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The Crack in the Shield

“I wanted adventure, some kind of excitement,” Brian later said.

During one tour, several officers of the Seven-Seven came upon a van filled with cigarettes. They correctly guessed that this was bait set out by the Internal Affairs Division. They then had great fun banging the sides of a second van where the IAD men were hiding.

“They must think we’re stupid,” Gallagher was later heard to say.

Even as rumors began circulating that a number of officers were about to be arrested for shakedowns, Brian and the others continued hitting narcotics spots. They gave each other nicknames, and Brian became “Space Man.” Gallagher was “Junior,” and his swaggering presence seemed to keep Brian fearless. Brian later said, “He was infallible. He could get out of anything.”

After work, the cops became family men and good citizens. Brian did not smoke and seldom drank, and his idea of a good time was going to a flea market. He kept to the speed limit when he drove, and he always came to a complete halt at a stop sign.

“We never did anything out of uniform,” Brian later said.

In late 1983, Brian met a rookie policewoman at the stationhouse. She later remembered, “He said, ‘Get out of here as soon as you can. Just leave this place. Get out before it changes you.’ ” Around that time, Gallagher became friendly with a West Indian dope dealer named Roy. Brian later said that the cops began selling Roy stolen drugs. They also started selling him stolen guns.

“Sometimes, I used to get a feeling, a deep, deep feeling of guilt,” Brian later said. “But then it would go away. I would go back on patrol and it would go away.”

As the days passed, Brian began to take less and less care with his appearance. He let himself get out of shape, and he began to get a paunch. He turned out in a uniform that was stained and frayed.

“I had no pride,” Brian later said. “Nobody becomes a cop to steal.”

At a family gathering, relatives noticed that Brian seemed troubled and agitated. He had begun to suffer a sort of numbness, and he later said, “Anything could happen, and I just wouldn’t care.... I said, ‘I’m dead and I don’t know it.’”

With the hope that there might be some physical explanation for his problem, Brian went to a doctor on Ocean Parkway. The doctor found no malady and urged him to seek psychiatric care. Brian mentioned this at the stationhouse, and officers began twirling an index finger by their heads when he appeared.

“If you tell somebody you have psychological problems, they think you’re crazy,” Brian later said.

The gloom deepened, and Brian spoke to Henry Winter about somehow leaving the Police Department with a disability pension. Brian later remembered, “He said, ‘We’ll get you shot,’ and I said, ‘That sounds good.’ ”

As they discussed the matter, Winter offered to help Brian stage a fake gun battle. Brian suggested that Winter shoot him in the leg, and he later remembered, “He said, ‘No, too many arteries.’ He said, ‘The hand’s better.’ ”

One evening, the two cops went into an abandoned building on Porter Avenue, and Winter gave Brian a .22-caliber pistol. Brian took the weapon with one hand and held out the other. He aimed and curled his finger on the trigger and then lost his nerve at the last instant. He returned the gun to Winter and asked him to do the job. Winter refused, and they handed the gun back and forth, saying, “You do it.” “No, you do it.” “I’m not doing it, you do it.”

As they continued to steal, Winter appeared to share none of Brian’s anguish. He was forever laughing and joking. On a dare, he did a striptease on top of the front desk.

In early 1985, Winter and his partner, Tony Magno, were sharing $50 a week in protection money from a pusher who also ran a dice game. A pair of anti-crime cops demanded a cut and raided the game when Winter and Magno refused. The pusher resolved the matter by paying the four cops a total of $800 a week.

That October, Gallagher got word that a pusher had complained to IAD of shakedowns and that detectives were putting together a case against Winter and Magno. Gallagher passed on a warning, and Winter and Magno grew cautious. The others went right on raiding spots.

“You just couldn’t stop from happening what was happening,” Brian later said.

On February 17, 1986, an unmarked car pulled Winter’s car over on the Belt Parkway as he returned from a fishing trip. Winter was whisked in handcuffs to the IAD building on Poplar Street. There, he and Magno were sat down before a television set and a VCR.


  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Dec 8, 1986 issue of New York