Editorial: Police, politics and power

Why was Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale fired? The answer has to do with close ties between top police officials and Nassau’s political class.

The story of Dale’s resignation starts with Randy White, a 29-year-old Roosevelt man who testified to campaign irregularities that would keep former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick off the ballot in this year's county executive race.

Dale ordered White's arrest based on a warrant for an unpaid fine, an unusual use of police resources for such a minor offense. Dale became involved with White's case after receiving a phone call from Gary Melius, a friend and the financial backer of Hardwick's campaign.

What happened?

Events that preceded the ouster of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, based on fact-finding by the Nassau County District Attorney.

Wednesday, Oct. 2

Randy White, 29, of Roosevelt, testifies in State Supreme Court in Mineola in a lawsuit filed by Democrats to challenge nominating petitions of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, who sought to run for Nassau County executive on the We Count minor-party ballot line. White says he was paid per signature, not by the hour, as state election law requires. It’s illegal to pay a per-signature bounty because it increases the risk of fraud.

Thursday, Oct. 3

Other witnesses in the case testify about irregularities in the signature collection, further undercutting Hardwick’s attempt to get on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Friday, Oct. 4

Hardwick’s legal team introduces an audiotape in an attempt to discredit White, saying he acknowledged in it that he was paid by the hour. By the end of the day, the judge makes no decision on whether the tape will be allowed into evidence. In a parallel challenge to Hardwick at the county Board of Elections, where individual signatures are reviewed for their validity, more than 75 percent are disqualified. However, if Hardwick can win the court case, he has a chance of staying on the ballot.

Hours later, businessman Gary Melius, the sole financier of Hardwick’s campaign and a close ally of Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, calls Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, telling him Hardwick wanted to file perjury charges against White based on the audiotape. Dale orders the police chief of detectives, John Capece, and a department personnel attorney to the First Precinct to supervise the process. But after the tape is found to be inaudible, no charges are filed.

The district attorney found that First Precinct officers filed an “unusual occurrence report,” which then justified their doing a criminal-background check that led to White later being detained.

Saturday, Oct. 5

In midafternoon, Hardwick operatives visit the home of White’s father, Rassan Hoskins, in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade White to change his testimony. Either Hardwick or one of the operatives who visited the home appears to be the “confidential source” that District Attorney Kathleen Rice says made a series of calls to the police commissioner to provide “up to the minute” information about White’s whereabouts.

About two hours after the visit to his home, White is a passenger on Nassau Inter-County Express bus No. 41 when a sergeant and two Nassau police detectives board at a traffic light near Kennedy Park in Hempstead, and ask for Randy White. They flash their badges and show a photo of White, who identifies himself. Told there is an outstanding warrant for failing to pay $250 in fees from a prior arrest for selling bootleg DVDs, White is handcuffed by the police and taken in an unmarked car to the First Precinct. The police commissioner is personally informed of White’s arrest.

Before 8 p.m., White is taken to police headquarters in Mineola rather than remaining at the First Precinct until morning, when it is customary to transport those under arrest to district court for arraignment. While there, White later told Newsday, police officers ask him what his problem is with Hardwick. Then Sal Mistretta, an off-duty Nassau police sergeant, serves White with a subpoena summoning him to appear in court on Monday in the Hardwick lawsuit.

Hoskins, White’s father, calls Robert McDonald, vice chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, to ask if McDonald knows what the police have done with his son. Hoskins also calls the jail. White told Newsday the subpoena — that is still the subject of Rice’s investigation — was later missing from his cell.

Sunday, Oct. 6

McDonald, the Democratic Party lawyer, appears in District Court on White’s behalf. White is released and given three more months to pay his outstanding $250 in fees.

Thursday Oct. 10

State Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow rules against Hardwick, finding that his nominating petitions for a minor-party line are “permeated with fraudulent practices.” Winslow finds that Hardwick may not have been personally involved in the fraud, but he was “intimately aware” of it. The judge cites White’s testimony that he was paid $1.25 for each signature he collected.

Thursday, Dec. 12

Mangano fires Dale after Rice reports that her investigation found that Dale personally directed officers to arrest White, the witness in the election case. Mangano also replaces Capece.

