Hoboken pol's DWI arrest exposes unspoken perk of public officials. Probe of NYC cop's 'courtesy call'

Hoboken pol's DWI arrest exposes unspoken perk of public officials
Probe of NYC cop's 'courtesy call'

March 05, 2007 Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN - Shortly after 3 on a Saturday morning in late January, Councilman Chris Campos was driving his Mercedes Benz along the West Side Highway in New York City when police lights flashed in his rear view mirror.

What was initially a routine stop that Jan. 20 for driving through a red light, cops said, soon turned into a driving while intoxicated arrest - an embarrassing situation for an elected official.

But now eyebrows are being raised over a New York City cop's "courtesy call" across the Hudson in which he apparently asked a Hoboken sergeant if Campos should be let off the hook.

According to a tape recording of the phone call obtained by The Jersey Journal, a man who identifies himself as New York City Highway Patrol Officer Liotta asks Hoboken Police Sgt. James Peck if Campos should spend the rest of the night "as a guest of the city." Peck immediately tells Liotta that he should "do your duty" and enforce the law - adding later in the conversation that the city's police department has been "without a contract for two years."

The tape provides a rare glimpse into the world of "courtesy calls," a practice widely considered one of the unspoken perks of public life. It has also led to the beginning of an internal investigation of the New York City cop after copies of the transcripts were provided to the NYPD by The Jersey Journal.

The controversial phone call came after Campos reportedly blew a 0.08 - which is right at the legal limit, though still considered drunken driving - on a Breathalyzer test. When the call ended, Campos was placed in handcuffs and charged with drunken driving.

He later blew above a 0.10 at the New York police station, according to police.

According to the tape recording, Liotta tells Peck about a "purely hypothetical" situation.

"If a certain person identifies themselves as the City Council president for the city of Hoboken, New Jersey . whose name might or might not be Christopher Campos . would it be a good thing or maybe a bad thing for him to become a guest of the city tonight?"

Peck responded, "I would expect you to do your duty, sir. I would expect you to enforce the law." But he later lets drop that Hoboken cops haven't had a contract in two years.

And when Liotta asks Peck if the City Council "favors" the police department, Peck replies: "That's besides the point." But then he adds: "They're not, but I would expect you to... regardless, I would expect you to do your job."

"Very good sir," Liotta replies. "Yeah, I think my job will be done."

Messages left for Peck and Liotta at their respective police stations were not returned last night.

Campos referred all questions to his attorney, Louis Zayas, a former New York City prosecutor who has offices in Hackensack and New York.

"The Breathalyzer was conducted by the same police officer who arrested him. He blew 0.08, which is barely over the legal limit," Zayas said. "He was given two Breathalyzers, but there is no paper trail . I find the whole investigation flawed."

Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno, who was aware of the conversation, said "We counseled (Peck) on the inappropriate interjection of his personal opinion on the relationship the department has with Chris Campos."

A spokesman for Mayor David Roberts said the mayor hasn't heard the tapes and declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Councilman Peter Cammarano said the transcripts raise issues about the potential problems with so-called courtesy calls.

"The fact that someone's political opinion may have influenced the outcome of this stop is probably a good indication of why we should not have courtesy calls to begin with," said Cammarano.

Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, a Campos adversary whose husband is a cop, had somewhat of a different take.

"The New York Police Department did their job," she said. "Should (Peck) have said something like that? Probably not."

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