Rapists on patrol (#3). Officer Gary Pignato, Greece, New York

(Via Drug War Chronicle Issue #584, 8 May 2009: This Week’s Corrupt Cop Stories.)

A week ago, in Greece, New York, Officer Gary Pignato, stalker, home invader, and serial rapist, was arraigned on charges that, acting under the color of law and with the extensive legally-backed powers that his badge affords, he used the threat of violent force to coerce sex from at least two unwilling women. In at least one of those cases, before he used the threat of arrest to rape her, he first picked her out, followed her back to her home in his police car, took the opportunity to get her phone number, and then, a few days later, invaded her house without permission. After raping her he kept calling her, over and over again, until she said she would expose what he was doing.

A second woman has accused a Greece police officer of using his authority to coerce her into sex.

Gary Pignato of Hilton was arraigned Tuesday on charges of third-degree bribery of a public servant, a felony; second-degree coercion, third-degree criminal trespass and official misconduct, all misdemeanors. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Pignato goes to trial June 1 on an earlier felony count of accepting a bribe and misdemeanor counts of coercion and official misconduct stemming from allegations that he went to a Greece woman’s home in August, then later coerced her into a sexual encounter.

According to documents filed in Greece Town Court on Tuesday, a different woman accuses Pignato of similar acts.

The woman’s name was redacted in the documents and it is the Democrat and Chronicle’s policy not to name victims of sexual crimes.

In a deposition dated April 28, the victim alleges she first met Pignato during the summer of 2005 when he followed her in his marked car as she drove into her apartment complex. She alleges he introduced himself that night, gave her his card and asked for her phone number.

Then, she alleges, a few days later she was smoking marijuana at her dining room table when Pignato walked in unannounced, told her she could be arrested and lose her children for what she was doing and said we can make this go away.

She alleges Pignato said having sex with him would take care of it.

The victim alleges they made arrangements to meet the next night. She said she drove to his house in Hilton where they engaged in sex.

She alleges Pignato continued to call her seeking sex over the next few days and finally stopped calling when she threatened to find his girlfriend and tell her what he did.

In her statement, the victim said a friend convinced her to contact authorities after news broke about Pignato’s other arrest and criminal charges.

In the August case, the victim alleges Pignato visited her home during a domestic dispute, then threatened to arrest her for violating her probation if she didn’t have sex with him.

Pignato has admitted to State Police that he had sex with that woman, but said it was consensual.

. . . Pignato, who has been suspended without pay, turned himself in to State Police Tuesday afternoon. He was released from court on his own recognizance. A court date was set for June 17, but Assistant District Attorney William Gargan said the case could go to a grand jury.

— Meaghan M. McDermott, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (2009-05-06): Greece officer faces additional charges

Please note that if you, or I, or anyone else without a badge and a government uniform were to follow women around, picking out victims for their special attentions, then busted into that woman’s house without permission, threatened to harm her children, threatened to draw a gun and force her into a car and carry her off to some hellhole far away where she would be locked up against their will — if you, or I, or anyone else, I say, did all these things several times, as a threat used to coerce sex from unwilling victims, then we would be treated, by the media and by the law, as rapists of the most dangerous sort and an immediate threat to everyone in the community. You or I would be jailed with an astronomical bail or no bail at all; you or I would hit with multiple aggravated felony charges and if convicted we would spend years of our lives in maximum security prisons. But because Officer Gary Pignato of Hilton, New York happens to be a police officer — because the violence he uses is violence under color of law, and because the threats he makes against his chosen targets are threats backed up by the armed force of the State, and because the women who uses those threats of violence against are suspect women, under the special scrutiny of the police, this dangerous, heavily-armed sexual predator has been released into the community on his own recognizance, and he has been charged with nothing more than a handful of misdemeanors for the rapes and the home invasion he committed. The only felonies he’s been charged with are bribery charges; only his betrayal of the police department, not his repeated use of his government-backed authority to coerce sex from unwilling women, is treated as serious enough to merit a felony charge.

Here’s what I said about a case with several male cops in San Antonio back in December; just replace the comments about the government’s war on sex workers with comments about the government’s war on drug users.

What as at stake here has a lot to do with the individual crimes of three cops, and it’s good to know that the police department is taking that very seriously. But while excoriating these three cops for their personal wickedness, this kind of approach also marginalizes and dismisses any attempt at a serious discussion of the institutional context that made these crimes possible — the fact that each of these three men worked out of the same office on the same shift, the way that policing is organized, the internal culture of their own office and of the police department as a whole, and the way that the so-called criminal justice system gives cops immense power over, and minimal accountability towards, the people that they are professedly trying to protect. It strains belief to claim that when a rape gang is being run out of one shift at a single police station, there’s not something deeply and systematically wrong with that station. If it weren’t for the routine power of well-armed cops in uniform, it would have been much harder for Victor Gonzales, Anthony Munoz, or Raymond Ramos to force their victims into their custody or to credibly threaten them in order to extort sex. If it weren’t for the regime of State violence that late-night patrol officers exercise, as part and parcel of their legal duties, against women in prostitution, it would have been that much harder for Gonzales and Munoz to imagine that they could use their patrol as an opportunity to stalk young women, or to then try to make their victim complicit in the rape by forcing her to pretend that the rape was in fact consensual sex for money. And if it weren’t for the way in which they can all too often rely on buddies in the precinct or elsewhere in the force to back them up, no matter how egregiously violent they may be, it would have been much harder for any of them to believe that they were entitled to, or could get away with, sexually torturing women while on patrol, while in full uniform, using their coercive power as cops.

