When Zack Zahrey walked into Brooklyn’s 68th Precinct one evening seven years ago, he had no idea he was about to change the course of his life forever.
An undercover narcotics detective who worked out of another precinct, Zahrey went to the six-eight to do something cops do all the time: to see if he could get some information for the family of a murder victim. Zahrey and the dead man, William Rivera, were friends from the neighborhood. They played basketball together at Ft. Hamilton High School, in the playgrounds, on numerous teams, and eventually in the Police Commissioner’s League – Rivera had become an auxiliary cop just to qualify.
Known by the nickname Supreme, Rivera was a street legend. A natural shooter with great hands and devastating moves, he was heavily recruited in high school by Division I colleges (his grades were too big a hurdle). He regularly thrilled onlookers at the 56th Street courts in Sunset Park, where Brooklyn’s real players went for competition. He dominated games at the West 4th Street playground in the Village, site of some of the toughest, most exciting street ball in the city. And he played in the famed Rucker tournament, which showcases the city’s premier talent along with players from the NBA.
Now Supreme was dead at the age of 27, gunned down at 3 a.m. as he sat in his Lincoln Continental in front of a club called the Station. Though the murder had taken place in full view of a number of people on Fourth Avenue, one of the main commercial arteries in Bay Ridge, neither of the two shooters had yet been identified.
But one of the guns used in the murder was a 9-mm. Glock that belonged to an off-duty cop. As it happened, this particular cop was already on probation for a previous incident in which his gun was taken away from him in a bar fight. In addition, the murder victim himself had been an auxiliary cop. Consequently, investigators from Internal Affairs were all over the station house, working the case alongside the guys from Homicide.
All of which made for a very testy situation at the precinct. Zahrey wasn’t aware of any of this when he popped up and started asking about the case. Nor was he aware that the cops believed his friend Supreme had been running a crew that specialized in robbing drug dealers.
Not surprisingly, an Internal Affairs investigator named Robert Boyce took an immediate interest in Detective Zahrey that night. Recently assigned to the beefed-up Internal Affairs bureau, Boyce was part of the NYPD’s new, get-serious anti-corruption effort in the wake of the Mollen Commission report.
“This is the first case where prosecutors are in serious danger of having to stand trial on an allegation that they manufactured false evidence or acted wrongfully,” says Joel Rudin, Zahrey’s lawyer.
“I was okay with his questions at first,” Zahrey remembers. “I mean, I understand there’s like a process of checks and balances. And besides, I knew I hadn’t done anything.”
But when Zahrey was ready to leave, the questions from Boyce became more pointed. “Were you there?” Boyce almost badgered him. “Maybe you were there, Zahrey. Maybe you even know what the beef was.”
Zahrey explained that he was working when Supreme was murdered and had no idea what happened. It had been more than two years since he and Supreme had any significant contact.
“I was really uneasy with how my own job was treating Supreme’s family. Nobody was telling them anything. This guy was still a friend of mine. I was just being loyal,” Zahrey says. “But Boyce was getting me agitated, and suddenly there I was, starting to feel like I had really stepped in some shit.”
The feeling was just the beginning. A few hours later, after he’d gone home and he and his wife were in bed, a detective called and asked Zahrey to come in again. “He said they wanted to hit me with some ideas, see what I thought,” says Zahrey. “My wife told me not to go, and of course, in retrospect, she was right.”
Back at the precinct, the detectives working the case didn’t seem to be sure whether they wanted to treat him as a colleague or as a suspect. “You sure you don’t know anything?” they asked. “You better think about it carefully, ‘cause this could come back and bite you in the ass.”
Indeed, it did. Within ten days of Supreme’s murder, Sergeant Boyce had opened an Internal Affairs file on Detective Zahrey and started an official investigation. But it would take the department three years to muster the evidence to charge Zahrey with an astonishing list of crimes that included selling drugs, participating in the robbery and murder of a drug dealer, robbing other dealers, and selling guns.
The charges were based almost entirely on the testimony of a career felon who was promised a chance to walk out of Sing Sing in exchange for implicating Zahrey. Though it took a jury just 10 minutes to clear him of all the charges, by that time Zahrey had spent years in what amounted to a kind of seventh circle of false-accusation hell, including eight months in jail under 23-hour-a-day lockdown.
Now Zahrey has filed an unprecedented $40 million civil suit targeting the practices cops used to prompt “a thoroughly disreputable and unbelievable street criminal to concoct false accusations.” The suit charges the city, the Police Department, the Brooklyn district attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District with “malicious and wrongful criminal investigation and prosecution.” In the process it shines a very harsh light on some highly controversial practices that have become an accepted part of the criminal-justice process.
