Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Outside Of Mayoral Debate, Police Threaten Arrests of Public and Press by Edward-Isaac Dovere - City Hall News

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Among the police flooding the streets outside the Museo del Barrio on Tuesday night as Michael Bloomberg and Bill Thompson arrived for the first mayoral debate was a round-faced officer named Brian Kovall who seemed to be enjoying the idea of turning away stragglers trying to get in to the event just under the wire.

Standing on the corner of 104th and Fifth Avenue, Kovall smiled as he refused a small group of ticket holders and a reporter with a press pass as they tried to walk to the door. When they asked a second time, Kovall threw down the gauntlet.

“If you go past me, you’re going to get arrested,” he said.

When the five people responded in disbelief, Kovall goaded them to try their luck.

“You want to get arrested? Go ahead,” Kovall said.

To questions of why he was blocking entry ahead of start time, Kovall showed off his watch, which was set fast, according to three watches of those trying to get in to the space.

As the clock ticked past the starting time, another officer prevailed on Kovall to let the small crowd pass to the doorway. There they were met by more police who said that the deadline to enter had just passed.

When the crowd explained that they were late because they had been stopped by the threats of Kovall, an officer named Sim who refused to give his first name, but whose badge number is 20955, rejected the possibility that an officer would have brought up the idea of arresting people at the event.

“He’s my partner, he wouldn’t do that,” Sim said.

(Later, Sim said that his partner’s name was Ko. He also claimed to be in charge at the event, given that Inspector William Pla, the commanding officer, was unavailable at the time. )

Also held up at the door: public advocate Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio, who arrived with a member of his staff. The officers stood in his way as well, making him spell his name as he asked to enter. He handed a business card to one, who went to get a member of the event staff.

As de Blasio waited, a woman volunteering on the Thompson campaign introduced herself and asked him in he could get her in to the event. The candidate shrugged. “I don’t even know if they’re going to let me in,” he said.

A few seconds later, a woman appeared at the door to wave him through the doorway. Asked why the candidate got in while the press and public who arrived at the same time were barred, the officers in the entry shrugged.
“He’s the public advocate,” one explained.

Other who witnessed the incidents or who were told of them shrugged off the story.

“You didn’t get arrested, did you?” an office on the sidewalk said, dismissing the discussion.

As the debate was ending, Sim saw this reporter again and demanded identification, saying that he had the right to ask for identification for whatever reason he wanted. He took down the name on the back of a sheet in his pad.

When asked about the events after the debate was concluded, the commanding inspector, Pla, was interrupted by Lt. White of DCPI, who said that he would be answering questions for Pla.

When a tape recorder was produced to take down comment, White changed course, insisting that questions be emailed to him. He then demanded this reporter’s press credentials, saying he wanted to make sure they were not fake. Temporarily confiscating the credentials, White instructed a detective to watch the reporter while he called to verify.

The credentials were proved valid, and White returned with them. Insisting that the problem’s root must have been that the credentials were not produced to Kovall, White refused to answer further questions.

Pressed for an answer, White said he believed this reporter was intoxicated.

“Why don’t you give me a call in the morning? It seems like you’ve had something to drink tonight,” he said.

The reporter laughed in shock and offered to take a breathalyzer.

“I don’t need that. I can smell it on your breath,” he said.

For the record, the only thing that this reporter had consumed for several hours previous was half a Snickers bar.