This article was published in partnership with The Intercept.
Dominic Caprario lay handcuffed on the asphalt as the punches came down. The first officer hit him repeatedly in the back of the head, Caprario recalled, leading him to shield his face against the rubber tire of the squad car. A second officer walked over and stomped Caprario’s face with the heel of a steel-toed Timberland boot.
According to interviews with Caprario, along with medical records and documents from a subsequent civil rights lawsuit, the 2011 incident began when two Staten Island police officers pulled Caprario from his double-parked car and accused him of buying drugs. It was Officer Anthony J. Egan who initiated the violence, Caprario recalled, attempting to shut the trunk on Caprario’s fingers, throwing him against the hood of his car, and punching the 24-year-old as he lay restrained. “Egan went nuts,” Caprario said.
Egan denied the allegations in court and did not respond to requests for comment.
Across a 10-year career at the New York Police Department, Egan cost New York City over $437,000 in seven separate civil rights lawsuits, including the one filed by Caprario, accusing the officer of excessive force, false arrests, and false testimony.
In 2018, Egan was decertified under a New York regulation designed to strip police training credentials from officers who have been fired for cause or resign while under a disciplinary investigation.
But within months, Egan was working again — first for a high-end private security company and then for the City University of New York’s Hunter College, where he worked as a campus peace officer authorized to make arrests. Today, he is employed as a correctional officer at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Brooklyn.
Documents obtained by The Intercept and New York Focus under New York’s Freedom of Information Law show that Egan is one of 27 former law enforcement officers to be decertified by state regulators and then rehired by another police department or public safety agency. In some instances, new employers were unaware that the officer they were hiring had previously been decertified. These rehires point to the lack of oversight of so-called wandering officers and the limitations of the current decertification system in New York.
“It fits into a broader pattern that we’ve seen in police getting away with misconduct,” said Michael Sisitzky, who leads the New York Civil Liberties Union police accountability campaign. “The fact that they may not have violated any laws or rules by going through this process is another example of police departments not taking rules violations by officers on the job — that led to the loss of their jobs and loss of certification — all that seriously.”
An Inadequate System
In 2016, two years after the police killing of Eric Garner, administrators at New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services enacted regulations to revoke the training certificates of problematic police officers. Under the regulation, officers who are fired for cause by police departments or resign during disciplinary processes must be reported to the DCJS, which then invalidates those officers’ training certificates.
But the law does not prevent decertified officers from being rehired; officers can undergo retraining by new employers and become recertified to resume police work. Because New York does not decertify officers permanently, and because regulators don’t track police decertifications as closely or transparently as they do for doctors or lawyers, experts call the state’s current system a half-measure.
“It’s better than nothing. But it’s still inadequate,” said Roger Goldman, a professor emeritus at Saint Louis University School of Law and a leading expert on police licensing.
Forty-five other states have adopted statutes that allow officers to be decertified. Many of those statutes are far stricter than New York’s, Goldman said, and make it more difficult for an officer with a problematic record to be rehired. In Arizona and Connecticut, for example, regulators publish the names and offenses of decertified officers publicly. In Kansas, officers are required to petition a state board to be reinstated, allowing regulators rather than police departments to decide whether a cop returns to work. In Oregon, police decertifications are final.
But in New York, DCJS regulators function largely as record keepers. They cannot investigate or fire officers themselves; instead, they decertify officers whose names police departments give them, leaving most regulatory responsibilities in the hands of local police chiefs. Police chiefs can set their own thresholds for what constitutes a fireable offense and rehire officers fired for misconduct if the officer retrains.
In January 2018, the NYPD fired James D. Secreto, a 22-year veteran lieutenant who failed to answer questions after being accused of stealing from the 9th Precinct in Lower Manhattan. Secreto had a disciplinary history, including a record of making false entries as well as fighting with a fellow officer, according to NYPD trial documents.
Secreto was decertified. But shortly afterward, he retrained as an officer for the Saugerties Police Department in upstate New York. He then moved to the nearby Ellenville Village Police Department.
