protection.

Saying that he had information about gun and drug sales, Valdez Cruz asked to speak with Raymond, the detective who had arrested him for the kidnapping.

Officer Anthony Gabrielli

Officer Thomas Roche

At the Third Precinct, Gabrielli and Officer Thomas Roche searched Valdez Cruz and confiscated his cell phone. After a 25-minute private conversation with Valdez Cruz, Raymond returned the phone to him in violation of police regulations. Valdez Cruz used the phone to make 80 calls, 46 of them to Bird in repeated violations of an order of protection.

Raymond told internal affairs that he let Valdez Cruz make calls for “investigative reasons” and had forgotten to take the phone back from him.

“You don’t give the abuser the means to intimidate the survivor under your nose,” Pearson said. “You just don’t do that. So, this is just very, very disturbing to me. And to me, it’s a sign of a very problematic subculture within the police department because this happened with no accountability, other than a $7.7 million verdict that the county is paying.”

After letting Valdez Cruz use the cell phone, Raymond arranged for him to be released on a Desk Appearance Ticket rather than held overnight for arraignment in court. So-called DATs are the equivalent of summonses to appear in court and are typically issued to people who are charged with low-level offenses and have no criminal histories.

Sgt. Kenneth Ward

Raymond needed the approval of the precinct desk officer, Sgt. Kenneth Ward, to secure release for Valdez Cruz. He told Ward that Valdez Cruz had provided valuable information but did not inform Ward about Valdez Cruz’s criminal record, violent history or Bird’s orders of protection.

Without confirming Raymond’s information, as required, Ward approved releasing Valdez Cruz with a DAT.

Then, Raymond and his partner drove Valdez Cruz back to Bird’s car, which officers had not impounded in violation of additional regulations. Forty-four minutes later, Valdez Cruz searched out Bird at her parents’ house, where she had sought safety.

Promoted to detective sergeant and leading Ryder’s burglary squad, Raymond was paid $281,036 in 2020, according to county payroll records.

Pearson said Raymond should have suffered “the ultimate consequences” of dismissal from the force.

“A woman lost her life, and he enabled her intimidation. He selected the information that a gang member with a verified restraining order had to provide,” she said. “He valued [Valdez Cruz’s] life, and his information, more than the life of this young girl; and that is shameful.”

On the night Raymond secured Valdez Cruz’s release, Officer Justin Schackne worked as the Third Precinct “signal monitor,” a job that required him to track communications traffic. He told internal affairs investigators that he did not remember any arrests, did not recall Raymond speaking to the desk officer and did not remember reporting anything unusual to the desk officer, the file states. He admitted failing to properly fill out required paperwork. The department ordered him to undergo retraining.

Commanding officers were not held accountable.

Focused overwhelmingly on the actions of officers in the field, the file shows no indication that internal affairs investigated command failures in the Third Precinct’s upper ranks.

joannabird

There’s just too many officers involved, and too many of them are trying not to make the arrest.’

John Eterno, retired NYPD captain

“There’s just too many officers involved, and too many of them are trying not to make the arrest,” Eterno said. “It appeared that very few of them, if any, had an understanding of the cycle of violence. And this is something that’s pretty much standard discussion in training in a police academy.”

In a tightly run precinct, Eterno said, sergeants would have joined officers in responding to Bird’s 911 calls; officers could not have disappeared “out of service” as happened after two of the calls; and a sergeant, such as Ward, would have verified Valdez Cruz’s background before releasing him on a DAT.

“What I’m seeing here is a complete lack of supervision in the field, and it’s one of the things that struck me, that in all of these cases, not one sergeant is named in the field,” Eterno said. “We have the officers responding, but no sergeants responding.”

Sgt. Craig Berge

That was evident on the night Bird’s family called 911 three times.

Patrol supervisor Sgt. Craig Berge told investigators both that he had not known about the calls and that he was not aware Bird’s home and her parent’s home were domestic violence locations. In a second interview, he reported remembering the calls and said he hadn’t responded because he thought they were “verbal disputes.”

Berge’s memo book showed no notations for a six-hour period that covered the calls. He told investigators that at one point during that time he responded to a hospital emergency room where two shooting victims had been taken – and had forgotten to write it down.

Officers Acquilino and Zimmer were “out of service” – in other words, the department had no record of where they were – after two of the three calls, once for 46 minutes, once for 82 minutes, the file states. It shows no evidence that internal affairs pinned down what the officers were doing or investigated how they could have stopped patrolling without a superior officer noticing they had vanished.

Although Acquilino and Zimmer claimed they searched for Valdez Cruz after the third call, the file included no documentation for their statements. Internal affairs recommended that they each be charged with failing to return promptly to service.

“Just being off the clock completely for long periods of time is a problem,” Eterno said. “First, you don’t know what they’re doing. Are they hurt or something? What’s wrong? And secondly, they’re not answering other calls, so whatever else is coming in, they’re not available for backup, they’re not available for anything else; and that’s a real problem.”

He continued, “Why isn’t the sergeant saying, ‘Well, where are you guys?'”

Steven Skrynecki, the former chief of department who oversaw Nassau’s internal affairs investigation, said any discipline of higher-ranking officers would have been the commissioner’s decision, not his.

“Our investigation did not demonstrate any chargeable offenses” by higher-ranking officers, he said.

MORE COVERAGE

Reporter: Sandra Peddie

Editor: Arthur Browne

Video and photo: Jeffrey Basinger, Howard Schnapp, Chris Ware, Reece T. Williams

Aerial Photography: Jeffrey Basinger, Kevin P. Coughlin

Video editors: Valerie Robinson, Jeffrey Basinger

Studio graphics: Gregory Stevens

Documentary writer: Pat Dolan

Documentary production: Jeffrey Basinger, Robert Cassidy, Pat Dolan, John Keating, Sandra Peddie

Studio Production: Mike Drazka, Faith Jessie, Arthur Mochi Jr., Gregory M. Stevens

Digital producers: Heather Doyle, Tara Conry, Joe Diglio

Digital design/UX: James Stewart

Social media editor: Gabriella Vukelić