Former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella spars with lawyer in Brooklyn courtroom, defending record after his tactics sparked wrongful conviction scandal
Scarcella defends relationship with crack addict he used as an eyeball witness in six different homicide cases. 'We had to bring it to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and they authorized the arrest,' ex cop says
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Theodore Parisienne/Theodore Parisienne Former detective Louis Scarcella (r.) sparred with lawyer for defendant Rosean Hargrave.
For the first time since an ex-detective’s tainted tactics exploded into a wrongful conviction scandal, the once-renowned and now discredited investigator took the stand Wednesday and attempted to defend his record.
Often evasive but defiant and combative at times, Louis Scarcella withstood over an hour of grilling in a Brooklyn courtroom, addressing issues that have led prosecutors to review over 70 old homicides he had handled.
Seemingly deflecting any blame, he said that in all cases, “We had to bring it to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and they authorized the arrest.”
When questioned about Teresa Gomez, a crack addict he had used as an eyewitness in six different homicide cases - with convictions overturned recently in half of them after she was deemed unreliable - Scarcella stood by their relationship.
While acknowledging the woman was “in disrepair” and that he provided her with food and cash, he declared: “She was a very intelligent woman who spoke three languages.”
He said he had met her in the early 1980’s while investigating a death and, at the precinct, “debriefed her at length about many other cases.”
He was also asked about a peculiar business card that he and his partner Stephen Chmil passed around, which included, besides their police contacts, the caption: “adventurers, marathoners, regular guys and mountain climbers.”
He replied that the description “sounded good and it was a funny card.”
Scarcella, 62, retired from the force in 1999 after handling hundreds of murder cases during a crime-ridden era where homicides in the city peaked at over 2,200 a year. Wednesday was the first time he was in court under oath since turning in his badge.
He seemed attentive on the stand, craning his neck, leaning forward and speaking with a resolute voice.
But he claimed to remember nearly nothing about the case he was there for: that of Rosean Hargrave, 40, who is fighting to prove his innocence of a 1991 killing of a correction officer in Crown Heights for which he’s been locked up for nearly 23 years.
Theodore Parisienne/Theodore Parisienne Scarcella claimed to remember about the case of Rosean Hargrave, 40, (pictured) who is fighting to prove his innocence of a 1991 killing of a correction officer in Crown Heights for which he’s been locked up for nearly 23 years.
“I did nothing of substance,” Scarcella said about the investigation that was led by his partner.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he repeatedly replied as defense lawyer Pierre Sussman raised questions about missing blood sample evidence, a suggestive identification procedure and potential other suspects.
Scarcella’s two high-powered lawyers stood next to the witness stand and objected to many of the queries.
Hargrave’s guilt, and that of codefendant John Bunn who was released on parole in 2006, are still being reviewed by the Brooklyn DA’s office.
The eyewitness in their trial stood by his identification at the start of the post-conviction hearing last week and an alleged alibi witness who said he was with the then-youths at the time of the shooting had a hard time giving specific details.
But it was Scarcella’s turn on the stand - the first in what could be a number of testimonies in similar future hearings - that brought top prosecutors, defense lawyers and media into the crowded-than-usual courtroom.
After finishing his account by slamming a plastic water cup on the stand and stepping out to the hallway, the one-time famed detective was confronted by two parolees who claim he had framed them and by Hargrave’s broken relatives.
“Why did you do it?” they called out. “You should go to jail.”
Hargrave’s mother collapsed and had to be taken away on a stretcher as her daughter, Monique Hargrave, railed at the retired detective.
“He said he doesn’t remember nothing,” she said. “My brother’s been sitting in jail for 23 years.”