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February 20, 2019

Ex-NYPD cop went along with cover-up in beatdown of off-duty officer — putting his credibility in doubt, say lawyers for those he helped convict of murder

February 12, 2019
Retired NYPD Det. George Delgrosso leaves court Monday after he testified that he had beaten an off-duty cop in a Brooklyn bar brawl, then blamed it on neighborhood kids to cover-up his involvement. (DAVE HILLER / EYEWITNESS NEWS)

A retired NYPD detective, called to testify as two men he helped jail for murder try to overturn their convictions, said on Monday he told prosecutors about a cover-up for which he was disciplined years ago because he knew it would come up in court.

George Delgrosso testified that he had beaten an off-duty cop in a Brooklyn bar brawl, then blamed it on neighborhood kids to cover-up his involvement.

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Delgrosso took the stand in the case of Eric Smokes and David Warren, who were convicted of the Jan. 1, 1987, Times Square murder of a French tourist.

Delgrosso said this was the first time his disciplinary record had been raised, even though he had testified in about 100 cases during his 27-year NYPD career. He said it was the only blemish on his record.

Judge Stephen Antignani had previously suggested he would not give much consideration to the discipline against Delgrosso when weighing the motion by Smokes, now 51, and Warren, now 48. But lawyers for Smokes and Warren said it casts doubt on Delgrosso’s credibility.

Delgrosso said that shortly after the 1978 fight at The Red Awning bar on Myrtle Ave. he told officers who had been called there that he had punched another bar patron after being hit himself. He said it was then that he learned the other guy, who had been badly beaten, was an off-duty cop.

David Warren (left) and Eric Smokes each spent more than 20 years in prison, based in large part on the testimony of several witnesses who have since recanted, claiming authorities pressured them to identify the two.
David Warren (left) and Eric Smokes each spent more than 20 years in prison, based in large part on the testimony of several witnesses who have since recanted, claiming authorities pressured them to identify the two. (Susan Watts / New York Daily News)

Under questioning by Pierre Sussman, a lawyer representing Smokes and Warren, he testified that a lawyer and union delegate for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association had concocted the story to implicate neighborhood toughs in the assault on Delgrosso and the other cop.

He said he was told that if he didn’t stick with the story, he would be arrested.

“I was given the story and asked to go along with it,” Delgrosso testified.

No one was arrested based on the phony story.

About a year later, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau learned of the cover-up and suspended Delgrosso for five days.

Smokes was 19 and Warren was 16 when they were busted in the robbery-murder of Jean Casse, 71, who was beaten on W. 52nd St. as he and his wife headed to Times Square to mark the new year. Casse hit his head and died later that day.

The childhood friends from East New York have long maintained their innocence.

Smokes and Warren each spent more than 20 years in prison, based in large part on the testimony of several witnesses who have since recanted, claiming authorities pressured them to identify the two.

Delgrosso retired as a first-grade detective and served on the 9-11 Commission.

Late Monday, he told Assistant District Attorney Christine Keenan that he had never forced anyone to lie nor had he implicated an innocent person in a crime.

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Under further questioning, Delgrosso told Keenan of contradictions by Smokes. He testified that Smokes first said he spent New Year’s Eve at a movie, then said he was in Manhattan. He said Smokes also said he had not had a physical confrontation with anyone in Manhattan that night, but later said he had shoved someone who bumped into him.

Delgrosso is due to resume his testimony Feb. 25.

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