News Ticker

Corruption And Brutality Allegations Against Mount Vernon Detective Are Echoed By Civilian Complaints

By George Joseph for The Gothamist.com

Detective Camilo Antonini (right foreground) leaving a press conference held by Mount Vernon’s former mayor and police commissioner. [FACEBOOK]

Mount Vernon residents have filed numerous complaints against a controversial detective that mirror accusations of brutality and corruption raised by a fellow officer.

Detective Camilo Antonini was investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit at least eight times between 2014 and 2015, according to confidential police documents reviewed by Gothamist/WNYC.

The civilian complaints allege that he and fellow officers committed sexual abuse related to body searches, used excessive force and, in at least two cases, committed robbery.

The civilian complaints echo those outlined in a 2015 lawsuit by Murashea Bovell, an active-duty police officer in Mount Vernon who previously worked alongside Antonini in the narcotics unit. Bovell claimed he saw Antonini beat up civilians in custody, rob residents, and collaborate inappropriately with drug dealers to rack up arrests.

The whistleblower also alleged that their narcotics supervisor, Sergeant Sean Fegan, tolerated Antonini’s misconduct and used racist language about black residents.

Bovell lost his lawsuit on procedural grounds, and has filed a new suit alleging retaliation from supervisors. Antonini and Fegan remained on the force.

Police documents show that the department cleared Antonini and fellow officers in response to every one of the civilian complaints.

Fegan conducted the initial investigation in five of the eight complaints. In those cases, the department followed Fegan’s recommendations and dismissed them.

In two of the other three allegations, Fegan was not the initial investigator because he himself was also a subject of the investigation. In those cases too, the department dismissed the civilian complaints.

Gothamist/WNYC called Antonini to discuss the allegations against him, and the detective quickly hung up the phone. Sergeant Fegan also declined comment.

The Mount Vernon Police Department did not respond to questions about whether other civilian complaints have been filed against Antonini, and whether the number or nature of the complaints are unusual.

The disclosure of two years of complaints against Antonini comes at a critical juncture for Mount Vernon, a city of 70,000 just north of the Bronx.

In January, a new mayor and police commissioner took office in a city that has struggled for years with political in-fighting and corruption. With these new leaders and a contested District Attorney’s race in Westchester County this year, some observers are hoping for more oversight and reform.

“The DA’s office and the police leadership have to take these allegations seriously first, and they have to investigate them,” said Damon Jones, a New York representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and publisher of Black Westchester Magazine.

“The problem was in the past that the leadership didn’t care about the civilians that they serve,” he said. “So now with new leadership, hopefully working alongside the district attorney’s office, the concerns of the public will be met.”

Glenn Scott, Mount Vernon’s newly-appointed Commissioner of Public Safety, declined to comment on the specific allegations involving Antonini and Fegan, citing Bovell’s pending legal action. In an email, however, Scott affirmed his commitment to transparency. “One of my top priorities is to rid the Police Department of bad actors and create a culture of Community Policing,” he said.

The City of Mount Vernon also issued a statement, noting that Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard supports the establishment of a Civilian Complaint Review Board to “produce a substantial shift if community relations.”

According to a city spokesman, such a review board could allay concerns about police officers being investigated by their direct supervisors. But Mount Vernon city officials have been considering the idea for nearly two years, and what powers the board would actually have, if launched, remain unclear.

Robbery Allegations
One of the most serious civilian allegations against Antonini stemmed from an incident that took place on the afternoon of September 7th, 2014.

The detective was part of a team that executed a search warrant on a deli on Gramatan Avenue in downtown Mount Vernon. The records we obtained do not say what the warrant was for and the police department did not respond to a question about it.

But police claimed they found a plastic bag of cocaine by the store’s counter. Lab results later showed that there were no drugs in the bag.

Antonini’s colleague, Detective Jesus Garcia, reported that he also found a box with just over two thousand dollars next to the cash register. Antonini said that he found a locked safe, and cracked it open using a hammer and crowbar with Fegan and Garcia at police headquarters.

