Fired cop is back

Former narcotics officer Joseph Sulpizio loads a suspect into a squad car. After Internal Affairs looked into allegations that he was stealing money from suspects, Sulpizio was fired. The police union got his job back and police officials blame the Daily News.
Former narcotics officer Joseph Sulpizio loads a suspect into a squad car. After Internal Affairs looked into allegations that he was stealing money from suspects, Sulpizio was fired. The police union got his job back and police officials blame the Daily News.

Commissioner Ramsey blames News for breaking story too soon

Posted: February 27, 2012

POLICE HAVE rehired a former narcotics officer who was fired after multiple allegations that he pocketed money - and in one case, cocaine - from people he stopped, but didn't arrest.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired Officer Joseph Sulpizio last year for lying to Internal Affairs investigators and for having no regard for his responsibility as a cop.

In separate incidents dating back to 2008, at least six people alleged that Sulpizio stole their money. Two police captains who had supervised Sulpizio during his years on the Narcotics Strike Force urged the Internal Affairs Bureau to investigate him.

But again and again, Internal Affairs missed opportunities to nab Sulpizio and the investigation languished.

Then, in November 2010, after the Daily News began to ask questions, Internal Affairs put Sulpizio under video surveillance.

In a span of three days, on two occasions, an investigator videotaped Sulpizio taking items out of a person's pocket and putting them into his own.

"Both individuals said they were stopped, detained, handcuffed [and] had money taken from them," the dismissal paperwork states. "On one of these encounters, you also took narcotics, which you also did not return."

Ramsey said Sulpizio was never charged because investigators didn't have enough evidence.

And he blames the Daily News.

"You can dump on whoever you want to dump on, but let some of the crap fall on your shoes," Ramsey fumed to a Daily News reporter earlier this week. "You f - - - ed up this investigation. I asked you not to run the story, that we needed more time, but you did it anyway. You f - - - ed it up. Now you want to make us the bad guys."

The day before the Daily News published its story on Dec. 10, 2010, Ramsey implored the newspaper to hold off, arguing that investigators needed more time to gather evidence.

In consultation with the reporters, Daily News editors green-lighted the story after concluding that Internal Affairs had plenty of opportunities to investigate Sulpizio. After Ramsey was told of that decision, Sulpizio was placed on desk duty in connection with allegations of theft for the third time in 2 1/2 years.

Ramsey fired Sulpizio in late February 2011 and the Fraternal Order of Police filed a grievance on Sulpizio's behalf to get his job back.

City lawyers decided not to fight the case through arbitration. Like Ramsey, City Solicitor Shelley Smith faulted the Daily News, saying the newspaper article short-circuited the Internal Affairs investigation.

"It seems to me the haste in wanting to report [the story] didn't serve the ultimate goal, which is serving the citizens," Smith said.

Sulpizio, who joined the force in 1992, was reinstated as an officer last month and is now assigned to the 22nd District in North Philadelphia. Sulpizio did not return phone calls, but has said that he's done nothing wrong.

"I've worked in narcotics for 13 years, and I do my job and I do it right," Sulpizio told the Daily News in December 2010. "And I've never, ever taken money from anyone."

Sulpizio has never been charged with a crime.

Under an agreement between the City Solicitor's Office and the FOP, Sulpizio, who is paid $62,210 a year, was not entitled to back pay for the 11 months he was off the force. He also was not permitted to return to the Narcotics Unit. Police paperwork obtained by the Daily News states that Sulpizio came back after a personal leave of absence.

"When it came time to stand up to the firing, they didn't have enough evidence to fire him and they brought him back," FOP President John McNesby said.

The history of theft allegations against Sulpizio began at least two years and five months before the Daily News article, according to police documents and interviews.

*  On July 5, 2008, Sulpizio stopped and patted down 19-year-old Preston Fulton in North Philly. No drugs were found. After Sulpizio drove off with Fulton's $500, Fulton dialed 9-1-1. Lt. Aisha Perry arrived on the scene and radioed for the officers who stopped Fulton to return. Sulpizio showed up and gave back the money. "My bad," Sulpizio said, according to a witness. Sulpizio apologized and told Perry he simply "forgot" to return the cash.

Internal Affairs determined that Sulpizio "failed to conduct a proper investigation." Sulpizio was pulled off the street for 73 days and given a written reprimand.

