Serpico sets the record straight, Part 10Baltimore Post-Examiner

Serpico sets the record straight, Part 10

Editor’s Note: Read the complete series on Frank Serpico under Special Reports.

They had never worked with him

My nephew went to Columbia Law School. He graduated with honors. He’s a lawyer today. One day he brings me home a book. The title of the book is Above the Law co-authored by James Fyfe. Fyfe was a friend of Patrick Murphy. They were both lieutenants at the police academy. Fyfe left the police department to get his law degree at Temple University, then came back and became police commissioner of the New York City Police Academy. 

He writes a chapter in the book about Serpico. He completely distorted the facts about the night I got shot. 

He was a police expert around the country. He testified in Los Angeles against cops. Any way to make a buck, except he would not testify against New York cops because they probably had the crap on him. Fyfe testified in favor of the four cops who assassinated Amadou Diallo. [On February 1, 1999, 23-year-old Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, after reaching for his wallet was shot at forty-one times by four NYPD officers. Nineteen bullets hit Diallo.]

I wrote an article about that for the Village Voice that was published on March 7, 2000 titled, ‘Amadou’s Ghost.’ I know all about what happened on that night and the cover-up that followed.

So now getting back to Fyfe.

NYPD Headquarters

He writes in the book about the night I got shot, “He got there when Brooklyn North narcotics officers learned that the services of a Spanish-speaking undercover officer might help them make a drug buy and arrest … Headquarters then called Serpico, who left his assignment in Brooklyn South to help in the bust. When Serpico arrived, he met officers who only knew him by reputation. They had never worked with him.” 

Fyfe is full of crap. I was assigned to these guys. These were guys in my unit, assigned with them since my first day in Narcotics. That’s a fact that can be checked out for anybody that wants to check it out.     

“…. they had not been implicated by him in any misconduct, and never were.” That’s very interesting, even though most of them were former plainclothesmen. That’s a nice clean slate he just gave them.

Then he continues with this bold face lie.  “Those officers didn’t even know Serpico. While they may have wished that headquarters had sent them someone other than this troublemaker whose name was then vaguely floating around their department, their professional involvement with him would have ended with this single case.” Oh, never heard of him except that he was a troublemaker. This is in his own writing. A figment of his imagination.  

This is all nonsense. It’s a whitewash to confuse the reader. This is all a smokescreen.

Then he writes, “These facts do not support the conclusion that the cops who were with Serpico put him into harm’s way.” This is just unbelievable. Doug, you can’t make this stuff up. Can you believe what these guys write? You see how they finagle words and meanings.

“Serpico managed to un-holster his gun, but the dealer shot him in the face and fled out a window.” My gun was in my hand, it was not holstered. He also doesn’t say that I shot him.

Then he writes, “… and by fear that colleagues’ assistance may be withheld in emergencies.”

Right!

I said to my nephew, how can this guy write something like this. He said look in front of the book in the acknowledgements. “Most of all, we wish to acknowledge the contributions of Patrick V. Murphy, who has done more than any other cop in this century to improve the professional and human quality of American policing and to make the police officer’s lot a happier one.  We dedicate this book to him.”

Okay, that’s how the system goes.

James Fyfe died in November 2005.

Frank Serpico testifying before the Knapp Commission in 1972

He undermined my integrity

When I had my website, a woman sent me a message and asked if I knew about this book, Hoax, that was written by New York Times bestselling author, Robert Tannenbaum. I would have never known about the book, which was in hardcover and about to go into paperback.

His picture is on the back of the book, on the jacket. Doug, the picture of respectability. He is a former Manhattan prosecutor, who never lost a felony case. He was deputy chief counsel for the congressional committee that investigated the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   

Now put him up against this little cop and who are you going to believe?

If you pick up this book and you read it, I know my first thing would be oh, that Serpico. This book is out there and this is what he says. He’s a crime writer and I think he plays himself in his books.

He wrote, “You know, I was a young cop, just getting started and walking a beat in Little Italy when Frank Serpico started ratting on everybody he could think of … First, it was Frank. You know the guy was as dirty as anyone he turned in, but his conscience starts to bother him —aided by the fact that he was popped by IA — but does he point the finger at himself and leave it at that? No, he saves his ass by pointing the finger at everybody else and makes himself the hero. But Frank wasn’t worth my time.” 

So, I didn’t complain about Murphy. I didn’t complain about Fyfe or the other guys who wrote books. I thought I’m going after this guy and I did. He wanted to settle. I said no. He said he was only kidding. I said let me tell you something. Mad Magazine did a parody on the movie Serpico and I laughed my ass off. I sent them a letter to that affect. I said what you wrote wasn’t humor, this is libelous.

He undermined my integrity and defamed my character. He settled out of court and paid damages. I also received a letter of apology from him that I can do anything I want with. I stopped the book from going into paperback at the time.

A man of principle

Frank, what’s going on with your book, Before I go, It’s All a Lie.

