One year later, suspected homicide of gay rights activist Lou Rispoli still unsolved

Suspicions remain at the NYPD's handling of the death of Lou Rispoli in October 2012.  Credit: Courtesy of Councilman Jimmy van Bramer
Suspicions remain at the NYPD’s handling of the death of Lou Rispoli in October 2012.
Credit: Courtesy of Councilman Jimmy van Bramer

The suspected homicide of prominent gay rights activist Louis Rispoli in Queens one year ago remains unsolved, and the NYPD says there are still no leads.

Police re-released sketches of two suspects Wednesday, as well as an announcement of a $22,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons involved.

The news, however, only added to the frustration of Rispoli’s friends and family, as the investigation into his death appeared to have been badly mismanaged from the start.

For unknown reasons, police who responded to the scene where Rispoli was assaulted did not treat the area as a crime scene, neglecting to search for evidence or tape the area off. Once Rispoli was put in an ambulance, they simply left, according to Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, a long-time close friend of Rispoli’s.

According to police reports, the incident occurred around 2:16 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012.

A 911 caller reported an assault-in-progress at the corner of 42nd Street and Queens Boulevard, but when responding officers arrived, they discovered only one man, unconscious and bleeding from the head.

The victim, later identified as Rispoli, was taken to Elmhurst General Hospital and according to van Bramer, the officers simply left after he was put in the ambulance.

The next day around noon, Rispoli’s husband reported him missing and police realized the then-unidentified, unconscious assault victim at Elmhurst was the missing man in question, a law enforcement official said. Because Rispoli had for his entire life been an active, outspoken activist for the gay community, the possibility that the attack was motivated by hate now had to be considered.

That responding officers hadn’t set up a crime scene when they found Rispoli suddenly became, and remains, problematic: A law enforcement official said there is no physical or video evidence connected to the investigation.

A witness told officers that he saw Rispoli get out of a car at the corner of 42nd Street and 43rd Avenue around 2:10 a.m. that night. One man stayed in the car while two others walked with Rispoli in front of 41-00 43rd Avenue.

The three men were engaged in coversation, the witness said, but didn’t appear to be arguing. Then, suddenly, one of the men bashed Rispoli in the head with an object the witness couldn’t identify, but told police looked like a stick or a bat. Rispoli collapsed to the ground and the two men got back in the car and tore off down 42nd Street, the witness said. The witness told police he called 911 immediately.

The law enforcement official said emergency surgery was performed at Elmhurst to try to stop bleeding in Rispoli’s brain. Rispoli was intubated, unconscious and unable to speak, the official said. He was pronounced dead at 8:55 p.m. five days later, on Oct. 25.

The Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide after an autopsy performed two days later found the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head.

Asked today if the responding officers were censured for their handling of the incident, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he “believe[d] there was a command discipline issued in that case.”

Van Bramer said he met with Kelly a few months ago regarding the murder and was told there was an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation “on-going.”

The issue at the time, van Bramer said, was that Rispoli’s family and their lawyers had put in a FOIL request for the transcripts of any 911 calls from that night, any communication between police officers—anything at all relating to the investigation into Rispoli’s killing.

But van Bramer said Kelly told him they could not get any of those materials until the internal affairs investigation concluded. The FOIL application has since been formally rejected by the NYPD twice, van Bramer said.

“[Kelly] told me personally that every single person that responded that night was being interviewed and questioned and these things take time and there was no way they were releasing [the requested materials] until, at the earliest, the investigation was complete,” van Bramer said.

Upon hearing Kelly’s statement that the officers had been disciplined in some way, van Bramer added, “If, in fact, it was completed and this is the punishment, then obviously it’s time to release the transcripts and the tapes.”

Van Bramer said he’s known for a long time something went wrong with the investigation — because the Commanding Officer of the local precinct at that time told him so.

“He acknowledged to me that mistakes had been made,” van Bramer said. “I think they know they made a big mistake, I think they knew that night, or the next day anyway.”

“We need to find out what happened that night,” he added, “and why the police left when Lou was put in the ambulance.”

Van Bramer described his friend as “a really fun, funny, spirited guy who was a very, very forceful activist for LGBT rights.”

Rispoli was a big marriage equality activist, van Bramer said, and married his partner of over 30 years in August of 2011.

Van Bramer said Rispoli was ground-breaking in what may seem like small ways when it mattered most.

“In the early 80s, people were afraid to touch people who had AIDS, or care for them,” van Bramer recalled. “Lou cooked meals for people who were dying, visited them in their homes.”

The two men became friends when van Bramer was first running for office.

“He really believed in me and thought it was important to get openly gay people into office,” the councilman said. “We remained close friends until the day he died.”

Van Bramer said he had never heard about Rispoli being threatened by anyone in the neighborhood, or really anyone at all. In fact, Rispoli would go on late night walks to enjoy the Woodside and Sunnyside neighborhoods where he lived.

“All I can tell you is Lou, like me, loved our neighborhood and felt very safe in our neighborhood and that’s one of the reasons he went out for these midnight walks, because he knew the streets were safe and he believed in our neighborhood,” van Bramer said.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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