*  On March 24, 2009, Sulpizio and other officers were doing drug surveillance in West Kensington. James London and his live-in girlfriend claimed that Sulpizio searched his home without a warrant and stole $3,640.

*  Sometime in 2009, Capt. Verdell Johnson, then-supervisor of the Narcotics Strike Force, wrote a memo to Internal Affairs requesting an investigation into complaints of theft by Sulpizio's squad.

*  In early 2010, Sulpizio's new supervisor - Capt. Debra Frazier - urged Internal Affairs to conduct an investigation.

*  On April 16, 2010, Sulpizio stopped Jose Castro, 46, in West Kensington. Sulpizio searched and handcuffed Castro, then put him in the back of his police cruiser. Castro's stepdaughter, Franchezka Garcia, saw Sulpizio drive off with Castro and followed in her minivan. Sulpizio drove to a deserted stretch of Tusculum Street, where he removed Castro from the patrol car, rifled through his pockets and took $300.

Garcia said she saw Sulpizio stuff bills into his right pocket, then told Castro he was free to go. "Stop. You got my money," Castro yelled after Sulpizio. Garcia dialed 9-1-1.

That night, Sulpizio's supervisor, Capt. Frazier, told Internal Affairs that Sulpizio should be taken off the street - immediately. He was off the street from April 19 to May 6. Internal Affairs put him back in narcotics just two days after an investigator interviewed him.

Internal Affairs didn't sustain the theft allegation, but charged him with "neglect of duty" for not following proper police procedure. The Internal Affairs investigator never asked Sulpizio why he drove Castro to Front and Tusculum.

*  On Aug. 18, 2010, a community activist in Kensington looked out his bedroom window and saw an officer in car N142, a car assigned to Sulpizio, parked on the sidewalk on Willard near Emerald in front of the Richmond Post Office. The officer removed about 10 stacks of money from a brown paper bag and stuffed the cash into what appeared to be his pockets, the activist said.

The next morning, the activist called the police-commissioner's hotline to report what he'd seen, providing the car number, time and other details.

Lt. Kevin Long, of Internal Affairs, confirmed that the bureau received the report, but said that the location was inaccurately listed as "Willis Street," and no such street could be found. Since the tip was anonymous, Internal Affairs couldn't clarify the location.

*  In November 2010, after the Daily News began to look at Sulpizio, Internal Affairs investigators witnessed and videotaped two pedestrian stops made by Sulpizio in West Kensington.

In one, Sulpizio is seen taking something from a teenager's pants pocket and putting it in his own right shirt pocket. The teenager told the Internal Affairs investigator that Sulpizio took $32 from him.

*  In another, Sulpizio is seen taking something from a man's left pants pocket and underwear. The man told the investigator that Sulpizio took $85 and eight bags of cocaine from him. Investigators did not stop Sulpizio.

Chief Inspector Alice Mulvey, who was in charge of the investigation, did not return three phone messages from the Daily News asking why the investigator didn't search Sulpizio after the second videotape.

Sulpizio didn't arrest the teen or the man, nor did he file any paperwork.

Ramsey said the videotapes weren't enough evidence.

"You could see [Sulpizio] took something, but we couldn't prove what it was," said Ramsey, who added that the teenager wouldn't agree to testify and the other alleged victim was a drug dealer, which raised credibility issues.

"You have to have witnesses, not just drug dealers," Ramsey said.

Internal Affairs showed the videotapes to the District Attorney's Office, Ramsey said, and prosecutors agreed they needed more than the tapes.

City Solicitor Smith said it would have been difficult to sustain Sulpizio's dismissal without any criminal charges.

"The videotape," she said, "could show merely that he failed to fill out paperwork and we don't fire people for failing to fill out paperwork."

"I'm not going to say it's all your fault," Ramsey said. "I just hope it's not something you put out there as, 'We screwed something up.' You can't find anyone who is more serious about trying to weed out corrupt cops. It's frustrating when a case is compromised and has to be stopped prematurely. We'll never know if it's true or not. "

Smith, speaking generally, said when it comes to firing and prosecuting police officers, there's a high bar.

"It's hard to convict officers, so you need as much as proof as you can get," Smith said. "It's hard to convict them because juries don't like to convict them. I imagine they want to believe that cops are honest. We all want to believe that cops are honest


Contact lakerb@phillynews.com at 215-854-5933, or follow on Twitter @barbaralaker.

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