Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey is out to end the no-snitch mantra that’s as deeply embedded in police culture as it is in the hood. It’s part of Ramsey’s plan to fight back against the embarrassing slew of police corruption revealed over the past two years, and to tear down the so-called blue wall of silence that has long kept misconduct a closely guarded secret. “No member of this department should tolerate or protect other officers’ bad behavior,” Ramsey told City Council members during a hearing last month about the steps being taken to combat corruption. “Their silence slowly but deliberately erodes the legitimacy of this police department.”
Ramsey first announced the new thrust against corruption over the summer, pledging to combat the “no-snitch” mentality within the force. “Our culture is a positive culture of service and commitment, but there is a subculture within,” Ramsey said. “People need to feel comfortable reporting criminal activity.”
But former Officer Ray Carnation says the commissioner’s plan is “a bunch of B.S.”
“Out of a thousand cops you might have four of them that come forward,” Carnation says. “Maybe that.”
Carnation snitched on his fellow police officers. As a result, he lost his career, his family and his house. He, along with former officers Billy and Michael McKenna, have been tied up in a decade-long court battle with the city after they say they were intimidated, harassed and finally fired for speaking out against racial discrimination within their district back in 1997 and ’98.
Carnation and Billy McKenna, both white, tell a tale of arriving at the 25th District in the summer of 1997 where they were shocked to see two black officers ostracized by the rest of the unit. The two men say they tried to befriend the black officers, only to find themselves subject to ridicule and worse, sent to stand in the rain on dangerous corners by themselves. When they complained, they say other cops drew rats on their timesheets and made rat noises over the radio. Once, Carnation says, he and McKenna were in a shoot-out and backup never came.
“We would say we need a backup—patrol cars are the ones who go fooom, fly in—they didn’t come in,” McKenna says.
“They wanted us to get injured,” Carnation adds.
Finally, in November 1997, they told their district captain, William Colarulo, about their mistreatment as well as their observations of their supervisor, Sgt. John Moroney, referring to the black officers as “critters” and “niggers.”
Carnation describes the meeting with Colarulo in chilling terms. “He picks up the phone, says ‘if you want to make an EoC [equal opportunity] complaint, I’ll dial the number right now. But if I have to make an EoC complaint on your behalf I’m going to make your life a living nightmare.’”
Carnation and the McKennas did file a complaint in April 1998 and then underwent what they call an extended period of harassment—the McKennas were first transferred to far-flung districts around the city, while Carnation was put on restricted duty at the police academy. Then, when Billy McKenna went out on sick leave, police officers came to visit his house at least 30 times over three months—he claims more like 50. The unannounced visits, while required under police policy, seemed excessive and retaliatory. McKenna’s wife, Cynthia, was arrested after she complained to another officer about the home visits.
By 1999, Carnation and Billy McKenna were fired, Carnation for “conduct unbecoming an officer” and McKenna for not being home for some of the sick-checks. Michael McKenna was discharged on disability after a fight with another officer when trying to defend his brother’s name. All three have been in court ever since, trying to get compensation from the city for retaliation and win their jobs back.
Carnation believes his case proves police brass are not serious about protecting whistle-blowers. “The city is showing police officers [that] not only will you be fired and railroaded off the job,” he says, but “even when you win in court you still won’t get your money.”
After earlier lawsuits over the last decade failed, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals found evidence of retaliation in 2008 and awarded $10 million between the three plaintiffs. But due to a dispute of whether the city is liable for more than $300,000 per officer, the ex-officers appealed the ruling and have yet to see a penny.
In the meantime, Billy and Michael McKenna get by on odd jobs and their wives’ salaries, but Carnation, with no income, lost everything. Meanwhile, the city spent more than $950,000 on outside counsel as of November defending against the Carnation and McKenna lawsuit.
The Police Department maintained in court that the three officers were troublemakers. Before they were fired, McKenna—who had been suspended twice during his rookie year in 1993—admittedly blurted out that Moroney “should be shot for what he does to us,” while Carnation violated orders to stay away by calling Moroney to try to clear the air. As for the supervisors that Carnation and McKenna complained about, Colarulo is now a chief inspector after a three-year stint as the police public affairs commander, and Moroney a lieutenant.
The Police Department can’t comment on the case because it is still under litigation, but Deputy Commissioner of Internal Affairs Stephen Johnson is confident that in the future, officers who blow the whistle will be protected. Sitting in his tidy office in the Internal Affairs Northeast Philadelphia headquarters, the 33-year veteran of the force says, “I don’t look at it as snitching. I look at it as trying to do your part to make this a better police department.”
According to Johnson, the number of people assigned to Internal Affairs—investigators, administrators and staff—has increased by “a significant amount” since August when Ramsey announced the pushback against police corruption. The deputy commissioner didn’t want to release exact numbers, but the boost is somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third to an office numbering well over a hundred people. In addition, the Department has initiated a corruption survey within the force and Johnson says they receive tips and complaints from officers on a daily basis.
“Fortunately, most of the information is more along the lines of procedural malfeasance, but we do get some investigations that involve corrupt acts and we investigate,” he says. “Ultimately, if it becomes an issue where we have to terminate someone from employment or arrest them we will do that as diligently as we can.”