In the days after the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) recommended that the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer be docked up to 10 vacation days for abusing his authority, Mayor Eric Adams reached out to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and, in a conversation, put pressure on her not to impose any discipline, according to a confidant of Sewell’s familiar with her thinking during her last weeks on the job.
The source said that Adams’s message was underscored by top-level administration officials who contacted Sewell in subsequent days and was also bolstered by the mayor’s comments at two press conferences at which he praised Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey and his actions, while also stating that the decision about whether to discipline him was up to Sewell.
Despite the intense campaign, Sewell decided that Maddrey should be docked the 10 days for an incident 18 months earlier where Maddrey showed up late at night at the 73rd Precinct station house in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and ordered the dropping of a gun charge against a retired cop.
By making that decision, the confidant said, Sewell, the department’s first woman and third Black commissioner, realized that the end of her tenure at the top of the department was in sight.
“She knew that if she bucked the mayor that hard on something that was that important to him that her days were numbered,” the source told THE CITY.
“City Hall was putting a lot of pressure on her to go with no disciplinary action, to reject the CCRB’S findings … which she did not do,” the source added. “She looked at the case and looked at the evidence and believed as the CCRB did — she believed that what [Maddrey] did was wrong.”
Asked about communications by Adams and other administration officials with Sewell about the Maddrey case, mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy initially said the administration doesn’t discuss private conversations.
He later added, “While we don’t talk about private conversations, the exchange you described involving the mayor never took place.”
But the source, who has firsthand knowledge of Sewell’s last days as police commissioner, provided a detailed picture of how she perceived the pressure on her as she made one of the most fateful decisions in an 18-month tenure. During that time, she had won wide support from rank-and-file police officers but had her authority challenged by top administration officials, including the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Philip Banks III.
Her breaking point, the confidant said, came when after her decision was made public, Mayor Adams and his aides further diminished her authority — which had already been clipped, as reported on by THE CITY in September 2022.
After turning in her resignation June 12, her final day on the job — capped by her expected overseeing of a promotion ceremony — is Friday.
Her replacement is yet to be named, with speculation focusing on Edward Caban, the department’s first deputy. What to do with the Maddrey case will be high on the list of whomever is appointed as the new commissioner.
Sewell didn’t respond to multiple text messages seeking comment, and Maddrey didn’t respond to a text message sent Thursday afternoon.
A Kid With a Basketball
Police commissioners have come and gone in New York City after clashes over policy and personality with similarly strong-willed mayors, but it’s unlikely that any of them stemmed from something that started out in such a mundane way,
The incident at the heart of Sewell’s final weeks as commissioner began on Thanksgiving Eve in 2021. On the way to a corner bodega, one of three kids walking together in Brownsville threw a basketball at a storefront security camera that belonged to the family of a retired cop.
That toss led to a confrontation between the ex-cop and the kids that was first reported by THE CITY and whose aftermath was detailed in an exclusive video investigation that was published here this March.
In that video, assembled from police body cameras plus security and precinct camera videos obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, the boys, aged 12 to 14, are seen running from ex-cop Kruythoff Forrester during part of a chase that lasted more than seven minutes.
The kids told responding officers from the 73rd Precinct that Forrester had pointed his gun at one of them during the chase. Forrester was found with a licensed handgun in a holster on his right hip, but denied taking it out that night.
Still, 73rd Precinct Sgt. Karl Hanisch ordered Forrester’s arrest for allegedly menacing with a gun after the kids independently and accurately described his weapon, which has an unusual two-toned black and silver barrel. The kids said Forrester had pulled the gun from his right side, where he had it holstered.
Forrester previously had served as an officer in the 73rd Precinct, including for three years when Maddrey was commanding officer. Immediately after being handcuffed, Forrester began asking precinct officers to call his former boss.
About an hour after Forrester was placed in a precinct house cell, Maddrey and a deputy chief showed up and questioned Hanisch about the arrest, according to video footage and a CCRB report on the incident made public in May.
Maddrey, who was serving as chief of the Community Affairs Bureau at the time, ordered Forrester’s release within an hour.
Maddrey’s confirmation to the CCRB investigator that he was the one who made the decision to spring Forrester contradicted a police department spokesperson’s statement to THE CITY weeks after the incident that said Maddrey and the deputy chief “did not come along and order that this retired officer be released.”
Following publication of THE CITY’s video investigation in March, the teens, whose last names are being withheld at their mothers’ request — Kyi-el, now 15, his 14-year-old brother Brendan, and their 15-year-old cousin Kawun — landed an interview at the city’s top hip-hop radio station, Hot 97, and sparked a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall that was joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board report, obtained by THE CITY in April, found that Maddrey had abused his authority by cutting Forrester loose, a move that an investigator for the board said followed “a continued effort by Chief Maddrey to disregard the facts established by Sgt. Hanisch’s investigation.”
Adams Speaks Out
The review board had a number of options in recommending how to punish Maddrey, but it settled on the relatively light sanction of docking 10 vacation days. As commissioner, Sewell had the power to reject the recommendation and to come up with another penalty.
On March 10, a day after THE CITY’s video investigation was published, Adams said publicly of Maddrey, “I think he handled it appropriately.”
“I have the utmost respect and confidence in Chief Maddrey and I’m excited he’s leading my patrol force,” Adams added. “I’m excited about it.”
Even after the CCRB’s decision became public, Adams made it clear he was “happy” with Maddrey’s performance.
“If the police commissioner makes a determination on how she wants to handle that, that’s up to her. I’m just a big believer that this is a person who has dedicated his life to his city and I’m proud to have him as the Chief of Department,” the mayor said on April 19.
“I don’t think he would do something that’s inappropriate, but it’s up to the commissioner to do her overview,” he added. “I am happy that Chief Maddrey is my chief of the department.”
While Sewell’s confidant provided a new account of what happened next, left open were some questions — including exactly what Adams said to Sewell in their conversation the source described and which administration officials pushed the message as well.
Within a week of her decision on Maddrey becoming public, Sewell was required for the first time to seek approval from City Hall for making discretionary promotions at even the lower levels in the department, according to the source, as first reported by the New York Post.
Meanwhile, Maddrey signaled that he intended to take his case before an NYPD administrative judge rather than accept the relatively light punishment — a highly unusual move.
A disciplinary trial is a public affair — in this case prosecuted by CCRB attorneys — where Forrester’s arrest and Maddrey’s intervention would be scrutinized down to the smallest detail.
And regardless of the administrative trial judge’s decision about Maddrey’s guilt or innocence in the case, Sewell would retain full power to impose any discipline — including an even stiffer penalty than she offered the first time.
However, the possibility of a public administrative trial could be upended by Sewell’s departure.
“Unless [the discipline has] been signed off by the police commissioner, anything can happen,” said attorney Rae Koshetz, a former NYPD deputy trials commissioner. “So everything’s up in the air now.”
A spokesperson for the CCRB said there are a number of possible outcomes, including the automatic closure of the disciplinary case if Maddrey were appointed NYPD commissioner by Adams — because the CCRB’s jurisdiction doesn’t extend to civilian positions at the police department.
Additionally, the case can proceed to trial as planned, or Maddrey can settle with the CCRB for a presumably lighter penalty than 10 vacation days
Less certain is whether a new commissioner can declare that the NYPD will handle the discipline in-house, a move that would typically allow her or him to impose any discipline — including none at all.