In an interview, the Ellenville police chief, Philip Mattracion, said he hadn’t seen Secreto’s disciplinary trial documents before hiring him. Mattracion said he thought Secreto had retired from the NYPD and had hired him based on “sterling” recommendations from a police chief at Saugerties.
“It’s a shame they don’t make that kind of stuff public,” Mattracion said, referring to internal NYPD disciplinary documents. “It’s a whole other world down there, they don’t cooperate with you.”
In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law policing reforms tucked into the state’s 2021-2022 budget that will confer investigatory powers to the DCJS, allow for permanent certificate revocations, and mandate that police chiefs report disciplinary investigations up the chain. In a statement, a spokesperson for the DCJS said that the new laws provide clearer guidelines than New York’s original regulatory process, which “relied solely on local decisions.”
The reforms will come into effect in October. But they still leave wiggle room for officers looking to get rehired. They do not ban recertification, and they do not shed light on the decertification process by requiring the release of officers’ names and transgressions. In June, after completing The Intercept and New York Focus’s FOIL request, DCJS quietly published a copy of the same document on its website, which includes the names of decertified officers but not the reasons for their decertification.
Some say Cuomo’s legislation is far from enough.
“There is nothing in here that compels any police chief or any agency to permanently decertify an officer,” said Sisitzky, the NYCLU lawyer. “There’s a lot of permissive language.”
State Sen. Brian Benjamin, whose district includes Harlem, East Harlem, and the Upper West Side, also criticized the reforms. “It doesn’t make decertifications a requirement, it makes them a possibility,” Benjamin told The Intercept and New York Focus. “That to me is not acceptable.”
Benjamin recently introduced his own police oversight bill, the Wandering Officers Act, which would make it illegal for police departments to hire officers who were fired for cause or resigned while under investigation. The bill is carried in the state Assembly by Member Phil Ramos, a former police officer. The legislation did not make it to a vote in this year’s session.
Egan, the NYPD officer who allegedly assaulted Caprario on Staten Island, resigned under investigation, triggering the revocation of his training certificate. But just a month later, he was licensed as a security guard by New York’s Division of Licensing Services, which certifies the nearly 170,000 private security workers in the state.
A spokesperson for the Department of State, which oversees licensing, said former police officers require a letter of good standing from a prior employer as well as a criminal background check to become licensed guards.
The spokesperson, Mercedes Padilla, declined to say whether the department considered misconduct records but said the licensing division’s role was to provide jobs rather than to regulate the private security industry. “We call it the department of opportunity,” Padilla said.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the Metropolitan Detention Center, where Egan now works, told The Intercept and New York Focus that it conducts background investigations into all new staff hires. The bureau would not comment on Egan’s case beyond confirming his employment.
The Intercept and New York Focus have not found evidence of recertified officers committing wrongdoing at their new jobs. But in 2020, a study of thousands of Florida police officers found that officers who were fired for misconduct or resigned while under investigation were three times more likely to be fired for misconduct at their next job within three years. Roughly 3 percent of Florida’s working police force were wandering cops, the study found.
“Those officers in Florida had not been decertified, they’ve been terminated, which is different,” Goldman said. “But it points to what my work has illustrated over the past, which is that these officers who are decertified and resurface again are more likely to reoffend.”
A High Bar
Since 2016, the DCJS has decertified over 1,000 police officers, correctional officers, and security guards. But these decertifications occur only when an officer is fired or quits, allowing officers with patterns of misconduct to evade state regulators.
New York has an unusually high standard for decertifications, Goldman said. “What you really need in New York is what most other states have, which is [to] decertify not just because you’ve been fired for cause, but because you’ve committed serious misconduct.”
The Intercept and New York Focus identified 21 former NYPD officers who moved to new police, public safety, or private security positions after being accused of wrongdoing substantiated by New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, and 50 more who moved to new positions after being named in lawsuits alleging excessive use of force, false testimony, or false arrest.
Forty-eight moved to other police departments, 16 to public security roles, and seven to private security.
