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A Cop's Tale

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Her story seemed shaky at best. In court, she picked out Zahrey's brother instead of him. Nevertheless, on November 5, a judge revoked Zahrey's bail. He took off the gold chain his wife had given him for luck, kissed her good-bye, and was led out of the courtroom by the marshals.

In the meantime, three other men had been arrested and charged along with Zahrey in a conspiracy to rob drug dealers. Rudin believes the prosecutors were playing a kind of strategic game, that their goal was to force somebody's hand rather than actually go to trial. "I was taught in ethics that you don't bring a case unless you believe you have it," he says.

"But there's a presumption of guilt that pervades the system now, this belief that sooner or later someone will talk, something will break. In this case, they thought one of these guys facing a life sentence would certainly flip. Or that Zack would simply break."

Zahrey was devastated when he had to go back to jail. It was, he says, perhaps the lowest point in the excruciating seven-year ordeal. He was put on the ninth floor of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a row of cells used only for two kinds of prisoners: cooperators and those whose behavior or crimes were so awful they needed special attention. Along with Zahrey on the ninth floor were two cop killers, who viciously beat him during his rec time. There was also a mob boss, a mob cooperator, a Columbian drug dealer who was cooperating, a gang leader from the Bronx, two lieutenants in the Latin Kings, and a serial killer.

Zahrey's time in prison was very hard on his mother. "She'd rip her clothes in anguish after going to see him," says Zahrey's sister Zaina, who, despite having five kids, was in court for every day of the trial. "My mom really had no one except Zack. He really took care of her. After we'd go to see him, I'd have to pull the car over on the way home because she'd be vomiting."

Zahrey was tried together with the other three defendants. It took six weeks and generated 7,000 pages of court documents, and the jury almost instantly exonerated Zahrey and his three co-defendants.

For Detective Zahrey, however, there was no real victory. The loss of his salary and his health insurance and the cost of his defense were crippling. To help defray some of the costs (and because he couldn't work there while he was in jail), his family was forced to sell the grocery.

"Zack's just not the same anymore," says his sister. "He's nervous now and has no patience for anything. You used to be able to talk to him, to ask him for help with things. But it's very tough to get him to focus now."

And despite his acquittal in federal court, he still didn't get his career back. The day after the verdict, he was again put on modified duty. His name wouldn't be cleared, and he wouldn't get his detective status restored, until he was found innocent at a departmental trial, which, even given the outcome in federal court, was by no means a slam dunk. The standard at a departmental trial (like that in civil court) is not reasonable doubt but a preponderance of the evidence.

In any event, Zahrey just wanted to get it done, and he figured it would happen a few months after the criminal trial. But he heard nothing from the NYPD. Not a word for two years. Then, at long last, they informed him the trial would take place in six months. A full two and a half years after the trial in federal court, and nearly six years after he stepped into the abyss when he went to the 68th Precinct that night in 1994.

"Basically, the department hopes you somehow step on your dick," says Zahrey. "They want to give you plenty of room to fuck up so they can avoid the departmental trial and risk having to suffer the embarrassment of losing."

The trial, which took place in December 1999, lasted five days. Still, he didn't find out he was cleared until the department handed down a decision in April, four months later. Once the decision was announced, it took the NYPD almost six more months to do its elaborate bureaucratic-paperwork dance. Finally, on September 24, 2000, Zahrey had his detective status fully restored.

He had been modified or suspended for so long (five years) that when he went to the range to requalify with his gun, his weapon seemed almost quaint. "Everybody's got these Glocks," Zahrey says, "and I come walking in with a revolver. The other guys are coming up to me and asking how come I had a revolver. And when I told them it was like, 'Hey, Jimmy. Hey, Dave. You guys gotta come and hear this. You won't believe it.' "

Instead of asking Zahrey if there was a particular assignment he wanted after being out of action for so long, the department matter-of-factly told him he'd been placed in a detective squad in Queens. "But there was no way I was doing that," he says. "I was damaged. I couldn't work in the field. I searched my heart about it, and I didn't feel like I wanted to be a full-duty detective after what they did to me. I was paranoid I'd get set up, that Internal Affairs wasn't finished with me. "

Supreme has been dead now for seven and a half years. And whether the talented, charismatic ballplayer actually had become a criminal will, it seems, remain a mystery.

There is no mystery, however, about Zahrey. Today, the once-promising detective works at the NYPD car pound in Brooklyn. He will never return to the streets as a detective. His priorities have changed. "What I want now is the truth to come out once and for all," Zahrey says one afternoon as we're heading back to Manhattan from his old Sunset Park neighborhood. "It's very simple, really. I want justice."


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