By NYPD Captain Ernie Naspretto (Ret.)
It was one of the darkest days among the many dark days that the NYPD has had to endure throughout its history, so believe many New York cops, past and present, when discussing the murder of Police Officer Philip Cardillo at the Harlem Mosque in 1972. Saturday will mark the 35th anniversary of the shooting that reeked of racially charged politics and polarized cops.
“Political expediency won over cops’ lives and justice, said retired Detective Sonny Grosso, 74, of “French Connection” fame who responded to the infamous shooting and penned “Murder at the Harlem Mosque” in 1977 detailing the horrific treatment the Cardillo murder got from then Mayor John Lindsay and the police hierarchy.Lindsay was campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination and didn’t want his image tainted in any way, explained Grosso.
“(Lindsay) sacrificed this cop in hopes of getting black votes,” he said.Then and now, all bets are off when a signal 10-13 - cop needs emergency assistance - comes over the police radio. At 11:41 AM Cardillo and his partner, Vito Navarra, along with every other cop working in the 28th precinct that day, rushed to assist the “detective” who called for assistance on the second floor of 102 West 116th Street -the Harlem Mosque. Cardillo, Navarra and another team from the bordering 25th precinct, Police Officers Victor Padilla and Ivan Negron, were the first to arrive and rushed inside on a mission to find and rescue their fellow officer.
That call would turn out to be bogus but the violence and bloodshed that erupted within seconds were all too real and would leave an indelible scar on the NYPD. As Cardillo and Navarra rushed up a staircase toward the second floor they were intercepted by 15 to 20 men who forced the officers back down to the hallway just as Padilla and Negron ran in. More mosque members appeared from inside and a group now numbering 20 to 25 started plummeting the cops with fists, feet and blackjacks. Cardillo and Padilla would have their service revolvers taken from them as shots rang out.
Padilla was beaten into semi-consciousness while Cardillo was shot point blank in the chest. Navarra and Negron would fire their weapons at the murderous mob. To this day, it is not known if any of the cops’ bullets hit anyone as the mob scatteredThe murder of a fellow cop was bad enough. But, the political posturing by Lindsay, fueled by Congressman Charles Rangel and Minister Louis Farrakhan, prevented a thorough investigation of the shooting which would have resulted in a swift arrest, said Grosso.Neither Rangel or Farrakhan responded to a request for a comment.
The most basic crime scene preservation procedures were not followed. At least 17 suspects being held after backup cops, including Grosso, stormed in were released without being interrogated on direct orders from Lindsa’sy and then Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy, said Grosso.“There was a riot within minutes of the shooting. Police cars were overturned, bricks came flying off of rooftops, TV reporters were assaulted. It was a riot, plain and simple, yet Lindsay refused to even call it that. Bad press would hurt his (presidential) chances and Murphy wanted to be the next FBI director. What a joke,” said a still angry Grosso.
Even after Cardillo, a 31 year old father of three children, died six days later, Lindsay and Murphy were no where to be seen.“What bothers me the most was that he was lying in his death bed and neither Lindsay or Murphy came to visit him. Then after he dies, they are conveniently out of town and don’t attend his funeral,” said Vito Navarra, 63, who retired as a detective in 1995, and lives “with this every day of my life.”
A young cop named Ray Kelly was assigned to the St. Luke’s hospital to assist family members of cops injured in the melee.A Mosque member was arrested four years later but was acquitted after two trials, the first ending in a hung jury with 11-1 for conviction.Cardillo’s young widow, Joy, would win 4 million dollars from the city in a wrongful death lawsuit. The city had offered her one million to settle. The case was revisited in last fall’s publication of “Circle of Six”, a book written by retired Detective Randy Jurgensen, the lead detective who tried desperately to salvage the botched investigation.
The Blue Knights, a police fraternal organization of motorcyclists, will have a memorial ride next Sunday which will pass the Harlem Mosque. Hundreds of active and retired cops from as far away as Virginia will participate.
“We’re not out to open wounds or disturb the community, but we want everyone to know we’ll never forget this murder and the fact that politics allowed the killer to get away with it,” said retired Police Officer John Malandrino, 67, president of the Blue Knights Nassau Chapter.