Antonini later told investigators he could not recall how much money was inside the safe. Garcia and Fegan reported finding $8,980. Police vouchered those sums, but after the operation, Ali Fadhel, the deli’s owner, alleged that he had had nearly $10,000 more near his store counter and in the safe.

Police investigated his complaint and concluded that he had no evidence to back up his allegations. Detective Garcia did not respond to an interview request left with the department’s detective division.

n 2014, Antonini and a group of officers executed a search warrant on this deli.
The owner claims police stole thousands of dollars. [GEORGE JOSEPH]

Standing in front of the deli counter over five years later, Fadhel said the raid is still hurting his business.

“Everybody said, ‘Oh that place is suspicious for selling drugs’ for no reason. I wasn’t doing that. I’m a family man,” he said. “But now I’ve been paying the price since then.”

Pointing at the half-empty shelves in the back of the deli, Fadhel says he is considering closing his business. He filed for bankruptcy in January.

“Those people they’re supposed to be protecting you, not attacking you,” said the shopkeeper, trailing off in exasperation. “Who are you going to call? The police against the police?”

Less than three weeks after the raid on the deli, Antonini was accused of stealing about $100 from a drug suspect who was arrested during a car stop.

In his police report, Antonini said he found just under $200 in cash on the man. From jail, the man wrote a complaint claiming that he actually had $290 total.

“I watch Det Antonini take my money and phones and put it in his desk, which I never seen again,” he wrote. “When I asked about my property, I was told to ‘shut the f*** up.’”

Fegan conducted the investigation and determined that Antonini should be cleared. Top police officials agreed with his recommendation, the documents show.

Anthony Mitchell, a veteran Mount Vernon police sergeant who is now retired, said that even though the complaints are unsubstantiated, they are still troubling.

“Anytime you have [a complaint about] money missing, jewelry missing, within a short period of time, it should raise red flags—especially when the individuals don’t know each other,” said Mitchell, who served under several administrations.

In his 2015 lawsuit, Officer Bovell claimed he witnessed Antonini rob Mount Vernon residents “on numerous occasions” while executing search warrants of vehicles and homes. Bovell alleged that during these operations, Antonini would sometimes find suspects’ money and ask out loud, “Did anybody see this?” as he pocketed the cash in front of his fellow officers.

A Reputation For Getting Physical
Allegations of excessive force and rowdy behavior have also dogged Antonini for years. Early on in his career in Mount Vernon, Antonini was put on modified duty following an off-duty incident in which he broke another man’s jaw “at a gathering,” according to Carl Bell, Mount Vernon’s former police commissioner.

In 2012, Mitchell briefly took over the narcotics unit and said he raised concerns about the incident to Bell.

“Anytime you have what I consider to be an officer that’s heavy-handed, it can compromise your investigations,” he said. “You depend on the people in the community to give you information—even if it’s a bad guy. If you’re fair, most bad guys will give you information.”

As a narcotics supervisor, Mitchell said he did not see Antonini engage in misconduct. But the retired sergeant notes he was only in charge of the unit for two months before he suffered the knee injury that would eventually end his career. Sometime in the two years after Mitchell’s departure, Fegan joined the unit as a supervisor. According to Bovell’s lawsuit, that’s when Antonini’s “aggression became worse.”

Bovell alleged that during his time in the narcotics unit he and other officers “repeatedly observed Detective Antonini using unnecessary force against black male prisoners in his custody by repeatedly punching and slapping them around.”

Officer Murashea Bovell standing in front of a gas station in
Mount Vernon’s south side last November. [GEORGE JOSEPH]

Another current member of the Mount Vernon Police Department, who requested anonymity citing concerns over reprisal, echoed Bovell’s claims.

“On the street, people have said he hits people in handcuffs,” said the member. “I’ve spoken to several people on the street who have complained about it getting physical, going overboard.”

In January of 2014, Antonini was promoted to the rank of detective. In the following two years, civilian complaints alleging physical and, in at least one case, sexual abuse related to a strip search, began to stream in.

One man, arrested in a narcotics investigation in February of 2014, claimed that Antonini pulled him out of a car, grabbed him by his neck and then beat him in the back of the head as he was pinned to the pavement. He claimed other officers hit him too. Police claimed that the man was resisting arrest and attempting to swallow a white substance. They also said he tried to escape in his car, ramming Antonini in the leg.

