Murder Cop: A Profile of Vernon J. Geberth
"In 1971," says Geberth, "detectives didn't get overtime, so I was released for the day after appearing in a Manhattan court on a robbery case. I was heading home in my car and was stopped at a light on Canal Street when I saw two men grab another man off the street and yank him into their car. He was screaming for help. It was a typical New York scene: Nobody sees anything. I blew my horn to get the traffic cop's attention. But he was directing traffic so he couldn't be bothered. I thought the poor guy was going to get killed."
Geberth managed to maneuver his car closer and saw the guy struggling in the back of the car as a third man drove away. He thought the man who'd been grabbed might be a gangster and was going to be killed. "But I couldn't let that happen. Suddenly they spotted me and they sped up. So who has a siren in his family car but Vernon, the supercop. After all, you never know when you'll need it. I activated the siren and we got into a car chase and started firing shots. They shot first, and I shot back at them. It was like something out of a movie. We're racing through the streets of Little Italy, and they lose control of the car. It goes up on the curb and smashes into a building. All the doors open up and the three men bail out. I come racing up from behind, I jump out, and I shoot at the man with the gun. I knew I hit someone because there was a plate glass window behind and there's no hole in the glass. Meanwhile, they all split in different directions, so I went after the biggest guy running down the street. I yelled, 'Police!' and he looked around and I was just about to fire when a woman and child walked out in front of me. I put the gun into the air and the shot went up. So I tackled him. I didn't even realize that I was right behind city police headquarters. That's how much the adrenaline was pumping. All of a sudden, I heard, 'Drop the gun. We're going to shoot!'"
He was faced with a group of cops with their guns out, ready to shoot him. "I put down my gun, held up my shield, and told them 'Detective! Detective! This guy is under arrest!' I then ran back to where the car had been and there was no one there. I was worried I'd get demoted or go to jail. But then I see this gentleman brushing himself off. He says, 'My diamonds. Did you get my diamonds?' He was a diamond dealer and had over $100,000 worth of gems. Apparently it was an inside job. He'd gone to a jewelry store to show them what he had and they didn't want it. It was a set-up. He called me his guardian angel.
The borough commander was annoyed with Geberth, but Geberth was convinced that he had done the right thing. "I was doing what I was supposed to do. It went to court, and I was hero for a day. But all of a sudden that changed when the case was dismissed. I got a call from the DA's office. The Racket's Bureau of the District Attorneys Office was investigating me. Then I found out that the plaintiff had been threatened. Another judge dismissed the case. The courts never notify the complainant or me to appear. The whole thing 'stunk.' However, because of my records and reports the offender was re-indicted and I received a letter of commendation from Frank Hogan, the District Attorney himself."
A few years later as a result of a court approved wiretap someone from the DA's office finally let Geberth know who one of the other persons in the car was that day: "One of the guys I was chasing that day was none other than John Gotti."
Years later, he also got involved in another infamous case, but this time there was no shoot-out. Nevertheless, it dug up some difficult memories for New York.