A 911 caller reports that a man had been walking with a pedometer in his hand when he collapsed. A veteran NYPD precinct detective provides that account to an NYPD investigator working with the medical examiner’s office.
The investigator thus advises the ME’s office that the precinct views the case as “an accident with no criminality.” If the coroner sticks with that account, this would have been just another death by natural causes.
Instead, the medical examiner believes his own eyes. After all, a nearly three-inch wound in the back of the head is not particularly natural.
Thus begins an unsolved mystery that features a whistleblower in Queens, his valiant friends, shady cops, conspicuously wrong ER staff — and a certain former NYPD captain who now runs City Hall.
• • •
On a warm Saturday afternoon in late June 2010, three 911 callers reported that a man lay unresponsive on the sidewalk in front of a warehouse in College Point, Queens. There was no mention of a pedometer or anyone seeing the man collapse. “Bleeding!” stated one caller’s companion. At 8:13 that evening, Sun-Ming “Sunny” Sheu, a Taiwanese immigrant in his early 50s, died at a Flushing hospital.
Three days before his death, Sheu had gone to the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to follow-up on an ethics complaint he had filed in late 2009 against Queens Supreme Court Judge Joseph Golia. Since 2001, the judge had been handling a foreclosure case that took away Sheu’s home in Flushing. Sheu maintained that he had been the victim of mortgage fraud. In 2009, Sheu informed the FBI that he viewed Judge Golia as complicit with the plaintiff against him, a title company named Old Republic.
Sheu, a technology consultant, meanwhile discovered that the judge had not disclosed extensive real-estate holdings on his ethics reports, as legally required. In April 2010, an OCA official informed Sheu that Golia had amended his filing in response to Sheu’s complaint. He then recorded a chilling video (later posted on YouTube), stating he was doing so for his own “safety and protection.” “If anything wrong” happens to him, he warned, “it would come from Judge Golia.”
At the same time, Sheu had informed the FBI that he believed his life was “in grave danger” because in early 2009 NYPD detectives had warned him against pursuing actions against Judge Golia. “Be careful,” the FBI agent advised Sheu two and a half months before his death.
On Wednesday, June 23, 2010, an OCA official told Sheu that the judge’s revised ethics filing was available for viewing. Along with his friends Will Galison and Sherry Bobrowsky, Sheu went to the OCA office near Wall Street. When he looked at the judge’s new statement, he instantly saw that it was incomplete. Golia had not included the properties in Breezy Point and elsewhere that Sheu had uncovered. “Now I’ve got him!” he stated. “Now I’ve got enough evidence to put Golia in jail.”
Over the next two days, Galison recalls, Sheu said that a white van had been circling around his home in Flushing. By Saturday night, he was dead.
• • •
Soon after the apparent assault in June 2010, both Galison and Bobrowksy received calls from Sheu’s cellphone. They were from an NYPD officer telling them to come to the hospital. The cop had identified Sheu’s friends by calling the numbers in his cellphone’s speed-dial. By the time Galison and Bobrowsky reached the hospital though, Sheu had just been pronounced dead.
The three friends had become close in the previous 18 months, drawn together as a part of a network of people calling attention to misconduct in New York’s civil courts. Galison, a jazz musician, had a copyright dispute in Manhattan; Bobrowksy’s business conflict in Queens was overseen by Judge Golia. Sheu’s allegations of mortgage fraud had caught the attention of Milton Allimadi, longtime publisher of Black Star News, who ran a three-part series about Sheu’s case in 2009.
In August 2012, Galison and Allimadi published an extensive Truthout story about Sheu’s death. They maintain that there remains a dire need for a full-fledged investigation into the case. “We have spent countless hours over the past 13 years trying to find out who killed Sunny — and why so many people tried to cover it up,” Galison and Allimadi told The Indypendent.
• • •
The problems immediately became apparent when Galison and Bobrowsky arrived at what was then called the New York Hospital of Queens (now New York-Presybterian Queens). An ER doctor named Zeeshan Ahmed informed them that a CAT scan showed “no signs of trauma” on Sunny’s head and that it “probably was an aneurysm.”
“Not a lump, not a bump, not a scratch on his head,” a nurse chimed in.
“We had been told by the NYPD officer when he advised us to go to the hospital that Sunny had experienced head trauma,” recalled Galison. “But Dr. Ahmed repeatedly asserted there was none. It made no sense.”
On Monday, June 28, 2010, Detective Billy Grant, a member of the NYPD’s Medical Examiner’s Liaison Unit, sent a memo to the ME’s office. It stated that according to Detective Chris Austin of the 109th Precinct, the aforementioned phantom 911 call caused the precinct to claim that there was “no criminality” in Sheu’s case.
Two days later, a supervisor at the Queens medical examiner’s office told Galison and Bobrowsky that there was a nearly three-inch wound in the back of Sunny’s head. The following day, medical examiner Michael Greenberg ruled that Sunny’s death resulted from “blunt force trauma to the head with skull fractures and brain injuries.”
Greenberg’s finding should have a triggered an investigation by the NYPD. But one week later, an officer at the 109th Precinct told Sheu’s team that according to their case report, there was “no head trauma.” Instead, the police officer said, “It was a seizure.”
• • •
“The guy makes a video saying if I die, the judge did it — and then he’s killed? The whole case stinks,” says private investigator Pete Fiorello, who spent a good portion of his 30-year NYPD career as a Queens homicide detective.
In the eyes of veteran civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, “there are a lot of unanswered questions” regarding Sheu’s death and the aftermath. “This is something that either the City Council’s oversight committee or the public advocate should hold public hearings about,” says Siegel.
The Council’s potential role stems from the fact that in 2014-15, the Department of Investigation’s (DOI) Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD spent ten months reviewing the case. This past April, the DOI nevertheless advised City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, that they “do not have a record of this investigation.” Brewer tells The Indy that she will “get that in writing.”
Although Siegel is a member of Eric Adams’ inner circle of advisers, he is not speaking on the mayor’s behalf. Adams, however, is quite familiar with Sheu’s case.
In late April 2010, Sunny, along with Galison and another member of the judicial corruption network, met with then-State Senator Adams. Sheu and his friends hoped that the former NYPD captain could give them some advice regarding threats by NYPD detectives to Sunny. According to Galison, Adams offered a vague suggestion that they draw up an “action plan.”
A few weeks after Sunny’s death, Galison then spoke to Senator Adams by phone and recorded the conversation. In this excerpt, Adams explains that as a senator, he lacked the power to order an investigation into Sheu’s death. What could get the ball rolling, Adams suggested, was a story by “an investigative reporter.” At the end of the 32-minute conversation, Adams tells Galison that he would speak to two journalists at the New York Times about Sheu’s case.
Thirteen years later, Mayor Adams cannot directly order an investigation. But he can certainly voice support for one. Reached via text message by The Indy on the morning of Juneteenth, Adams provided a cryptic statement.
In response to The Indy’s comment that his longtime ally Norman Siegel is calling for an investigation into the Sheu case, Adams responded, “Yes. All crimes are properly investigated.”
Whether that means the mayor will call for a full hearing is unclear. But unlike the 109th Precinct, Adams at least views Sheu’s death as a “crime.”
In part two of this story (dateline mid-July), The Indypendent will detail the incomplete inquiries into Sheu’s case by the Office of the Inspector General and other NYPD oversight entities. Readers with information about the case can contact the reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org