Felix's Rough Cop: Was He Pre-OCCUPIED With Gays?

NYPD officer who clocked gay, HIV-positive Wall Street demonstrator led public sex sting in Bronx

The police department deputy inspector who punched a gay and HIV-positive Occupy Wall Street marcher oversaw a roughly six-month-long public sex sting operation that targeted gay and bisexual men in 2006, when he headed a Bronx transit command.

“He probably clearly got that I was a gay guy,” said Felix Rivera-Pitre during an interview at the Brooklyn offices of VOCAL-NY, a group that does political organizing among HIV-positive people as well as among drugs users and those formerly incarcerated.

At the time Rivera-Pitre spoke to Gay City News, he faced the chance of arrest himself, a possibility that has abated but apparently not been fully ruled out by authorities.

On October 14, Rivera-Pitre, 37, was in a march that was wending its way through the Wall Street area when he encountered Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona, who joined the New York City Police Department in 1990. Rivera-Pitre was handing out flowers to other marchers.

“He saw me giving out the flowers,” Rivera-Pitre said.

At one point, he passed Cardona on the street and the deputy inspector instructed him to get on the sidewalk. The street and the sidewalks were very crowded, and Rivera-Pitre said, “There’s no sidewalk to get on to.”

It was then that Cardona punched him. Videos of the incident have circulated on the web (with links at the online version of this story at gaycitynews.com).

In one video taken before the punch, Cardona grabs Rivera-Pitre by the right arm, and the man briefly turns to Cardona and then walks away. In a second video, Rivera-Pitre can be seen walking ahead of Cardona. The deputy inspector touches Rivera-Pitre, who turns around, at which point Cardona punches him in the face. Rivera-Pitre falls down and the two are surrounded by a mob of marchers and photographers.

A third video shows the same scene from the other side of the street, though the seconds prior to the punch are obscured. That third video follows the incident to the moment when Rivera-Pitre has fallen on the street. It appears to show Cardona holding Rivera-Pitre’s head and drawing his arm back perhaps readying a second punch.

In published reports, police have said that Rivera-Pitre tried to elbow Cardona and the deputy inspector responded to that. No video shows Rivera-Pitre striking Cardona. In the absence of any plausible explanation for the punch, some have concluded that Cardona was reacting to Rivera-Pitre’s affect.

“Some people who couldn’t see my face thought I was a woman,” he told Gay City News. “It has been brought to my attention that my appearance could have been a trigger.”

Cardona’s past may suggest that he harbors some anti-gay animus. In 2006, Cardona headed Transit District 11 in the Bronx, when officers in that unit conducted public sex stings targeting gay and bisexual men at the Fordham Road subway stop on the D line. From May 18 until December 8, police arrested at least 35 men at that location, charging that the men were engaged in sexual activity. Arrests were made in every month except November.

Using the state Freedom of Information Law, Gay City News, in 2007, obtained the criminal complaints related to these arrests. The Bronx district attorney’s office, which released the records, reported finding more than 100 cases in which public lewdness was charged in 2006, but some of those records were missing and others were sealed. It may be that there were additional arrests at the Fordham Road subway stop.

Just five Transit District 11 officers made those 35 arrests, suggesting it was an organized sting with specific officers assigned to that duty. Of the five, two made 30 of the 35 arrests.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) reported that in 2006, there were 81 arrests for public lewdness in the Bronx. The DCJS reports only the top charge filed against any defendant. Taken together, the DCJS and Bronx district attorney’s data suggest that the Transit District 11 sting accounted for as much as a third of all the public lewdness arrests in the Bronx in 2006.

A story that year in the Daily News has Cardona keeping a close eye on the officers in his command. The May 8, 2006 story cited an April 18 memo that Cardona authored in which he admonished officers for not writing enough tickets each month, though the memo did not mention a quota.

“We had a few personnel in certain squads that did not perform to standard,” Cardona wrote. “”So, effective immediately, those individuals will not be authorized programmatic overtime… I have been extremely patient about this and quite frankly, I am fed up.”

Following the October 14 incident, Rivera-Pitre was told by his attorney, Ron Kuby, that the police department had issued an order, called a 61, that directed officers to arrest him if they encountered him. Rivera-Pitre was avoiding public appearances to avoid an arrest.

On October 25, Gay City News was told that the police department had voided that 61 and Rivera-Pitre was scheduled to meet with an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan DA’s office on October 31 to discuss his case.

“It appears the police have closed the open 61 and have decided they will not arrest him unless the DA decides to press charges,” said Sean Barry, a director at VOCAL-NY.

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