Jewish police officers this week are standing firmly behind one of their own who breached the so-called "blue wall of silence" in the Abner Louima trial.
"He said what he saw, and that’s what a cop is supposed to do," said Sgt. Eric Finkelstein, president of the Shomrim Society, of Det. Eric Turetzky.
Shomrim represents 2,800 officers, civilian employees and retirees of the NYPD.
Finkelstein said he was unaware of any concern about a backlash against Jewish cops following Turetzky’s testimony last week in the federal trial of four cops accused of torturing Louima, a Haitian immigrant, at a Brooklyn precinct house in August 1997. The officers deny any wrongdoing.
"If these guys did what they are accused of doing, I can’t imagine any cop that’s going to defend them," said Finkelstein, who works in the operations division at police headquarters.
Jews are estimated at less than 2 percent of the police force, and Shomrim has recently complained to Commissioner Howard Safir that their concerns about anti-Semitism in the department have not been addressed.
In this context, Turetzky’s coming forward to provide crucial testimony in the racially explosive Louima case might make some Jewish cops uneasy. But Finkelstein said he was aware of no one in his group who felt that Turetzky should not have come forward.
A second officer, Mark Schofield, who is not known to be Jewish, testified for the prosecution this week, he said, taking Turetzky out of the spotlight.
"If they were going to say, ‘Look, only Jews turn people in,’ another guy testifying will make that [more difficult]," said Finkelstein. "People who see it that way would have seen it that way anyway. I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem, if it becomes a problem at all."
Turetzky, 28, has not spoken to the press. But according to published reports, he grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, where he still lives with his mother and grandmother. He graduated Canarsie High School and attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has been on the force since 1996, stationed at the 70th Precinct in Flatbush, where the alleged torture incident took place.
Since coming forward with his account of the incident (Turetzky said he saw Officer Justin Volpe wielding a stick used to penetrate Louima’s rectum) he has been reassigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau.
During cross examination on the witness stand, defense attorneys tried to paint Turetzky as an opportunist who came forward either to cover his own back in the investigation, or to line himself up for career advancement. But Finkelstein said Turetzky had no expectation of promotion when he came forward.
"You never know where you’re going to end up when you do that," said the Shomrim leader. "He was promoted only because they have to promote you to detective if you are in an investigatory position for more than 18 months. He’s been in IAB for 20 months."
Rabbi Alvin Kass, the NYPD’s Jewish chaplain and spiritual adviser to Shomrim, who has a close relationship with Turetzky, said he is a "very warm, caring" person and an "extremely courageous young man. I got to know him well as a result of this, and he can serve as a role model for today’s generation."
Rabbi Kass said other Jewish cops he’s spoken with have welcomed and embraced Turetzky’s actions. He cited another cop with the same last name as saying "I’m not related to him, but I would be proud if I was."
Of Turetzky’s admission on the stand that he threatened to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach on the night Louima was arrested, Rabbi Kass said "It’s not something that I could imagine him saying. It certainly seems uncharacteristic of the young man that I know."
Rabbi Kass, who is to preside over Turetzky’s wedding later this year, said he had not spoken to the detective since the testimony. He was unsure of Turetzky’s level of religious observance or affiliation, if any.
The chaplain, who instructs academy recruits in police ethics, predicted that recent events would make cops like Turetzky more the rule than the exception as the notorious blue wall of silence (the code by which cops refuse to inform on each other’s misdeeds) crumbles.
"We’re on the threshold of an era in which it’s understood that honesty and integrity and truth are indispensable for effective law enforcement," said Rabbi Kass.
Finkelstein also sounded a positive note on relations between Shomrim and the department’s first Jewish commissioner. After The Jewish Week reported in February that Safir had not responded to a Shomrim letter of concern about anti-Semitism, the commissioner contacted Finkelstein to set up a meeting, as yet unscheduled, Finkelstein said.