What’s worse for optics? Admitting there was an accident… or covering it up?
The chief of security for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is accused of the latter, with a new report showing he covered up a 2015 car crash involving the mayor to protect his image and avoid bad “optics”.
It happened on a Saturday morning in August 2015.
Mayor de Blasio was in the back seat of a black NYPD Chevy Tahoe heading to a Harlem event when a driver changing lanes slammed into his ride.
Nobody was hurt. But the commanding officer of the mayor’s executive protection unit, Howard Redmond, was furious.
Text messages obtained by the New York Daily News show he immediately ordered the accident be covered up to protect de Blasio’s image.
“As per CO [the commanding officer] no one is to know about this,” Sgt. Jerry Loveno texted members of the unit, referring to Redmond. “Not even the other teams.” “No one is to know,” he repeated.
According to those text messages, he frantically covered up the crash because he was worried about “optics”. It was never publicly reported, and it gives some insight into the commanding officer’s role in covering up embarrassing things that happen involving the mayor.
It also gives a look into why Redmond has kept his job, despite turmoil within the unit. There were previous accusations that Redmond covered up the case of an executive protection unit lieutenant who was accused of roughing up a sergeant at Gracie Mansion.
If you were to search for a report in state Department of Motor Vehicles records, you’d find none available.
And check this out – it came to light through those text messages that Redmond ordered that the cop behind the wheel, Detective Edgar Robles, be officially listed as the driver of a backup SUV.
That means the unit could theoretically claim the mayor wasn’t in the vehicle involved in the collision, a source close to the executive protection unit said.
Sources told The New York Daily News that it was covered up in part due to de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It’s a push to reduce pedestrian and traffic deaths through stricter enforcement.
According to The Vision Zero website:
“The City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents,’ but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed.”
Was it a violation of state law? Could very well be.
State law requires all occupants of vehicles involved in accidents to stay at the scene of the crash.
A retired member of the executive protection unit argued it’s not unusual for a VIP under the unit’s protection to be taken away as long as there was no serious injury.
Phil Walzak, a NYPD spokesman, said NYPD investigated the accident involving de Blasio’s SUV “and determined the NYPD was at fault. Far from a coverup, this in fact shows the exact opposite – the NYPD took this incident seriously.”
But street safety advocates say given the mayor’s self-proclaimed commitment to transparency, something stinks about not documenting the crash.
“The mayor could have played this so much differently,” said Joe Cutrufo, a spokesman for the safe streets group Transportation Alternatives. “Why not get in front of it, snap a photo and put out a tweet saying they had a minor fender bender, nobody was hurt, and that they’ll be more careful next time? That the executive protection unit worked so hard to cover it up isn’t a good look for the NYPD, which hasn’t exactly been a leader in the city’s Vision Zero efforts.”
It was actually the second unreported crash that month involving the unit.
In the first, city First Lady Chirlane McCray’s vehicle was involved in a crash on Aug. 12, 2015. It’s the subject of ongoing lawsuits, and according to a DMV accident report, McCray was a passenger.
According to the two civilian drivers involved in the crash, the police version of events on the report is bogus.
“I knew it was total BS,” said Bianca Berkemeyer, whom the city considers at fault for $6,793 in damages.
“Even the way they described the impact to my car, none of it made sense.”
City Hall hasn’t commented.
Right after the crash involving the Mayor, Robles drove the SUV across the street, according to a source close to the mayor’s detail.
That source said by the time the civilian driver had reached the vehicle, de Blasio had left it and was walking away with members of his detail.
“Is Eagle p—-d?” Ioveno asked in a text message, using de Blasio’s code name.
“Not really,” a detective wrote.
Text messages show that the coverup ramped up an hour later.
“Redmond hell-bent that this doesn’t get out to anyone, we need to kill the story.”
That came from executive protection unit cop Jorge Bravo.
“He went off on OPTICS of this detail – the little things (double-parking and crosswalk s–t),” Bravo added.
That was a reference common complaints of street safety advocates who see double parking and vehicles in crosswalks as symptoms of a toxic car culture.
“No one is to know; also, Eagle was not in the limo … are we clear guys please?” Ioveno said, using the code word limo for the NYPD Chevy Tahoe.
Apparently Redmond was ripping mad that members of the unit drove the damaged SUV back to Gracie Mansion instead of 1 Police Plaza.
Both passenger-side doors of the vehicle were damaged, and the ride was out of service for two weeks. A source close to the executive protection unit told The New York Daily News that it suggests the damage was larger than the $1,000 minimum required to report a crash to the DMV.
“He’s p—-d about people knowing the story of the accident, not the accident itself. And that the limo was brought back to [Gracie Mansion] and a press guy could have taken a picture,” Bravo wrote.
“He asked me to tell you guys all this and that we all need to be sharper.”
Robles then made a comment showing it was concerned about getting transferred.
“It was nice working with you guys,” said Robles.
Another detective responded.
A third detective chimed in.
“Dude really — stop! That s–t happens bro!”
Marshall Bellovin is a lawyer who represents six former members of the mayor’s detail. They’ve all filed discrimination claims and said it’s just another example about the lack of transparency.
Bellovin’s clients said they were passed over for promotions because of the unit’s culture of secrecy.
“The text messages I’ve seen describe a plan where no one was to know that the mayor didn’t remain in his limousine after the accident. … There is even language in the texts that no one was to know about the police report concerning the accident,” Bellovin said.
What ties it all together?
“The common thread between the accident and my clients’ cases is the lack of transparency.”
That first crash that involved McCray happened on the FDR Drive and was documented with the DMV. But exactly what happened is still up for debate in court.
Reports show Berkemeyer’s 2004 Toyota sideswiped McCray’s SUV, resulting in a crash with a second NYPD vehicle and a 2005 Nissan driven by Cecilio Mendez.
Berkemeyer says it’s not true, McCray’s vehicle hit her first.
“Even the way they described the impact to my car, none of it made sense,” she said.
Mendez and Berkemeyer said McCray was quickly taken away. As a matter of fact, she didn’t realize the city’s first lady had been in the vehicle until she sat for a deposition last year.
“The way I see it is it is the city against two civilians.” Berkemeyer said.
Mendez has sued the city and Berkemeyer, saying he had to have shoulder surgery due to the crash and now suffers from backaches and neck pain. His attorney, Jack Grossman, said the accident report looked suspicious… mainly because it has no witness statements and a diagram of the crash is baffling.
“The way the police report is written, you can kind of tell they’re covering something up,” Grossman said. “If you see the diagram — it doesn’t make sense. … They seemed to whisk everybody away without anybody saying anything.”
The executive protection unit seems to have a history of crashes.
According to the New York Daily News, Redmond himself was involved in a January 2018 crash in Suffolk County while behind the wheel of an NYPD SUV.
NYPD officials say he was off duty and was hit on his way home from work.
Christopher Pizzo, another officer, had an accident in July 2018, according to reports. They show he rear-ended a car in Huntington, L.I., while behind the wheel of an unmarked Honda sedan spotted at Gracie Mansion. Police officials say he had not yet been assigned to the executive protection unit at the time of this crash.
Just a few months later, in October, he crashed that same Honda into a utility pole in Nassau County. Officials say he wasn’t on unit duties the day of that second accident.
In that string of texts from the day of the de Blasio accident, one detective let the others know he had been silent.
“I didn’t tell anybody anything,” he wrote.
Bravo was pleased.
“So that’s covered,” Bravo replied.