In America; Time Bomb in Blue
By BOB HERBERT
Published: Thursday, September 18, 1997
Laura Gentile warned a city lawyer in 1991 that Richard Molloy, a young police officer who was both hot-tempered and weird, would end up killing someone.
Mr. Molloy was the officer whose gun was used one night in January 1996 to kill a drunken man named Patrick Heslin Phelan. The gun was slipped into Officer Molloy's pocket after the shooting and the medical examiner ruled that the wound to Mr. Phelan's head could not have been self-inflicted. Mr. Molloy has nevertheless insisted that Mr. Phelan committed suicide.
Ms. Gentile is a lawyer who, in 1991, represented an Act Up demonstrator who sued Officer Molloy for false arrest. She described the officer's behavior during official proceedings in that case as bizarre. She said he acted so aggressively and exhibited such intense hostility that she became frightened. During the taking of Mr. Molloy's deposition Ms. Gentile asked a male colleague to remain in the room with her. At one point, she said, the officer fixed his gaze on the colleague and began imitating the character played by Robert DeNiro in the movie ''Taxi Driver.''
''He was saying, 'Are you looking at me? Why are you looking at me?' '' Ms. Gentile recalled during a conversation this week. ''He was very intimidating. We spent two days in depositions and it was scary.''
Mr. Molloy's background at that point clearly indicated that he was a walking problem unit. A few years earlier he had fired his weapon during an off-duty confrontation with Fordham University students outside a bar in the Bronx. The officer said the shooting was ''accidental.''
He had appeared at least twice before the Civilian Complaint Review Board and had been the subject of numerous command disciplines. He was known as a cop with a hair-trigger temper and, according to his own testimony, he had been hurt many times on the job, suffering facial fractures, several deep cuts that required stitches to close, and back and head injuries.
''They should have taken his gun away from him,'' said Ms. Gentile. ''I told the corporation counsel, 'This guy is going to kill somebody someday.' ''
It took only two years for Ms. Gentile to be proved right. On March 3, 1993, Officer Molloy shot and killed an ex-convict named Granson Santamaria. Mr. Molloy said he thought Mr. Santamaria was reaching for a gun. There was no gun. The case received virtually no publicity and no action was taken against Officer Molloy.
Six months later Officer Molloy fired four shots from his patrol car at a 20-year-old man named Paul Lipsey. One of the bullets pierced Mr. Lipsey's jacket but he was not hit. Mr. Lipsey had a gun but a judge would later indicate that he did not believe he had threatened Officer Molloy or his partner with it.
Supreme Court Justice Joseph Fisch sentenced Mr. Lipsey to a year in prison for illegal possession of a gun. But in handing down the sentence he said that he thought the actions of Officer Molloy during the encounter with Mr. Lipsey ''were offensive and shocking.'' And he said of Officer Molloy and his partner: ''I found the testimony of the police officers incredible. And that is something that offended the dignity and the integrity of this court, when they testified in a less than forthright manner.''
What apparently happened is that Mr. Lipsey -- who had not been in trouble before that incident and has had a clean record since -- was carrying the weapon for protection. He had previously been mugged twice. When he saw the police officers he became frightened and tossed the gun away. He was fired at anyway. The officers alleged that he had tried to kill them. Attempted murder charges were filed against Mr. Lipsey but they were thrown out.
Richard Molloy's career can be summed up as one absurd and dangerous encounter after another. He was charged with murder in the death of Mr. Phelan, but that indictment has been dismissed. An appeal of the dismissal will be argued next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Molloy remains on modified duty, without his badge or gun. But what happens if he is finally cleared of any wrongdoing in the Phelan case? Will his badge and gun be given back to him? And if so, how long will it be before his next potentially fatal encounter?