Pictured above, "Supercop" Joe Sánchez (left) with his legendary friend, Frank Serpico, at the launch of Joe's autobiography, "True Blue: A Tale of the Enemy Within".
Decorated Vietnam Vet, Renowned Honest Cop, Activist, Author
It amazes me that in the films produced by Hollywood Hispanics are still portrayed as villains or as idiotic characters. With very few exceptions, such as “La Bamba”, have Hispanics been portrayed as valuable members of our society.
I want to tell you the story of a true hero whose exploits are deserving of a film made in Hollywood. I am referring to Joe Sánchez, a decorated Vietnam veteran who earned the “Army Commendation Medal” and who was awarded the "Purple Heart Medal" for the wounds that he received in combat. I am also referring to Joe Sanchez a former NYPD police officer nicknamed “Supercop” who had the courage of exposing the illegal acts committed by some high-ranking NYPD officers. Sánchez was arrested on the basis of false allegations which were highly publicized by the news media, then subsequently refuted. When his initial conviction for "assault" was overturned, his case exposed the existence of a code of silence among police officers known as the "Blue Wall of Silence." Both, Sanchez the Vietnam veteran and the Supercop, happen to be the same person. The following is an article that I wrote with the collaboration of my friend Nelson Denis, former New York Assemblyman.
Sánchez is a native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, and one of five siblings born to Jose Sánchez and Clotilde Picon. In the early 1950s his parents moved to New York City in search of a better life, and settled in Manhattan. When his parents divorced, his mother remarried and moved the family to the South Bronx. There Sánchez received his primary and secondary education. Upon graduation from Theodore Roosevelt High School, he decided to enlist in the United States Armed Forces.
Sánchez attempted to enlist, but for reasons unknown to him he was not accepted by any of the four military branches at the induction center at Whitehall Street. He then signed up for the selective service and in 1965, he was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 18. On January 16, 1967, on his twentieth birthday, he found himself with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry of the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Mobile) (after being transferred from A Company, 5/7) deployed near the village of Phan Thiet, in South Vietnam. On that day, his unit was engaged in a firefight with the Viet Cong. Sánchez and three of his comrades were seriously wounded by the shrapnel of an enemy grenade during that firefight. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and Purple Heart Medal.
After recovering from his wounds, Sánchez was discharged from the Army and he returned to New York. There he met a young girl by the name of Lorraine Cassandra Pfaus, whom he married. He worked in various jobs, among them as a taxi and ambulance driver for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. On various occasions, Sánchez applied to become a police officer with the New York City Police Department, but was not accepted. He then took the entrance examination for the New Jersey-New York Port Authority Police Dept. and was accepted.
Sánchez served with the Port Authority from January 1971 to October 1973, during which time he discovered that his application for the NYPD had once again been rejected because of a technicality. He opted to take his case in front of the NYPD police review board and was finally accepted as a police candidate.
New York Police Department
Sánchez graduated from the New York Police Academy after six months of training and was assigned to the 90th Precinct in Brooklyn. The 90th Precinct is located in northern Brooklyn in the Williamsburg section. It is primarily a residential and commercial area consisting of factories, warehouses, one and two family private homes, as well as numerous apartment buildings. The five primary commercial strips are Graham Avenue, Grand Street, Lee Avenue, Havemeyer Street and Broadway.
During his years as a police officer, Sánchez learned that there were good police officers as well as corrupt ones. He also noticed that illegal acts committed by some of his fellow officers were often ignored and seldom reported by others, including some of his superiors who believed in a code of silence known amongst them as the "Blue Code of Silence" and the "Blue Wall of Silence." According to this code, reporting another officer's misconduct or crimes is regarded as a betrayal.
An "Arrest Machine"
Sánchez served in various precincts before being transferred to the 30th Precinct. The 30th Precinct is primarily residential, with a commercial strip on Broadway. The neighborhoods in the precinct are Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill and West Harlem - which, during Sánchez's tenure, were heavily infested with drugs, gang activity, and turf wars.
According to the New York Daily News, Sánchez was highly dedicated to his police work at the 30th Precinct. His no-nonsense reputation grew to the point where, one day, Sánchez walked into a shop on 158th Street and Broadway to get some coffee. A local gentleman took one look at Sánchez, put his hands on the counter, and yelled, "Okay, Sánchez, you got me. Don't shoot!" The fellow was wanted for robbery and was armed with a gun.
Sánchez was considered "an arrest machine" in northern Manhattan, who deserved a good mentor within the Department. Unfortunately a traffic ticket stopped this process, and uncovered the "Blue Code of Silence."
Blue Code of Silence
Sánchez discovered, by accident, that one of his lieutenants was receiving payments and sexual favors in exchange for protection. After issuing a routine traffic summons to the brother of a powerful businessman, Sánchez was invited to the businessman's office and asked if he would be interested in providing protection for his drivers, "the same as your lieutenant and captain are doing." The businessman then offered him money. When Sánchez reported this situation to the NYPD Internal Affairs Division (IAD), they "wired" him with a recording device, with the supposed intent of gathering proof of his accusations against the lieutenant and the captain.
