Books

"What Is This, Russia"? The Brave Cop Imprisoned in a Psych Ward for Exposing NYPD Abuses

Investigative reporter Graham Rayman tells the true story of the cop who was delivered to a psych ward for exposing corruption.

Photo Credit: Palgrave Macmillan

The following is an excerpt from the new book NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courageby Graham Rayman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013):

Editor's note: In 2009, NYPD police officer Adrian Schoolcraft exposed wrongdoing in the department to NYPD investigators. He was reassigned to a desk job. One day, Schoolcraft was taken from his apartment and eventually brought to a psychiatric facility. He spent 6 days there, against his will. 

Halloween 2009: "What is This, Russia?" 

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affi rmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. —U.S.Constitution, Fourth Amendment

Adrian Schoolcraft’s babysitter, a lieutenant, leered at him and said, “I bet you wish now you had come back to the 8-1 like you were told.” Schoolcraft ignored the remark. He sighed and slumped backward on his gurney in the hallway outside the emergency room in Jamaica Hospital, Queens, New York. He stared at the incessantly humming fluorescent lights, at the concrete block walls slapped with some vague sort of beige paint, at the sign over the nurses’ station that read, “We are here to help you.”

He sniffed at air that smelled of floors cleaned too many times with heavy chemicals. He pulled halfheartedly at the handcuff on his right wrist and listened to the metallic clink and rasp along the steel railing. He self-consciously tugged at the backless hospital gown the sergeants had made him don in the broom closet. He listened to a woman force herself to vomit again, to a guy who smelled like feces mumbling to himself in the corner. He wondered whether it was day or night. It still felt dark outside.

He reflected on the events of the past month: How his bosses at the 81st Precinct in Bed-Stuy put the black spot on him and stuck him with desk duty. The calls from Internal Affairs. The messages they left for him in the station house. The looks and sideways comments. The journey into Brooklyn to sit with the investigators for three hours. All his documents painstakingly assembled. Their earnest promises that his identity would stay a secret.

And then, that morning, all those hours ago—a whole career ago, it seemed—the lieutenant snatching his memo book and doing god knows what with it in the records room for two hours. His dad telling him to get out of there, him going home on a flimsy excuse; the dreamless nap, and hours later, looking out his window, the street lit up like Christmas Eve with NYPD rovers, red and blue flickering off the trees, the lamp posts, the houses, hearing them on the stairs, an army of white shirts crowding into his apartment, the key turning in the lock, the chief on his bed, arguing with him. Schoolcraft asking, “What is this, Russia?” Being thrown to the ground and rear-cuffed like any skell caught holding a deck while someone stood on his legs, and the chief stuck a boot on his head. The cops finding one of his digital recorders and saying something like, “He’s playing some kind of game.”

And then the dark ride down the Van Wyck to the ER where the nurses looked at him like he was Hannibal Lecter.

Lying there on his gurney, he looked fruitlessly for a clock. He needed to use the phone to check in with his dad, who had been calling investigative agencies to try to get some attention for his son. Later Adrian said he expected that at any moment someone would come through the door and order his immediate release. He felt watchful, expectant, his mind keeping him awake. His back and neck ached from his “arrest.”

Noting then that the sergeant had dozed off in his chair, Schoolcraft extended one bare leg to the floor and quietly, carefully, pushed the gurney along the linoleum toward a pay phone on one wall close to the nurses’ station.

The distance was only about 20 feet, but Schoolcraft felt that at any moment someone would come along and grab the gurney and pull it back to where it had been parked for the night. He made it to the phone, though, and dialed his father collect.

A few minutes into the conversation, he noticed that the nurses were suddenly giving him more attention than he thought necessary. He told his dad they needed to hurry. Basically, there was no news. No one was interested in the bizarre events of the evening, not Internal Affairs, not the FBI, not the local prosecutor’s office. Worse yet, neither the NYPD nor the hospital were telling him anything about where this thing was headed.

At that point, his minder appeared next to him with another sergeant who had evidently come in to relieve him. Soon, Adrian was tussling over the phone with them, and then he was being pushed back to the spot in the hallway, the phone growing smaller, the handset swinging by its cord.

“What—I can’t use the phone?” he yelled. “Have you arrested me? I have rights.”

“Just shut the fuck up,” one of the sergeants said and tightened the cuffs.

It must have been after 8 a.m. that Sunday, about 10 hours in, when a doctor wandered by. She sounded Eastern European and spoke with a thick accent. She asked him some questions. He made it clear to her that he was upset about his treatment, that he had been beaten up and dragged to the hospital, but he was most definitely not a danger to himself or others, and thus there was no reason to hold him.

“Do you feel they are coming after you?” the doctor asked. “Well, they did,” Schoolcraft replied. “They came and got me.” A couple of hours later, the new sergeant, James, arrived, and the nurses asked her within earshot, “His dad keeps calling. What are we supposed to tell him? What are we doing with this guy?”

“Tell him to call the 8-1,” James replied.

She made a phone call and then walked around a corner, outside of Schoolcraft’s field of vision. She was gone for about 30 minutes.

When she returned, there followed whispered conversations between the cops and the doctors, nodding of heads and making of notes, and then they told him he was going to be admitted to the psychiatric emergency room.

“For what?” Schoolcraft had asked. “For what?”

No explanation followed. He was simply, wordlessly wheeled into the psych ER and deposited on a chair in a corner, near the television. [...]

Sunday stretched into Monday before they came to him again.

Another doctor with a heavy accent came by to question him. And Schoolcraft asked the same question that had been bouncing around his head the whole time.

“Why am I still here?” “We’re just trying to make sure you’re not going to hurt anyone.” “Well, I’m not going to hurt myself or others,” he replied. “Okay,” the doctor said. “But sitting there, and taking notes, it makes you look manicky.” “Is that a diagnosis?” Schoolcraft asked. He didn’t get an explanation, but he could see that the machine was moving in only one direction. He knew he hadn’t acted out, hadn’t done anything crazy. So why was he there? What did the cops tell the doctors? Could they have lied? This was the New York City Police Department, after all. The NYPD wouldn’t lie.

Especially about a member of its own thin blue line, right? And what about his apartment? Were they there, searching it? Did they know his secret? Had they discovered the digital recordings that he had so carefully made? Schoolcraft’s ordeal had just begun. He spent days in the psychiatric ward without any real explanation for it. His dad made calls to everyone he could think of, but no one would listen.

A week later, he was on the phone with an attorney, Stuart London. Adrian asked, “What about my rights? What about the Constitution?”

“They don’t really go by the Constitution,” replied London. “They go by the Patrol Guide.”

From The NYPD Tapes by Graham A. Rayman. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.