A serious effort to respond to these crimes doesn’t just require individual blame or personal accountability — although it certainly does require that. It also requires a demand for fundamental institutional and legal reform. If police serve a valuable social function, then they can serve it without paramilitary forms of organization, without special legal privileges to order peaceful people around and force innocent people into custody, and without government entitlements to use all kinds of violence without any accountability to their victims. What we have now is not civil policing, but rather a bunch of heavily armed, violently macho, institutionally privileged gangsters in blue.

— GT 2007-12-21: Rapists on patrol

See also:

16 replies to Rapists on patrol (#3). Officer Gary Pignato, Greece, New York Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Gabriel

    Most people don’t understand that law enforcement people are above the law, and if they do understand then they either praise it or do not care. Apparently, only the victims of “rapists on patrol” are able to grasp this simple fact. That says a lot about the culture we live in.

    In other news, some legal analyst on Fox News commented today, rather matter-of-factly, that

    “Getting a warrant from a judge and engaging in trespassing, robbery, and destruction of property would be a crime if you or I did it, but is perfectly legal when done by a police officer”.

    The host of the show didn’t blink an eye.

  2. Toby

    Your description and opinions of the rapist, Gary Piganto, are spot on!!! I know first hand of another woman who has yet to come forward who was raped by the sick pig on December 24, 2006. Christmas Eve!!! And many subsequent times continuing from that first encounter for at least another 6 months.

    Sleaze ball, rapist, Pig-nato better get a ton of time!

  3. Nick "Natasha" Manley

    It’s really scary to think there are rapist cops just walking around with no consequences…

    Just pointing out the obvious

  4. Roderick T. Long

    And the ones we actually find out about are who knows how small a percentage of the total — since in a lot of these cases it never gets reported.

  5. Soviet Onion

    Levitt and Venkatesh performed a study of street prostitutes in some Chicago neighborhoods last year, based on surveys conducted with prostitutes and pimps(yeah, I know) in Chicago neighborhoods and incident data from the Chicago Police Department.

    It’s still a working paper, but the preliminary findings show that roughly 3 percent of all tricks performed by prostitutes who aren’t working with pimps are freebies given to police under threat of arrest. Yet prostitutes get officially arrested only once per 450 tricks or so.

    If this is accurate, then it means that a given prostitute in Chicago is actually more likely to be raped by a cop than arrested by one. The story was on the front page of the Sun Times sometime last year. The Chicago Police were unavailable for comment.

  6. Laura J.

    … or the only people it gets reported to are the rapist’s own posse, who don’t see fit to let anyone else know about it.

  7. Marja Erwin

    It’s sick. And people ought to remember the targets aren’t all from one small portion of our population. It’s not exactly unheard-of for cops to target non-prostitutes too and extort sex.

  8. Marja Erwin

    Not that it’s any more or less wrong depending who gets raped. Just saying it is more common.

  9. Roderick T. Long

    It’s not exactly unheard-of for cops to target non-prostitutes too and extort sex.

    And not just “extort.” I know a woman who was raped by direct force (i.e. not simply the threat of force) by a cop as part of a regular traffic stop. (Nope, she didn’t report it.)

  10. Anonymous

    What I find a bit unsettling is that pretty much everyone takes what they hear at face value. It appears, at least from a media standpoint, that no one is innocent until proven guilty, they are guilty until proven innocent. Heaven help any one of us if accused of something we haven’t done.

  11. Laura J.

    Funny how “due process” spokesmen come out from the woodworks when the perpetrator is a cop.

    Anonymous,

    Is there anything in particular that sounds implausible to you about the story? Is there anything that suggests we should not be absolutely outraged by Pignato’s conduct if we believe at least some portion of these accounts to be true?

  12. Anonymous

    Laura, it has nothing to do with him being a cop. I was actually speaking in generalities. I’m guilty of coming to the same conclusions when I hear any story, I was just stating that is what we do when we hear a story, we automatically assume the person is guilty. If we were accused of something and were innocent we would also immediately be guilty in the public’s eye. I’m also a friend and happen to know more than what most of the public would know so I realize I’m biased.

  13. Laura J.

    Anonymous,

    Well, I’m an armchair blog-reader, not a juror; me thinking that your friend is guilty has more or less no effect on any important material aspect of his life that I can imagine, so there’s a considerably lower standard of proof as far as my own personal opinion is concerned. Sure, it’s good to give people the benefit of the doubt in general… but I’ve seen absolutely nothing here that contradicts any of the facts of the account above. If there’s anything specific you can point out that’s factually incorrect, I’d have some reason to take the original story with a grain of salt. I don’t think it’s very reasonable for me to be expected to simply trust vague instructions not to trust what I read that no one has been willing to attach their own name to over a reasonably well-documented news report - not that news reports are infallible, but it’s the best I have, in the absence of further concrete evidence.

  14. Anonymous

    Laura, I’m pretty certain the accusations the “victims” have made are factually incorrect. However, I’m not here to stand on a soap box and proclaim the innocence of someone who I truly think is innocent of the things that have been alleged. That is what his lawyer is for. My main point was that anyone can make an accusation and people automatically believe it to be true. I’ve been on the receiving end of untruths being said, luckily they weren’t criminal in nature so there weren’t any real ramifications. It truly does suck to hear things said that you know are blatently false.

· July 2009 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-07-31 – The Police Beat:

    […] He says that he’s in disbelief because he’s never heard of such a thing before. Well, I’m not. I […]

· August 2009 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-08-24 – Rapists on patrol (#6) / Men in Uniform (#4):

    […] GT 2009-05-14: Rapists on Patrol (#3). Officer Gary Pignato. Greece, New York. […]

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