Unbeknownst to Sánchez, the people who wired him were ''also'' friends of his lieutenant. Sánchez returned to the businessman and gathered enough information to implicate this lieutenant and captain on corruption charges. However, upon learning of the situation, the lieutenant and the captain transferred Sánchez to the Court Division in the Bronx, and the IAD investigation was quietly shelved.
In 1982, Sánchez participated in a drug bust with his partner, Herman Velez. This drug bust marked the beginning of the end of Sánchez's career as a police officer.
In October 1983, Sánchez was framed by some members of the police force with respect to the 1982 drug bust, and was indicted by a Special and Extraordinary Grand Jury in Manhattan for one count of Burglary in the First Degree; one count of Grand Larceny in the first Degree; one count of Grand Larceny in the second Degree; five counts of Grand larceny in the Third Degree; and one count of assault in the Third Degree. The witnesses against him were drug dealers he and his partner arrested in 1982, and who were promised to have their indictments dropped if they agreed to testify against Sánchez.
After a lengthy trial, Sánchez was exonerated of every single charge, and he applied for reinstatement to his position. In 1988, after an administrative "snafu" (foul-up) his reinstatement appeal was sent to two different New York State Supreme Court justices. One ruled that he be rehired, and the other upheld his dismissal.
The case went before the Appellate Court of New York where the decision was not in Sánchez's favor. The reason was that at that time, only NYPD Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward had the statutory authority to reinstate a police officer who had been exonerated after being fired. This statute has since been rescinded, and the NYPD Commissioner no longer has this sole discretion and authority of reinstatement. In 1988 however, NYPD Commissioner Ward did have the authority, and Sánchez was not reinstated.
Sánchez worked for Holmes Security as a night supervisor for three years, then worked as a mailman in Haverstraw, New York. In 1989, he joined the New York State Department of Corrections, who welcomed him on the job.
As a corrections officer, Sánchez came into contact with many of the inmates he had arrested as a police officer in Washington Heights. He first worked at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in the Village of Ossining, New York. There he was assaulted, and one inmate tried to set him up on false allegations that Sánchez had mistreated him. The Department of Corrections knew what was going on and supported him.
Sánchez then purchased a house in Catskill, New York, and transferred to Coxsackie State Prison. While at Coxsackie State Prison, he was involved in many dangerous situations involving fights between inmates. One particular incident almost cost him his life, when he came to the aid of an inmate who was being stabbed by another. None of the other correction officers, who witnessed what was going on, came to his aid until it was almost over. This experience led Sánchez to consider retirement.
Over the years, Sánchez's reputation has grown. In 2008 the New York Daily News wrote that his tenure at the NYPD was marked by getting double-crossed by the Internal Affairs Division, which wired him up to catch a crooked lieutenant and captain; then his arrest on the allegations of a drug dealer; a conviction for assault that was overturned, and an unsuccessful bid for reinstatement.
The process of Sánchez's reinstatement review was so tainted that, in 1988, an "administrative error" sent his reinstatement appeal to ''two'' different Supreme Court justices at the same time - one ruled that he be rehired and the other upheld his dismissal. Ultimately, Sánchez detailed and documented all these judicial acrobatics, in his autobiography ''True Blue.''
In 2013, activist and citizen journalist Suzannah B. Troy, interviewed AnnaBell Washburn, who was one of 12 jurors during Police Officer Joe Sanchez' trial in 1985. According to the interview Washburn tried to help Sanchez by writing letters to the then Special State Prosecutor Charles Joe Hynes, now Brooklyn DA, Judge Dennis Edwards, who presided over Sanchez' trial, and NYPD Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, who refused to reinstate Sanchez, even after he was exonerated. The reason given for the refusal was that Sanchez was a whistleblower since broke the Police Code of Silence when he reported his lieutenant and captain for corruption.
Sánchez retired and moved with his family to Florida. He continues to be active in various causes and civic and veterans organizations, amongst them the North East Florida NYPD 10-13 Chapter; the Latino Officers Association Florida; the Purple Heart Chapter 0808, Flagler County Flagler Beach, Fl., the First Cavalry Division Association; 5/7 Cavalry Association; the 7th Cavalry Association; and the Association of Retired Hispanic Police (ARHP) NYPD in New York. He is quoted as saying: "What I tell young cops I come in contact with...they have one of the greatest jobs in the world and to stay honest, for once you lose a job for being dishonest, it will stay with you until you die."
Sánchez wrote an autobiography which detailed his experiences in the NYPD, which was noted for its fierce honesty and detail. According to the New York Daily News, Sánchez "has put it all down in an autobiography called ''True Blue,'' that is as rough around the edges as the kid who grew up in the South Bronx in the 1950s and made it to the NYPD after a tour in Vietnam and brief stint as a Port Authority cop."
Together with Mo Dhania, Sánchez is the author of the following books:
''Latin Blues, A Tale of Police Omerta From the NYPD'' Publisher: The Old Kings Road Press (2006), ISBN 1-60179-000-7
“True Blue: A Tale of the Enemy Within” Publisher: Old King Road Press, ISBN 978-1-60179-012-5
"Red Herring: The Stinking Trail... Police Corruption in Washington Heights" Publisher: Old King Road Press, ISBN 978-1-60179-066-8
A fourth book is on the way!
His story deserves to be on film, and I, Tony the Marine, highly recommend his books. Sánchez, the “Supercop” is a true Latino American hero.
Profiles in Courage: