Ex-NYPD officer sentenced to prison for misconduct

August 8, 2011 2:12:30 PM PDT
A former police officer acquitted of raping a woman he had helped home was sentenced Monday to a year in jail for misconduct, with a judge saying he had abused a position of trust and concocted a self-serving explanation.

With his accuser looking on, a grim-looking Kenneth Moreno was led away after hearing his sentence, though his lawyers planned to ask a higher court later in the day to let him out on bail during a planned appeal.

Moreno, 43, and his former partner, Franklin Mata, 29, were fired from the police department within hours of their misdemeanor official misconduct convictions and acquittals on rape, burglary and other charges in May.

Mata, whose sentencing was postponed from Monday to Wednesday because his lawyer was enmeshed in a trial elsewhere, had been accused of standing watch while Moreno was with the woman.

They had seen the verdict as vindication in a case they portrayed as a good deed gone awry. But Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro made it clear he disagreed.

"When law enforcement officers commit a crime, they rip at that fabric that holds us together ... and you, sir, ripped a gaping hole in that fabric by committing your crimes," he said before giving Moreno half the maximum possible sentence.

Prosecutors had wanted the maximum two years.

"People in this city must be able to rely on this, that when they call 911 for help, the police who arrive will, in fact, help," Assistant District Attorney Coleen Balbert told the judge. "He demonstrated that he had no regard for the law."

Moreno lawyer Joseph Tacopina had pressed for probation, noting that the ex-officer's first-time conviction was for a misdemeanor and already has already cost him his 17-year job and his pension.

Probation officials had said there was no need to jail Moreno, he added.

"I'm going to ask the court to have the same courage that that jury had in rendering that verdict," Tacopina said.

Some jurors said later that they had too much doubt to convict in a rape case with an accuser who acknowledged her memories were spotty - and without DNA evidence implicating the officers. But the verdict spurred outrage from women's advocates, a few of whom demonstrated outside the courthouse Monday.

Mata and Moreno met the drunken woman in December 2008 after a taxi driver called for help getting her out of his cab. She told authorities she passed out and awoke to being raped in her bed, saying she acutely remembered being violated despite being unclear on significant parts of the night.

And she secretly recorded a conversation days later in which Moreno alternately denied they had sex but said "yes" twice when she asked whether he'd used a condom. Moreno told jurors he was trying to mollify her.

The former officers acknowledged returning to her apartment three times without telling dispatchers or supervisors what they were doing - the genesis of their misconduct convictions. In fact, Moreno admitted he even placed a phony 911 call about a sleeping vagrant to provide a pretext for one of the visits.

The officers said she'd asked them to come back and check on her, and Moreno said he felt impelled to give her advice about drinking and to comfort her. He said that she made advances and he ultimately ended up cuddling with the barely dressed woman in her bed, but that they didn't have sex. Mata said he was sleeping on her sofa while the others were in the bedroom.

While the judge said he accepted the jury's verdict, he called Moreno's testimony "classic for its admitting what you couldn't deny, denying what you couldn't admit, and classic tailoring of your testimony to the witnesses who testified before you."

Moreno declined to speak at his sentencing. His accuser, now a 29-year-old fashion product developer in California, wasn't offered an opportunity to speak. New York law allows victims to speak at sentencings in felony cases but says nothing about whether they can do the same in misdemeanor cases.

The woman said in a statement after the verdict that her "world was turned upside-down by the actions of two police officers who were sent there to protect but instead took advantage of their authority and broke the law."

Her lawyers, who are representing her in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city, said Friday that she didn't plan to comment about the sentencing.

The Associated Press doesn't identify people who say they are victims of sex crimes unless they publicly identify themselves or agree to be named.

The case ignited protests from women's advocates, who saw it as a discouraging example of the difficulty women face in coming forward with a sexual assault complaint.

K.C. Washington, a member of the National Organization for Women's New York board of directors, stood outside the courthouse, holding a sign that said, "NYPD: Protect Women." She said she had been "horrified" by the rape acquittals.

"We can't keep silent," she said. "We're just sending a message to the people who make the policies, and the judges, that it's not OK."

The case ultimately pitted the woman's word, with some support from the recorded conversation, against the officers' denials. At the trial, their lawyers underscored the lack of forensic evidence and the fact that the woman had sued.

I thought she made the whole thing up," Moreno said after the verdict. In trying to help her, he said, he "made a judgment call ... and I paid for it."