Key players

Thomas Dale, Edward Mangano and Gary Melius

County Executive Edward Mangano chose Thomas Dale to head Nassau’s police department in 2011. A veteran of the New York City Police Department, Dale was seen as an outsider who would help the department recover from several controversies, including the failure of its crime lab, and develop a new system for disciplining bad cops.

"We believe that Nassau County would benefit from a fresh look at its operations from an experienced law enforcement official," Mangano said at the time.

Mangano told Newsday that he conducted a dozen interviews for the position, about half with in-house candidates. Dale had an impressive resume and a career spanning more than four decades, but his application came with something more important: the recommendation of Gary Melius, a close friend of Mangano's.

Melius, who operates the Oheka Castle catering hall in Huntington, has no background in law enforcement but is involved with the Nassau County Municipal Police Chiefs Association. As the host of fundraisers and poker games at Oheka Castle, Melius has won influence with his connections across the political spectrum.

Melius financed Andrew Hardwick's attempted run for county executive — part of a strategy to ensure Mangano's re-election by siphoning black votes from Democratic candidate Thomas Suozzi. According to documents, Melius called Dale, asking him to arrest Randy White.

Randy White Randy White speaks with the Newsday editorial board. (Sam Guzik, Oct 18. 2013)

Randy White

Randy White is a 29-year-old Roosevelt resident who was recruited by the Hardwick campaign to collect signatures for a petition. White testified in a civil case alleging that the Hardwick campaign paid him to gather nominating signatures using a per-signature payment formula, a violation of election law that kept Hardwick from appearing on the ballot in November's county executive race.

Two days after testifying in early October, White said he was approached by Hardwick campaign representatives who wanted to know whether they could "work something out" before he was due back in court to continue testifying. Shortly after he refused to speak with them, White was on a Nassau County bus when he was arrested by a sergeant and two Nassau County detectives.

Police have said White was detained because of an outstanding warrant for failing to pay $250 in fees from a prior misdemeanor case. Earlier this year, White was sentenced to community service for selling bootleg DVDs, a misdemeanor, but not his first brush with the law. There are about 84,000 open warrants in Nassau County, with the majority classified as arrest warrants, which typically get top priority from police. Those issued for failure to pay fines are considered low priority.

John R. Capece

John R. Capece

John R. Capece was present at the police department’s First Precinct when attorneys for Andrew Hardwick filed perjury charges against White. In a letter to the county executive, District Attorney Kathleen Rice wrote that Capece’s involvement with the case was “not typically protocol for a comparatively low-level allegation of criminality,” but that it was not illegal.

Capece was allowed to resign after he was told that he would be demoted to the rank of captain.

Andrew Hardwick

Former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, a close ally of Melius', sought to run for county executive this year on the line of the minor party We Count. His candidacy was challenged in court because of irregularities involving his nominating petitions.

In that case, White testified that he had gathered signatures for Hardwick’s candidacy, and was paid $1.25 for each in cash, at Hardwick's home, with the candidate present. Bounties for signatures are illegal in New York. Hardwick has denied that White was paid.

According to White, members of Hardwick’s campaign came to his home two days before he was due back in court to testify — and shortly before Nassau detectives arrested him.

Andrew Hardwick Former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, left, during a press conference outside the State Supreme Court building in Mineola. (Jim Staubitser, Oct. 8, 2013)

Sal Mistretta

Sal Mistretta, a Nassau police sergeant, served White with a subpoena to appear in the Hardwick case while White was in custody. Until he resigned several weeks ago in connection with this case, he was the commanding officer of the department’s pistol division.

District Attorney Kathleen Rice described Mistretta’s actions as “deeply troubling.”

Kathleen Rice Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice attends a press conference in New York City. (Charles Eckert, April 09, 2013)

Kathleen Rice

Rice investigated Randy White's complaint, working with the police department's internal affairs unit. She found no criminal conduct, but her report to County Executive Edward Mangano led to Dale's ouster. Democrats want other prosecutors to review the findings.

District Attorney Kathleen Rice's fact findings

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