NYPD via AP

NYPD shakes up sex crimes unit after Weinstein, staffing woes

November 16, 2018 - 12:01 pm
Categories: 

NEW YORK (1010 WINS/AP) — The New York City Police Department is shaking up its embattled special victims division, where a top detective has twice been accused of interfering in the Harvey Weinstein investigation and a city watchdog says the staff is stretched too thin to properly review sexual assault cases.

Deputy Chief Judith Harrison is replacing Michael Osgood as commanding officer, and the unit is being restructured to sharpen its focus on sex and abuse cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Osgood, who led the division for eight years and was closely involved in the Weinstein investigation, is being reassigned to a leadership role in Staten Island, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the moves publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A formal announcement took place Friday morning.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill signaled changes were coming to the special victims division in April when he pledged a "top-to-bottom scrub" after the city's Department of Investigation issued a report that blamed shoddy sex assault investigations on chronic understaffing.

The police department's review was just wrapping up last month when the Weinstein case was roiled by back-to-back allegations that Det. Nicholas DiGaudio had coached a witness and told an accuser to delete material from her cellphone.

Weinstein's lawyers, seeking to have the case thrown out, asked last week for a chance to question DiGaudio and Osgood about the investigation in court. Osgood has said that they interviewed all of the potential witnesses together.

Weinstein denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

Harrison, a 21-year member of the NYPD, has been a precinct commander in Queens and led patrol units in the neighborhoods near LaGuardia Airport. She was promoted in July to deputy chief and was assigned to the detective bureau, which oversees the special victims division.

As she takes charge, the division is being streamlined into a pair of squads — one focusing on crimes against adults and the other on child abuse. The hate crimes unit, which had been a part of the special victims division, is being moved elsewhere in the department's structure.

The Department of Investigation report, issued in late March, found the special victims division had just 67 detectives for a caseload of 5,661 suspected attacks last year, leaving the bulk of assault cases to precinct-level detectives who had less training and experience dealing with victims. In comparison, the homicide squads had 101 detectives to handle 282 cases in 2017.

The DOI found that the sex crimes caseload increased by 65 percent since 2009, but staffing levels were nearly unchanged. As a result, police prioritized stranger rapes while sexual assaults committed by acquaintances received less attention.

Almost immediately after the report was issued, O'Neill announced that the department was adding 20 detectives to the special victims division to investigate active cases and 16 more to handle cold cases.

Osgood had been asking for more staff for at least four years, according to memos included with the DOI report, and had also recommended starting a cold case squad.

Prosecutors dropped one of the criminal charges against Weinstein last month after evidence surfaced that DiGaudio had told a witness to keep quiet when she raised doubts about the veracity of her friend's allegation against the movie producer.

Days later, prosecutors revealed that DiGaudio allegedly urged one of the other criminal accusers to clear material that wasn't related to Weinstein from her cellphones before she handed them over to prosecutors. The woman didn't delete any information and instead asked a lawyer for advice, prosecutors said.

Charges involving that accuser are still pending, along with charges stemming from a separate allegation.

Weinstein's lawyers have decried DiGaudio as "a serial obstructor" who was "singularly hell-bent on concealing the truth." DiGaudio was subjected to an internal police department investigation and is no longer involved in the Weinstein case.

DiGaudio's union, the Detectives' Endowment Association, has said he "was simply trying to get to the truth" and wasn't trying to influence the investigation.

Police say the evidence against Weinstein remains "compelling and strong."