Looking back over thousands of pages of court documents, testimony, depositions, and interviews, it’s hard to understand why Internal Affairs and the Brooklyn D.A.’s office wanted to nail Zack Zahrey so badly.
Maybe it was the anxious, supercharged post-Mollen Commission atmosphere. Maybe Zahrey pissed off the wrong person. Perhaps someone had a gut feeling about him. Or it could have been the fact (mentioned to me many times in interviews with prosecutors and Internal Affairs detectives) that a good cop wouldn’t have had associations with people like Supreme and some of the other guys Zahrey played basketball with. “These were bad guys Zahrey grew up with,” one detective said. “And saying basketball was the basis of the relationships just didn’t ring true to me.”
Whatever the reason, the Police Department and the Brooklyn D.A. went after Zahrey with an indefatigable zeal. But after years of investigative work, the prosecution’s case was based almost entirely on the uncorroborated testimony of one key witness – a crack-addicted felon named Sidney Quick who was friends with Supreme and occasionally hung around the park during basketball games. Quick claimed he participated in the crimes along with Zahrey and the other members of Supreme’s crew.
Ironically, given their unrelenting hunger to make the case, it wasn’t even the Brooklyn D.A.’s office who secured the indictment against Zahrey. Because the case consisted of little more than the word of Sidney Quick, they had a big problem. You cannot prosecute someone in state court based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.
You can, however, bring this kind of case in federal court. So after much lobbying reportedly took place at the highest levels, the office of Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes persuaded the U.S. Attorney to take the case.
In all of these conversations, however, the Brooklyn D.A. somehow neglected to tell the U.S. Attorney’s office about a two-and-a-half-hour audiotape of Detective Sergeant Boyce and Detective Sergeant Michael McWilliams interviewing Sidney Quick at Sing Sing. On the tape, the two Internal Affairs detectives are heard cajoling, manipulating, pushing, prodding, and leading Quick to tell them what they want to hear about Detective Zahrey. They promise Quick everything short of a weekend in Vegas with hookers, drugs, and cash to gamble.
Though Quick was facing the possibility of 25 years to life as a repeat felony offender, Boyce tells him: “If you give me Zack, I’ll drive you home.” Then, when discussing the robbery and murder of a drug dealer named J.R., Boyce is alternately threatening and seductive. First: “You giving me a whole lot of smoke here, man, but you ain’t showing me no fire. Know what I mean? I think you’re holding back. You haven’t nailed him to the cross. But if you hold back, you don’t get the deal.”
Then, after Quick has admitted he bought the gun used in the drug dealer’s murder and is reminded that he fits witness descriptions of the killer: “You think nobody ever called in and your name wasn’t mentioned? Your name was all over that fucking case. You better cooperate or else.”
Then, shifting gears again: “If you did something, fine, you did it. If someone else pulled the trigger when you were there, we can get around it. You understand what I’m saying? If you tell me Zack was there when J.R. was killed, he’s fucked, and you are looking at a very sweet deal. But I can’t go with bullshit. I can’t go back down there and say he’s got a lot of little itty-bitty information but he’s got nothing we can nail Zack with. The deal is Zack. You understand that?”
At one point, they even offer to relocate him. “We’ll give you a bunch of money and drop you someplace. You know what I’m saying? You can start living life again.”
Though no one from the U.S. Attorney’s office would comment, they must have exploded when they were blindsided by the existence of this tape. At the very least, they must have felt deceived by the Brooklyn D.A. Whatever credibility Quick had as a witness against Zahrey – and it wasn’t much to begin with – was obliterated by the tape. After a five-week trial, the jury took ten minutes to acquit Zahrey of all charges.
“The government had no evidence,” says Karen Rubin, one of the jurors. “Sidney Quick was a joke. He was totally unbelievable. They told him what to say. He was just trying to save himself.”
Two and a half years after his exoneration in criminal court, Zahrey was cleared at a departmental trial and reinstated as a detective. But the damage had been done. His career and reputation had been ruined, his family devastated.
“I loved being a cop and I was really good at it,” says Zahrey, 37, who never returned to detective work even though he got his shield back. “I risked my life working the toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn as an undercover with no vest. I was a son of a bitch out there. I was a buying machine. One hundred and fifty-nine drug buys in eighteen months. And look what they did to me.”
