White Undercover NYPD Detective Claims Minority Cops Wouldn’t Back Him Up on Street
NYPD Undercover Detective John Olsen, 34, a former Marine and Afghanistan veteran, said he could have been killed at least twice after Hispanic, Asian, and black cops working with him stood idly by while he was attacked twice during drug buys gone wrong in 2019, according to a lawsuit he filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“I genuinely felt like my life was in jeopardy if I continued,” Olsen, 34, told The New York Post. “They did everything in their power to make it miserable for me.”
Olsen claims his colleagues of color refused to provide backup during violent confrontations with suspects because of his race, forcing him to quit the force in fear for his life.
Olsen joined the NYPD in January 2015 as a patrolman assigned to public housing in the South Bronx before being transferred to the Northern Manhattan Detective Bureau in February 2019 to work as an undercover officer.
Warning signs appeared almost immediately, he said. While training for undercover work, Olsen said he was the only white officer, and a senior detective ominously commented: “A white undercover, this will be fun.”
Within his first few months on the job, Olsen said he was surrounded and punched in the face in front of a car full of detectives during a drug buy in Harlem.
The other detectives photographed the attack but did not intervene because they didn’t want to risk “being tainted by association with a white undercover,” Olsen said in court papers.
“I genuinely felt like my life was in jeopardy if I continued,” Olsen, 34, told The New York Post.
“They watched [the attacker] walk back inside the housing projects,” Olsen said. “It was totally against our rules for narcotics to let that go.”
Olsen said undercover detectives must have another officer nearby, called a “ghost,” who can jump in when danger arises. But he was often ghosted by his ghost.
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“The second an undercover’s life is in danger, or someone gets assaulted, the field team is supposed to move in immediately to apprehend the person and rescue the officer,” he said.
After the incident, the lead detective told him, “Sorry kid, I’m not doing anything; this isn’t 1992,” according to the filing.
In July 2019, Olsen said he was forced to chase down and fight a drug dealer who pulled a knife on him in Hamilton Heights.
The dealer had ordered Olsen to smoke crack to prove he wasn’t a cop, but he said he tried to get out of it.
Olsen pulled his gun and chased and finally subdued the suspect, but suffered an injury during the scuffle, which put him on light duty until January 2020, according to his lawsuit.
“My life was in danger, and I know that no one is coming to save me because of that last time, so I had to do what I had to do,” Olsen said.
An incident like the one that injured Olsen would usually prompt a transfer to a different area, Olsen said, but he claimed he was never transferred because his bosses were angry he wasn’t busting more drug peddlers.
In September, Olsen said he caught COVID-19 and was transferred from northwest Manhattan to East Harlem and the Upper East Side.
None of his undercover colleagues at the time, which included two Hispanic officers and an Asian officer, were transferred when they caught coronavirus and called in sick, Olsen said.
Olsen said his colleagues were offered more overtime opportunities, adding that his bosses made “his life as uncomfortable as possible,” including a superior who commented about his military service.
“He said ‘I’m going to make your life very miserable, I’m going to be on top of you …everything you do, I’m going to be looking for mistakes,’” Olsen said. “And I don’t know why, but at the end he said, ‘It’s because you’re a military guy.’”
“I did not expect that at all,” Olsen added. “He said it was because I was a military guy, but I think it was also because I was a white undercover, and they were trying to get rid of me.”
He resigned in May 2022, despite being 13 years short of a full NYPD pension.
Olsen is suing the city for unspecified damages, citing discrimination based on race and military service.
“Rather than transfer our client to a situation where he could thrive, his bosses forced him into increasingly dangerous situations without backup in an effort to force him to leave the unit due to his inability to bring in numbers due to his race,” “This flippancy toward Detective Olsen’s life forced him into multiple fights with drug dealers…and ultimately led to his resignation out of fear for his safety,” Olsen’s attorney, John Scola, said.
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