Posted by Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. in News
May 12 2021
As it appeared in the New York Post, Partner Nina Pirrotti comments on romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates.
A married NYPD sergeant knocked up his rookie cop driver — while his own wife was pregnant — but the fling didn’t violate any departmental regulations, The Post has learned.
Sgt. Marcy Velez, 44, of the Bronx’s 45th Precinct had the affair with his subordinate officer starting in 2019 when she was in her early 20s, fresh out of the academy and selected to work as his driver, sources familiar with the matter said.
She eventually wanted to break it off, but Velez wouldn’t allow it, sources said — and a complaint was filed with the Internal Affairs Bureau alleging she felt trapped in the relationship.
During IAB’s probe in early 2020, the female officer became pregnant with Velez’s child — and then denied everything when investigators approached her.
The cop’s lack of cooperation led IAB to drop the case without any disciplinary action, though experts say it’s common for female cops in the NYPD to not cooperate with sexual harassment probes out of fear of retaliation.
The NYPD has no rules forbidding its officers from dating their subordinates, with sources saying it is simply “frowned upon.”
At the time of the Velez affair, their commanding officer, Capt. Thomas Fraser, was also in a relationship with an underling, law enforcement sources previously told The Post.
The department would not comment on the specifics of the case, discuss its policies about dating underlings or say if any changes were on the horizon.
“Sexual harassment is prohibited by federal, state, and city laws as well as Department policies, and the NYPD takes seriously all accusations of such behavior,” an NYPD spokesperson wrote in an email.
“The NYPD thoroughly investigates all complaints it receives, and offers several reporting options for NYPD employees, including anonymously. The Department does not tolerate discrimination in any form and is committed to respectful work environments for our diverse workforce.”
Velez didn’t return repeated requests for comment.
The officer he impregnated, whose name is being withheld by The Post, declined to comment when reached at her home.
Nina Pirrotti, an employment law expert who primarily represents clients who’ve faced discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace — including a number of police officers — said a clear-cut policy barring cops from dating underlings is a no-brainer.
“The value of the policy is it’s a deterrent,” she said, noting how Velez’s situation is a perfect example of why it is necessary.
“There is this misperception that just because someone acquiesces or knowingly engages in sexual conduct with a supervisor that it is completely consensual and there may be levels of coercion that make it impossible for it to be wholly consensual,” she said.
Pirrotti said the lack of such a policy could even endanger the subordinate.
“That person may not get terminated by the supervisor or by someone else at the supervisor’s behest but that person may not only be sidelined for positions, which could lead to advancement, but potentially also, and I’ve had this happen to one of my clients, be put in danger,” Pirrotti said.
“If she’s in a role where she needs backup, and needs support from her colleagues in a dangerous situation, one way to retaliate against her is to not give her the support she needs at the time that she needs it the most. That can make someone feel very vulnerable and intimidated and could actually lead to them continuing the sexual relationship well beyond the time in which it was welcomed and consensual.”
Jane Manning, a former sex crimes prosecutor who regularly works with sexual harassment and assault survivors — including NYPD cops — said the department’s culture makes it extremely difficult for women to come forward with abuse allegations.
“The NYPD doesn’t take kindly to whistleblowers,” Manning, director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, told The Post.
“Police officers within the ranks know that a person who complains about a supervisor or a co-worker runs a high risk of incurring retaliation instead of relief … It’s hard to overstate how marginalized women still are within the NYPD. When women are that underrepresented in terms of numbers, there is tremendous pressure not to buck the culture and women in the NYPD know that if they complain about co-workers or supervisors, they are bucking the culture,” Manning continued.
“There is a culture of not speaking out, of not complaining and going along to get along if you want your career to advance.”
Manning said she works with many “fantastic cops, both male and female” — but systemic issues in the department need to be addressed.
“The organization as a whole is in dire need of a culture change,” Manning explained.
“And that has to come from the top.”
When comparing the NYPD to the nation’s other largest local law enforcement agencies, New York’s Finest are an outlier when it comes to policies barring relationships between subordinates and superiors.
Of the nation’s six largest local law enforcement agencies, the NYPD and the Chicago Police Department are the only two that don’t have policies against fraternization, according to the agencies and their patrol guides.
The Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department all have explicit policies barring such relationships. The Philadelphia Police Department prohibits married couples or life partners from being in the same chain of command, the agency said.
Further, the Marines, Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard all have policies expressly prohibiting fraternization because of the “negative impact” it has on order, discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion and mission accomplishment, records show.
Professor Jillian Snider from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a 13-year veteran of the NYPD who retired in 2019, told The Post she’s “somewhat surprised” the department doesn’t have a policy against relationships and doesn’t understand why it doesn’t.
“I think not having any types of rules is more problematic because there’s no clear instruction on what you can do. Knowing something is frowned upon, doesn’t mean you’re going to get in trouble for it,” Snider, who’s married to a fellow cop but never worked in the same command as he, told The Post.
“We have policies for everything in the New York City Police Department, literally everything … So if they’re going to make rules that are dictating the clothes you wear, off duty, and what you post on your social media, off duty, and things you could put on your car, off duty, then I would say they should make a policy if they’re already that deeply involved in your life.”