Zahrey’s civil suit, however, is about more than revenge and restitution. “This is probably the first case where state and federal prosecutors are in serious danger of actually having to stand trial on an allegation that they manufactured false evidence or acted wrongfully in their investigation of a criminal matter,” says Joel Rudin, who has been Zahrey’s lawyer through the entire seven-year ordeal.
Traditionally, prosecutors have had immunity from lawsuits for wrongful prosecution. As a practical matter, this protection is crucial. It would be almost impossible for the criminal-justice system to function if prosecutors had to worry about getting sued by every defendant they take to court. The Zahrey civil action, however, does not seek damages for the decision to prosecute.
Rudin wants to hold prosecutors accountable for what they did before they got the indictment against Zahrey. He is accusing them of misconduct for actions they took in their role as investigators, long before they ever got to the courtroom.
“This case is so significant,” says Rudin, “because if prosecutors know they might be held liable if they act wrongly in shaping the stories and potential testimony of government informants, then they’ll have to follow some basic standards.”
Right now, cops and prosecutors can take a lifelong predator, a violent criminal with a history of lying and manipulating the system – a Sidney Quick – and give him a step-by-step guide to getting himself out of prison. “If they can prosecute a police detective based on the word of someone like Sidney Quick, then no one is safe,” Rudin says.
What is unique about the Zahrey case is the documentation: the existence of the Sing Sing tape. The normal procedure, according to Internal Affairs detectives I spoke to, is to spend as much time as needed interviewing a witness – and to do whatever is necessary to get what you’re after – and then to tape only the finished, final statement. The two-and-a-half-hour tape of Sidney Quick and the detectives badgering and negotiating and doing what cops sometimes do, was made by mistake.
Over the past fifteen years, there has been an extraordinary shift in the balance of power in the criminal-justice system from the judges to the prosecutors. Wielding harsh mandatory sentences that leave little or no room for judicial discretion, prosecutors can put incredible pressure on people to cooperate and to say what they think prosecutors want to hear. And the system has come to rely almost exclusively on this wheeling-and-dealing method of charging and convicting people.
“The system depends on informants to break cases. Cops and prosecutors bring someone in and get them to implicate somebody else,” says Rudin. “It’s the Sammy Gravano syndrome. He admits to nineteen murders but gets a walk because he helps prosecutors. You need people to testify against the bad guys, but you can’t simply give them the whole courthouse. There is a total lack of proportionality and sense of balance.”
And when mistakes are made – and there’s been a spate of highly publicized cases recently in which innocent people have spent years in jail based on the false testimony of informants – little if anything is done to find out why the system didn’t work.
“When there’s an airplane crash, there’s an inquiry immediately to find out what went wrong,” says Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor at Cardozo law school who is an expert on the use of informants. “But in the criminal-justice system, we sweep these things under the rug. Until there are systemic changes to create a balance between the court, the prosecutors, the police, and the defendants, we can expect a lot more wrongful prosecutions and convictions based on false evidence.”
Zahrey, who is six three and has dark eyes set deep into his angular face, was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. Though he always wanted to be an architect, he wasn’t much of a student. So in 1984, while attending Staten Island Community College, he signed up to take the police exam. Though he did it as a lark, he scored well, and found that almost as soon as he entered the academy he became more and more excited about the prospect of being a police officer.
“I loved being a cop. I felt really good about it,” says Zahrey, who was the NYPD’s first Palestinian recruit. “It’s not all bleak and miserable. You get to do a lot of good things out there.”
Zahrey did a brief stint in a neighborhood-stabilization unit in Manhattan when he graduated from the academy in December 1985, then was assigned to the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn – which includes the large Arab population clustered around Atlantic Avenue – because he spoke Arabic.
“This is what you call an association case,” one of the detectives told me. “We looked at him, and he basically got jammed up because of his friends, who he associated with.”
In early 1990, he was assigned to Narcotics, and he went undercover in April 1991. “I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I knew the streets, I knew the slang. So I did very well as an undercover,” he says.
On June 8th, 1993, he was formally evaluated by his commanding officer. “Zahrey understands the high level of integrity that is expected of him as an undercover officer,” the sergeant wrote. “Detective Zahrey is a very dedicated officer.” “A leader among his peers.” And finally, the sergeant concluded, Zahrey “exemplifies the undercover officer.”
During this period in the early nineties, while Zahrey was advancing in the department and logging 400 hours a year in overtime, he did what the department claims it wants cops to do. Rather than move to Babylon or Hicksville, he stayed in the neighborhood and maintained his contacts.
