Friday, November 30, 2012

Was The Photo of an NYPD Officer Helping A Homeless Man A Publicity Stunt?

This photo has gone viral, and has made front page news all over the country.  We are told this is a photo of an NYPD police officer who had just given a shoe-less, homeless man a new pair of boots.  We are also told that this photo was taken by a tourist from Arizona, visiting Times Square, who just happened to capture the apparent act of generosity on camera, and then sent the picture to the NYPD, who posted the picture on their Facebook page.

While watching the various news video interviews of Officer Larry Deprimo, the police officer in the picture, I noticed a few interesting things about this whole story.  First, in the different interviews conducted, Officer Deprimo always has a new part of the story, that makes this story seem more and more "movie-like".  In one interview Deprimo claims he heard people laughing at the homeless man with no shoes, and that prompted him to go into a shoe store and tell the clerk, "I don't care about the price, gimmie whatever it is, that you have the best of!"  In another interview Officer Deprimo talks about how he had two pairs of socks on, combat boots, and his feet were still freezing, which made him feel more sympathy for the shoe-less, homeless man.  Deprimo also claims to have, afterward, offered the homeless man to come and "grab a cup coffee" or get "something to eat", to which the homeless man supposedly declined, and replied with "I love the police."  Also, the lady who took the picture, claims that the officer didn't see her taking the picture, and she just snapped the flick and left.  She says she didn't say anything to the officer, but still managed to get the picture to the NYPD.  If you were writing a script, it couldn't come out much better than this. 

Now let's examine the facts.

Jennifer Foster
First, let's take a look at Jennifer Foster, the lady who claims responsibility for taking the picture.  Who is she?  Well none of the video interviews that I have come across, mention much about her, other than her being a "tourist from Arizona".  The New York Times article about this story actually says Foster works as "a civilian communications director for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona."  Yes, this lady is in law enforcement and works in the Public Safety Communications Division.  Is it just a coincidence? Maybe, let's keep examining. 


Here is a list of the inconsistent stories told by the various parties involved:

In this first video below, Officer Deprimo describes the events as follows:

"I ran into the store and explained to them that there was an elderly gentleman with no shoes or socks on and I said I would like to buy a pair of boots, something that's going to last a while, I don't care what the price is. I ran outside and grabbed the elderly gentelman and said "listen, I have a surprise for you", so I brought him to sketchers, I sat him down, and asked what shoe size he was, he said he was a size twelve, and I ran back in there, paid, and brought the shoes and the socks out, I had knelt down, and that is when Jennifer had taken the picture."

So Officer Deprimo is saying he told the man he had a "surprise" for him, brought him to Sketchers, sat him down, and made him wait outside, instead of having him try on the boots in the store.  However, this story is inconsistent with the other accounts, as I will show. 

In this second video interview, below, at 1:53, Officer Deprimo says he "knelt down and surprised" the man with the boots.  How surprised could the man have been, when you just told him you had a "surprise" for him, already brought him over to Skechers and asked him his shoe size?  And again, you make him wait outside?  I picture some poor homeless man, not allowed in the store, watching through the glass. 

However, at 2:23 in the same video, the lady who took the picture, Jennifer Foster, says that she saw Officer Deprimo walk up to the homeless man, with the boots, told the man that he had bought him size 12, all weather boots, and THEN the man sat down to put them on.  So according to her story, the homeless man was standing, and then sat, unlike Officer Deprimos story who said he surprised the homeless man who was already sitting.  This may seem like a minor detail, but you think they would remember such a major part of the story. 

Also in this video, Jennifer Foster stresses the fact that "he did not see us, he did not see me" taking the picture.  But according to her story, she was watching the cop, from a close enough distance to clearly hear the conversation, for a significant amount of time, without the officer noticing her standing there, or snapping a picture.  Anyone who has attempted to record the police with cameras or recorders knows how quickly police notice their surroundings. 

Lastly, the store clerk at Skechers says at 1:37 of this video interview with CBS, "we guessed on his size", when discussing how him and the officer decided on which pair of boots to buy.  The officer never says anything about guessing, and how can the clerk guess a shoe size of someone they don't see?

How about the homeless man?  What is his story.  Well one website is claiming that this "bum" is a well known con man in that area, and claims "The guy sits around, as homeless people tend to do, only he's shoeless. All day long, unassuming good Samaritans and tourists buy him socks and fresh kicks. Then, after the do-gooder walks away—feeling like Johnny Philanthropist—the homeless dude takes the socks and shoes back off, stuffs them in his bag that's BRIMMING with other shoes, and begs for more. He then go on to tell me that this goes on EVERY DAY."  The website even posts a picture of a man with no shoes, who they claim is probably the same guy, earlier in the year, who, from a distance, resembles the homeless man.

(UPDATE: Homeless man confirmed to be a con-man, The New York Times found this man, still shoe-less, and he now says he wants "a piece of the pie" because the photo was posted online "without permission."  Also, The New York Daily News now finds that the homeless man is actually not homeless at all. For the past year, Jeffrey Hillman has had an apartment in the Bronx paid for through a combination of federal section eight rent vouchers and Social Security disability and veterans benefits)

The NYPD has come under fire lately for many situations, including some that I have documented.  I believe this incident to be a complete publicity stunt, to try to get a better image going of the NYPD.  I am not saying that this type of story is impossible, but highly unlikely.