Frank Serpico today

The book is finished. Now here’s another crazy twist. I gave it to my agent and he said they don’t know what to do with it. You don’t know what to do with it, I said. Get it published. He said well, you know, you know. I said look, I have a documentary coming out, and I’m producing a movie about Ramsey Clark. 

Very few people know, Ramsey Clark is one of our unsung heroes. He’s in his nineties now. He is a former United States Attorney. The guy has done more for this country and the world in the areas of civil liberties and the search for justice. I’m an executive producer for the film. The director is Joseph Stillman, he’s been working on it for five years. I just don’t want people to forget, you know.   

I received an email from the Henry Thoreau Society for a request for their 200th anniversary to write an essay. I don’t know if you know about Henry Thoreau Doug, he was a naturalist. He lived with the Native Americans. He wrote this paper, “A life without principle is not worth living.”

That’s the name of Ramsey’s documentary. Citizen Clark, A Life with Principle. That in my opinion is a man who has principle. He is an ex-Marine. He’s been all over the world. His passport always looked like an accordion when you opened it up. He went and defended Saddam Hussein because he believes every man has the right to a fair trial. Saddam Hussein never got a fair trial. We never belonged in Iraq. We never belonged in Afghanistan. We shouldn’t have lost one American life or hundreds of thousands of other innocent people’s lives. How are we going to turn this around?  Is it ever going to get turned around? 

They whispered in my ear

I was invited one year to be a presenter at the Nation’s Top Cop Awards that is presented yearly by the National Association of Police Organizations. John Walsh was the host.

So, I went down to Washington D.C., where it was held in a large venue. There were cops there from all over the country. They all had their best uniforms on. There was also a contingent from the NYPD there.

There was one cop there, he wanted me to sign something. He was all excited. He was a good kid. He said to me, “Oh, they’re not going to believe this back in the office.” I said give me your phone number, I’ll call you there when you’re working, and I did. 

I was supposed to read from the teleprompter, but I said the hell with that, I’m going to put my own words in there. 

When I was talking I said that sometimes working undercover, the line is very thin between the good guy and the bad guy and you must make sure that you stay on the right side of the line.

There was one cop, I gave him his award and he says to me in a low voice, “Can I talk to you.” I said sure. “You know Mr. Serpico when I was eight years old my father took me to see your movie and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a cop just like you.” He asked if I would talk to his family afterwards, and I said absolutely.  I said look at that, you’re getting the Nation’s Top Cop Award. I went to shake his hand.

Al Pacino as Frank Serpico

Then there was this other cop, he comes up to me and said, “You know what, this job sucks, but every time I get discouraged, I got a copy of your movie, I go home, I put it in the VCR, I sit back, I have myself a beer and it gives me the courage to go on.” I said to him congratulations, you just got the Nation’s Top Cop Award.

The third guy, and these were the only three guys that talked to me, he pushes the award into my chest and said this rightfully belongs to you. I had to grab it otherwise it would have fallen on the ground. I asked what he was talking about. He told me that he had made over 145 felony arrests in his career so far. He said but it wasn’t him. “It was you, you were there standing there next to me, guiding me on.” 

I’m telling you Doug, I had tears in my eyes, my knees felt like jelly.

The thing is, when I went to shake their hands, let me say this first.

A year later, I got invited to speak at the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s convention. I don’t like to prepare speeches. I speak from my heart, what’s in my head, because you never forget the truth.   

I told them the story I just told you.

So, I told them the story and then I said and you know what. When I went to shake their hands, each one of them gave me a big hug and they each whispered something in my ear. And you know what, they each whispered the same thing. 

I said does anybody want to guess what they whispered. I was addressing the audience, and the DEA agents. One guy raises his hands and I nod.  He said, “I love you?” I said no, I know they love me, and I love them to. I said what they whispered was, “I have to talk to you.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I said, the system has not changed, that’s why it’s up to you, the individual to make a difference.

Top photo is a YouTube screenshot from the National Whistleblower Assembly


About the author

Doug Poppa

Doug Poppa is a US Army Military Police Veteran, former law enforcement officer, criminal investigator and private sector security and investigations management professional with 40 years of experience. In 1986 Mr. Poppa was awarded “Criminal Investigator of the Year” by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia for his undercover work in narcotics enforcement. He was also re-assigned to the Northern Virginia Regional Narcotics Enforcement Task Force for 18 months. In 1991 and again in 1992 Mr. Poppa’s testimony under oath in court led to the discovery that exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense by the prosecutor and sheriff’s office officials during the 1988 trial of a man accused of attempted murder of his wife that led to his conviction. As a result of his testimony the man was ordered released from prison, given a new trial in 1992 and found not guilty. Mr. Poppa became the subject of local and national news media attention as a result of his testimony which led to the demise of his 12-year police career. After losing his job, at the request of the FBI, Mr. Poppa infiltrated in an undercover capacity a group of men who were plotting the kidnapping of a Dupont Chemical fortune heir and his wife in 1992. His stories have been featured on Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and CBS News’ Street Stories with Ed Bradley. Contact the author.
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