The 56th Street Park had its own dynamic, based entirely on athletic skill. It was very clear-cut. If you could play, you were accepted. “Throughout the eighties and much of the nineties, this was the place that everybody from Bay Ridge, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Boro Park, Park Slope, East New York, Coney Island, and other neighborhoods knew they could go to and get a really good run,” Zahrey says. “We came together because of a love for the game. That’s why our lives crossed. Basketball.”
The pull was so strong, the allure of those hours spent on the asphalt so irresistible, that the men tried to hold on to the experience, even long after the responsibilities of adult life got the better of them. Max Muñoz, a player who came out of Ft. Hamilton High School with Zahrey, was able to play less and less once he got married, moved to Staten Island, and went into the air-conditioning-and-refrigeration business.
Struggling to somehow keep some part of the romance, he would stop by the park between calls and just sit in his truck and watch the guys play. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. It was enough to make him feel good. And after a while, he’d move on to his next job. It was Muñoz who held Supreme in his arms the night he bled to death.
Among the players, Zahrey says, there were cops and brokers and contractors and teachers and firemen. All kinds of people, really: “It was just good times. You’d play and you’d leave. You didn’t get into anybody’s business. It was like, ‘Hey, yo, man, what’s up?’ and you’d play. That’s it. There was never any blah, blah, blah, blah.”
As a result, Zahrey says, he knew very little about the guys he spent time with at the park, including Sidney Quick, whom Supreme brought around and introduced as “Bubba” and who would participate only in the shoot-arounds. (He wasn’t good enough to play in the games.) There was a spirit, even a kind of camaraderie, among the players, but there were always reminders that some of these guys were not exactly angels.
The baskets at the 56th Street park are hung, just as they are at all the other city courts, from metal backboards. This gave rise to a showboating maneuver called “clapping boards.” When one of the guys who could really sky put a nice move on someone and went in for a layup, he’d smack his hands on the backboard as he scored. It made a thunderous sound that served, like hanging on the rim after a dunk, as an exclamation point to the score.
One afternoon, a heated full-court game was in progress when a white guy who was one of the regulars drove to the basket, laid the ball in, and clapped boards. Apparently, there was a very small metal screw sticking out and it caught the edge of his wedding band. “It ripped his finger right off his hand,” Zahrey says.
“He didn’t even realize what happened. We all stopped playing and somebody yelled, ‘Hey, yo, man, your finger. That’s fucked up.’ And then the guy sees his hand and he’s running back and forth like crazy and screaming and he picked up his finger and he’s trying to stick it back on.”
In the meantime, one of the other players found the guy’s wedding ring on the court. “He took the ring to the fountain, washed it off, and stuck it in his pocket. He didn’t give it back. But that’s the park for you. These were some hard sons of bitches.” The guy never did return the ring, and the player who lost his finger was back running full-court in a matter of weeks, minus one digit since doctors were unable to reattach it.
“This is what you call an association case,” one of the detectives told me. “We looked at him, and he basically got jammed up because of his friends, who he associated with.”
When Internal Affairs detective Boyce (now Captain Boyce, commanding officer of the 40th Precinct in the Bronx) began his investigation of Zahrey in March 1994, it seemed he had a clear strategy.
He’d identify Supreme’s friends and associates, locate them, and see which ones he could get to roll on the detective. He interviewed dozens of people, and without Zahrey’s knowledge, of course, combed through his private life, reviewing phone records, bank records, and his personnel file.
During various periods, he even put the detective under surveillance. But after five months, he had nothing, or at least nothing more than when he started. Just a rumor that Zahrey was in with Supreme’s crew. But then, nearly six months after he opened a file on Zahrey, Boyce went to Rikers Island to interview Sidney Quick.
Instead of simply asking Quick what he knew, Boyce, according to his own account, told Quick what he was investigating: whether detective Zahrey provided information used to rob drug dealers. And Quick, as if he were feeding a starving man, gave Boyce enough nourishment to keep him going. Quick said he participated in fourteen robberies based on information from Zahrey, and that the detective’s take was $200,000.
Six more months passed and Boyce still hadn’t built a case. But he wasn’t willing to let it go. So he decided to take one more run at Quick. By then, Quick was in Sing Sing, a dismal maximum-security prison, and when Boyce called him, he suddenly had more information, better information, to give the investigators about Detective Zahrey.
Primed with promises from Detective Boyce of a brighter future, Quick dramatically amped up his story. Though in his initial accounts he accused Zahrey only of providing information, he now, on tape, described him as a full participant: going on the robberies, using drugs, even disposing of the gun used to murder J.R. by dumping it in the East River.