To conduct the analysis, The Intercept and New York Focus reviewed data on CCRB complaints substantiated by investigators, as well as a database of more than 1,000 federal civil rights lawsuits filed against NYPD officers between 2015 and 2018, which was compiled by the Legal Aid Society. These lists were compared with state and city payroll data and other public records.
The New York State Police has hired at least six former NYPD officers accused of misconduct, including Richard Caster, one of the officers named in the $4 million settlement for Thabo Sefolosha, an NBA player who was assaulted and injured by NYPD officers outside a Manhattan nightclub in 2015.
In a statement, a State Police spokesperson described the agency’s hiring process as one of the most selective and thorough in the country. But the department said it has only recently begun to review CCRB records and internal NYPD disciplinary records, which were made partially public in March.
The New York City Administration for Children’s Services has hired at least 10 former NYPD officers accused of misconduct to investigate sensitive cases of child abuse. An ACS spokesperson declined to say whether the agency considered misconduct records when hiring former NYPD officers. The agency does send a verification form to the NYPD, the spokesperson said, on which the “NYPD will report whether a candidate was disciplined during their employment.”
In 2018, ACS briefly employed Dwayne Chandler, a former NYPD officer with two substantiated CCRB complaints, including a 2003 incident in which Chandler pistol-whipped a suspect on the back of the head. Chandler was also one of two NYPD officers whose stray bullet fire killed a Yemeni deli worker in 1994. Police supervisors deemed the shooting justified, according to a report by the Daily News.
In the summer of 2020, Chandler, now a licensed security guard, was arrested on assault charges for firing a pistol into the back of a fellow diner during a restaurant brawl in Howard Beach. His case is still pending.
The ACS also hired Dennis Carmody, a former officer who was suspended by the NYPD in 1987 for pulling his gun on a doctor at Harlem Hospital who had been objecting to Carmody’s treatment of a concussed suspect. Carmody was hired at the ACS in 2018 and works there today, according to payroll records.
Private employers also face difficulty backgrounding former NYPD officers. The private security company G4S said they get little information about job candidates when they check with the NYPD. “They don’t give us very much,” a company representative said.
The company has hired at least two former NYPD officers with substantiated misconduct records, including one Brooklyn cop named in over 100 civilian complaint allegations in the 1980s and 1990s, two of which were substantiated by investigators. A G4S representative attributed the high number of civilian complaints about the officer to an era in which Brooklyn “was fraught with murders, homicides, robberies, and drugs.”
Jennvine Wong, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project, said she was not surprised that officers accused of misconduct could move into private security industries.
“These are mostly industries that are going to be highly deferential to the police,” she said. “How much credit are they going to give to something that they’ve just viewed as part of the job?”
Over a five-year period, the Nassau County Police Department hired 17 former NYPD officers who were the subject of substantiated CCRB complaints or named as defendants in federal civil rights lawsuits. Among them was Matthew Castellano, a Staten Island NYPD officer who joined the force in 2011.
In 2015, Castellano was one of two officers to stop Sheena Stewart, a Black social worker who was seven months pregnant, on her commute to work. Castellano pulled her from the driver’s seat, threw her to the ground, and called her a “fat bastard,” according to a lawsuit filed by Stewart, who sued the officers and the department for abusive policing and racial discrimination. Stewart was suspended from her job at a residential rehabilitation center after being charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration; the charges against her were later dropped.
“[This was] a decent person who was hurt in a very bad way,” said Brett Klein, Stewart’s lawyer.
Castellano missed a court appearance for the lawsuit. City payroll records show that he resigned in 2015, while the lawsuit was ongoing.
Stewart settled her case with the city for $75,000, agreeing to a common clause in police settlements in which the plaintiff agrees that the settlement does not indicate the guilt of the defending officer.
Two years later, Castellano was hired by the Nassau County Police Department, where he works today for a higher salary than he had with the NYPD.
The Nassau County Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the hiring of Castellano or the 16 other former NYPD officers accused of misconduct.
“That’s classic. Making more money,” Klein said about Castellano’s rehiring. “It interfered with her job, but it didn’t seem to have any impact on this guy.”