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by Dana Harris
July 3, 2011 10:24 AM
6 Comments
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The Star of HBO Documentary "Sex Crimes Unit" Leaves Job As Questions Remain [UPDATED]

Lisa Friel, the star of Lisa Jackson's HBO documentary "Sex Crimes Unit" and its leader for the last 10 years, is leaving the department. The film premiered last month at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Jackson had unprecedented access in making the documentary, which features Friel and her staff in frank discussions about their strategies in prosecuting actual cases. HBO first aired the documentary June 20.

According to the New York Post, the documentary shot footage of D.A. investigators Ed Tacchi and Lauren Liebhauser discussing the police rape case of ex-cops Franklin Mata and Kenneth Moreno. That footage was never used, but the judge in the case ruled that the footage should have been turned over to the defense.

On May 26, Moreno and Mata were convicted of misdemeanor misconduct but acquitted on charges of rape and burglary. Moreno's attorney told the New York Post that he will be seeking a mistrial due to the documetary footage.

The judge's ruling fell under a familiar tenet of New York criminal law, the Rosario rule. If a prosecution witness has made prior statements that relate to that witness' testimony, Rosario requires the prosecutor to provide those statements to the defense.

However, the Rosario rule appears to have been carefully considered even before the shoot began. A source close to the production confirms that Jackson's access came with the promise that all footage and other materials would be turned over to the D.A.'s office, which oversaw Friel and the Sex Crimes Unit. That promise was fulfilled before the shoot wrapped production last summer.

Friel's exit comes as her supervisor, Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, is under repeated attack for his handling of a number of cases, including its high-profile prosecution of former International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Vance chose to remove the Strauss-Kahn case from the oversight of the Sex Crimes Unit. Now, the case threatens to fall apart after the prosecution has discovered its witness has lied on a number of occasions. Per the New York Times:

Some people in the office said that decision hurt the office’s handling of the case because those prosecutors were not as familiar with the types of problems that sex crimes prosecutors routinely face: a victim with a troubled background; a he-said, she-said story.

With an experienced sex crimes prosecutor, an official in the office said, “some of these very things that have come up, or even some things that might have come up during deeper examination by people who were experienced in this, might have come up faster.”

Mr. Vance’s top aides said that the outcome of the case would have been the same if it had been handled by the sex crimes unit, and that some of the office’s best prosecutors were on the case.

The New York Times received an email addressed to prosecutors in the SCU from Karen Friedman Agnifilo, chief of the trial division, announcing Friel's resignation.

After nearly three decades in the district attorney’s office, “Lisa Friel has informed us of her decision to explore other professional opportunities outside the office,” said an e-mail to prosecutors in the office from Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the chief of the trial division.

“During the next two months, she will transition out of her role as chief of the sex-crimes unit,” Ms. Friedman Agnifilo wrote.

However, in a letter that Friel sent to friends and colleagues Sunday afternoon, she says: " I did not resign, nor did I get fired, but I did announce to my Unit this past week that I was leaving for financial and other reasons." [See full letter here.]

Martha Bashford, a co-chief of the forensic science and cold case unit, will step in as acting sex crimes chief. She was also prominently featured in the documentary.

Here's HBO's promo clip for the series:

6 Comments

  • Daniela Ribeiro | July 4, 2011 12:58 PMReply

    Interesting story, I would also like to read more about it. Did the discussion over the supposed cop rape influence the way the case was handled? Has DSK's case been mishandled? How? The man was French socialists' first option for the next elections.

  • wgalison | July 4, 2011 5:58 AMReply

    Lisa Friel is a corrupt criminal who managed to fool Ms. Jackson.

    Check out this video about a lawyer/ sex offender Friel protected:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja4Fms05c9k

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJlvm7-56S4

  • wgalison | July 4, 2011 5:56 AMReply

    Listen to Friel's pal Ed Tacchi at work

    Shocking audio of abuse by Tacchi at the Manhattan DA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plnqYzMHPFg

  • Anna | July 3, 2011 8:05 AMReply

    The New York Post is a tabloid, not an authoritative newspaper. I wouldn't trust what they write as the gospel. As for the reason for Lisa Friel's resignation. It could also be her dissatisfaction with the current District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. The New York Times (NYT) has a recent article that even Vance's campaign supporter, ex-Manhattan DA Robert Morganthau no longer speaks to Cyrus Vance, Jr. And Morganthau is reportedly very unhappy with the way Cyrus Vance, Jr micro-managing the prosecutors in the offices, second-guessing their decisions. It was Cyrus Vance, Jr who made the personal call to fast-track on the Grand Jury indictment on DSK despite the senior experienced Sex-Crimes Unit prosecutors cautioning that they needed more time to investigate the case before bringing it to a Grand Jury.

  • Dana Harris | July 3, 2011 7:36 AMReply

    I don't know. The NYP article suggested that the movie project was unpopular in the office and I've seen some online controversy about her (but I'd imagine that would come w/ the territory in her job). However, if the movie led to embarrassing the DA's office, that would be insult to injury. I'm looking forward to getting more information about this story.

  • Jack | July 3, 2011 7:17 AMReply

    Don't you think that that is just something they said because they needed a reason for firing her.