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The Crack in the Shield

After entering a plea of not guilty, Gallagher’s lawyer noted that his client had received 35 medals and commendations during his seventeen years as a cop. Hynes responded that Gallagher was accused of 87 felonies and misdemeanors. The charges included the sale of crack and of loaded handguns.

His bail set at $50,000, Gallagher shuffled back out. Rathbun then appeared and pleaded not guilty to 37 counts that included selling drugs. He was followed by Spivey and nine other cops who pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from the sale of cocaine to burglary to the theft of two garbage cans from the stationhouse. Spivey’s face was blank as she listened to a prosecutor say she was charged with an A-I felony. The prosecutor added that this carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

By that time, the police had put out an APB for Brian’s gray Subaru. Winter and Magno are said to have kept searching for him for the next two days. Brian’s brother Greg began to fear the worst when the mail brought a brown envelope containing a one-page typewritten letter.

“I’ve always considered myself to be an honest, upstanding person.”
“I was firmly convinced that nobody cared in the ghetto, from the people who lived there to the police and the city.”
“I’m sorry it had to happen this way, but it did.”
“Try your best to take care of mom.”

On the afternoon of Friday, November 7, a neighbor told Greg that the radio was reporting that Brian had been found dead in a Southampton motel. Greg and Kevin went to the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office and identified the body. Two other relatives then took the Subaru to Greg’s house.

That Sunday night, Brian was laid out in the room at the Moore Funeral Parlor where his father’s wake had been, six years before. The family gathered for a private viewing, and afterward Greg went to his mother’s house. The phone rang, and Greg spoke for a moment to Gallagher’s wife. Gallagher himself then got on the line.

“All he kept saying was ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” Greg remembers.

Wednesday morning, a police color guard escorted the hearse to the Holy Name of Mary Church in Valley Stream. The officers of the 77th Precinct stood at attention in white shirts and white gloves. They saluted as Brian’s flag-draped coffin was carried up the steps.

During the Sign of Peace, Greg went down the right side of the aisle and shook hands with one cop after another. Rathbun was hunched off to the left with his wife, sobbing. Gallagher sat in the back, gripping the pew before him with both hands, his eyes welling with tears.

Just before noon, the coffin was carried back into the sunlight. The officers again saluted, and many of them went off to start another tour at a stationhouse that is expected to see as many as twelve more indictments. Gallagher, Rathbun, and the other indicted cops hurried away to make a 2 P.M. court hearing.

With a squad of leather-jacketed officers on motorcycles clearing traffic, the O’Regan family followed the hearse to a cemetery in Westbury. There, they each laid a red carnation by the grave of the man who had left Valley Stream to be an officer in the Police Department of the City of New York.

“You tell me why I did this,” Brian O’Regan had said one week before.


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