Finally, after a whole year of coming up empty, Internal Affairs and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office had something to propel their investigation forward. Perhaps because they were all overwhelmed by their exuberance, no one appears to have been sufficiently skeptical about Quick’s new information. Cops and prosecutors I talked to said it’s common for a witness looking to make a deal to strategically parcel out information a little at a time.
But the Sing Sing tape shows the detectives either spoon-feeding Quick or attempting to wring things out of him. And what about his record? Shouldn’t this have been reason enough to carefully examine his account of what happened? After all, Quick, who began a life of drug abuse when he was 9, was a violent criminal with a history of manipulating the system.
He had robbed dozens of vulnerable people at knifepoint and gunpoint. In one instance, he slammed a car door on a victim and drove away, dragging her hanging from the door. And he was never out of jail for more than a few months before he would begin yet another violent rampage to feed his drug habit.
When he was 17, he was arrested for stealing a car and quickly got the charge reduced to a misdemeanor by cooperating with the Brooklyn D.A. A few years later, while locked up at Rikers, he faked a suicide and lied to a prison psychiatrist to get placed in a better dorm. At a parole hearing several years later, after he’d been sentenced for seven armed robberies, he spun a tale of remorse for the women he’d hurt. After all, he pleaded, he had a mother, too, and would never want anything to happen to her.
However, when he talked about these crimes on the Sing Sing tape to the Internal Affairs investigators, his tone was a little different: “Every fucking time I get locked up, it’s for some bullshit for a fucking pocketbook.”
Six months later, a full year and a half after Supreme was murdered, Zahrey was working behind the counter at his family’s grocery store one morning when he realized he’d better go to the bank and get some change. While he was standing in line, two guys in suits grabbed him, identified themselves as Internal Affairs cops, and led him outside the bank. They told him to turn over his gun and his badge – he was being placed on modified duty.
“They wouldn’t even let me go back in the store,” Zahrey says. “I yelled to someone out front and my sister came out and took the money from me. Then they took me to the 81st Precinct, put me in a room, and closed the door. I was totally in the dark about what was going on. I kept asking what it’s about and all they’d say was it’s a very serious criminal investigation.”
The next day, as instructed, Zahrey reported to One Police Plaza and got his new assignment. He was no longer in Narcotics. He was now stuck in Central Booking, where he’d fingerprint suspects and feed them bologna sandwiches and Kool-Aid. This lasted for fifteen months, with no official word from the Police Department as to why he’d been modified.
“All they have to say,” Zahrey says, “is that it’s for the good of the department. And as long as you’re getting a paycheck, they can do what they want and they don’t have to tell you anything.”
Finally, on October 16, 1996, two and a half years after he had walked into the 68th Precinct, Zahrey was arrested at a little after seven in the morning in the back of 100 Centre Street. He had just come into the street from a cops’ locker room when half a dozen cars screeched up and surrounded him.
Because the U.S. Attorney was prosecuting the case, Zahrey was fingerprinted and booked at 26 Federal Plaza. His belongings were taken and he was strip-searched: “I was processed like a freakin’ perp. I was treated like shit, and it was humiliating.”
The union sent him a lawyer who’d never been inside a federal court. “It was like a runaway train, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. And then when they read the charges in open court, man,” Zahrey says, exhaling heavily, “I was just stunned. I mean, I couldn’t believe it.” Neither could his family. The arraignment was at four in the afternoon, eight hours after his arrest, and many members of his family were in court, sobbing. “I was just in shock,” says his wife, Nahla. “The day he was arrested was our daughter’s birthday, and I was stuck in court all day. Zack loved being a cop, it was something that was in him, and I knew he couldn’t have done any of those things they accused him of.”
It is rare in serious federal cases for a defendant to get bail. At the very least, the government has the right to hold a defendant for three days while deciding on a strategy. “It’s best to try and work out a deal with the prosecutors,” says Zahrey’s lawyer, Joel Rudin. “Because if you fight, you usually lose.”
Rudin got the prosecutor to agree to $500,000, fully secured. Zahrey’s family owned several houses worth enough to cover it. But his freedom was short-lived.
Prosecutors went back to court and asked that bail be revoked. They claimed Zahrey threatened the relative of a witness. Hannah Quick, the mother of Sidney Quick, charged that Zahrey called her and said that if her son cooperated, “you’re dead.” She said she recognized the cop’s voice from an encounter they’d had several years earlier. Then she changed her account and said he identified himself on the phone.
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.”