Photos in the police files show a scratch on the leg that an officer, presumably Antonini, endured from the encounter. They also show the complainant, having a busted lip, several cuts on his face and a slash under his left eye.

In January of 2015, another man claimed that Antonini and Fegan held him down in his home and forcibly searched his anus for drugs—a procedure that is supposed to involve a doctor and a warrant, according to longstanding Mount Vernon Police guidelines obtained by Gothamist/WNYC.

“Det. Antonine had put latex gloves on,” the man wrote. “He put his fingers in my anal [sic] then he squeezed my intestines were I had a hernia the pain was severe.”

The man also complained of being denied medical attention and being searched in the house instead of at the police station with cameras. Police disputed his account, claiming that the search was limited to a visual strip search in his home, not a body cavity intrusion. Police also denied his claim that he sought medical attention after the search.

Currently, Antonini and Fegan are being sued by a man who claims he was falsely arrested by police and punched in the head by Antonini. The attorney for the two officers has thus far denied all the allegations.

The Mount Vernon Law Department did not respond to Gothamist/WNYC’s Freedom of Information Law requests for all of Antonini’s complaint records, and Westchester prosecutors refused to release them, citing the controversial New York Law that shields police personnel records, known as Civil Rights Law 50-a.

Critics Cast Doubt on Police-Led Investigations
Anthony Mitchell, the retired sergeant who served under several administrations, says the department’s response to the civilian complaints show a lack of care. He pointed out that Fegan, who investigated most of the complaints, had a built-in conflict of interest while probing his own officer’s conduct.

“To me it’s incompetence or turning a blind eye. It’s one of two things and neither one of them are good,” he said.

Commissioner Scott defended the department’s investigatory practices.

“As a department we expect our supervisors to investigate, truthfully and honestly, any and all incidents concerning their subordinates,” he said, adding that some civilian complaints stem from “alleged violators” trying “to get out of tickets or minor narcotics arrests.”

But Daniel Terry, a Mount Vernon spokesman, said the city is trying to address conflict of interest concerns by establishing a civilian complaint review board. “This board will eliminate the possibilities of a single supervisor reviewing the same subordinate,” he said in a statement.

Both Mitchell and the current member of the Mount Vernon police department said supervisors may have ignored warning signs about Antonini because of the detective’s reputation for aggressively going after arrests.

“You need to get your numbers up, so I’m going to tell my guy, ‘I just need my numbers,’” the member said, referring to Antonini’s supervisors. “I don’t ask how.’”

Scott denied claims that the department uses “a number based policing model,” citing the negative effects such an approach would have “on the

community as a whole.”
The future of Antonini’s career within the department remains unclear. According to three current police department sources, around the time Gothamist/WNYC published a story about Bovell’s whistleblower case last November, Antonini was taken off a county drug task force and put in a general investigations unit, which investigates a variety of crimes such as rapes and robberies.
Joseph Murray, Bovell’s attorney, says Westchester County prosecutors need to take action. In February of 2019, he said his client provided the DA’s office with evidence showing that multiple other officers have also witnessed serious misconduct involving Antonini and Fegan.
“I don’t have any faith in the district attorney’s office because it’s [been] over a year since we provided this evidence, and my client is continuing to provide them with other evidence,” he said. “Nothing is taking place. I cannot fathom this.”
The DA’s office declined to comment on whether they are investigating Antonini.
Murray says as long as authorities delay, those who have spoken out on the streets and in the department may be in danger.
“So the people who are the subject to these complaints and allegations, what are they doing right now?” he said. “And how are they going to protect themselves? That’s the scary part.”

If you have a tip about a prosecutor’s office, a law enforcement agency or the courts, email reporter George Joseph at gjosephwnyc@protonmail.com. He is on Twitter @georgejoseph94 and Instagram @georgejoseph81. You can also text or call him with tips at 929-486-4865. He is also on the encrypted phone app Signal with the same phone number.

Comments

About AJ Woodson (2375 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
%d bloggers like this: