Interview with Michael Dowd, subject of documentary Precinct Seven Five
Michael Dowd, subject of the thrilling new documentary Precinct Seven Five, was in Edinburgh to discuss the film and his past as a corrupt cop.
Michael Dowd, subject of Tiller Russell’s thrilling new documentary Precinct Seven Five, is widely considered one of the most corrupt officers in the history of the NYPD. In the late 80’s and early 90’s he and his partner Kenny Eurell were involved in some serious corruption, protecting drug lords and dealing cocaine to supplement their NYPD income.
After serving 12 years in prison for his crimes, Dowd is repentant but in good spirits as we sit down at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. He proves to be a charismatic and engaging character who’s happy to discuss the film, his life and his opinion on modern policing with openness and at great length.
How did the film come together? Was it something you were pushing for?
It’s funny, initially when I first came home from prison, I wanted to go back! I didn’t want to be out on the street, I hated it, I was scared to death. I came out, I was 44, I’d just spent 12 years of my life in prison and life was just so comfortable. Now I have to adapt, I have to get a job and all that other shit, like Oh my god, it’d be so much easier if I just went back. It was a very touching moment, emotionally touching. I was looking through a window at my brother’s house, or my mother’s house and saw my brother’s backyard and I saw these two children, I didn’t know who they were I just thought they were his children. I’d been away so long, they were young little boys, and I just welled up with tears and I just thought Oh my god, the world has gone on without me and I just shouldn’t be out here. I was not comfortable but you know, you go on, you somehow get the inner strength to go on and thank god, you know?
Did I want to have a movie? I mean of course, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to have that but it comes at a time where you think is there a financial gain? Is there not? But doing a documentary, there is no financial gain so do I have to relive this whole thing again, but I was intimidated into it by the director (Tiller Russell). He said well I’m doing it with or without you, it’s going to be a special about the Mollen commission, so I laughed at him. No-one gives a fuck about the Mollen commission. But they know a crew of guys and they know my name, so if you want to go with that, we’ll do it. Otherwise, if you just make this about the Mollen commission, it’s not gonna work.
So he sat in the car with me, we told a few stories and he said you’re right, we’re gonna do it about you guys. So here we are. But it didn’t happen right away, that was back in 2004, he came to see me again in 2011, 2012.
So was it something he had been working on for a while?
It was something his producer Eli Holzman had been working on in his brain since he was a little kid. Which I was very happy to find out, that there was someone out there who saw what I saw.
How was it for you going over all of the stuff that had happened?
It’s very emotional and draining. These conversations, even doing interviews, can be emotionally draining because I live in the moment when I tell the story which some people sort of didn’t understand that. Oh, he seems so gleeful! No, I’m giving you the story as it happened, I’m putting you in the car with me. Am I embarrassed about what happened? Ashamed? Yes, but it happened. I paid the price, I’m not gonna carry the shame forever over this, I did it. I’ve been attacked at screenings by people in the audience. I did it, it’s over, you wanna keep beating with me with the same stick? Come on.
Did that ever make you think about not doing the film? Thinking about how people would react?
I have to be honest with you, people don’t really bother me anymore. I want to be liked by people, I’m a loveable soul I think but if you don’t like me, just go, move on. Next. I’m over it, I hope you are?
Well that’s one of the things about the film that’s surprising. Even though you’re talking about having done some…questionable things, you still come across as a compelling, likeable guy.
Thank you, thank you. I mean, I hope I am, I’m sorry for what I did! I’ll say it again, I’m sorry, now what, you know? They didn’t kill me! So I’m alive, should I just lay on the ground and roll over, I don’t know.
Since the film’s come out – it’s played at some other festivals – has anything been different for you? Has it changed anything?
Well, my life is still humble. Well, I mean what is humble? As you enrich your life, humility becomes different right? Humble people when they’re in poverty, a sandwich makes them very pleased. So I’m a humble person overall but I still have grandiose ideas in my brain and it’s hard to stay humble when you have dreams!
And what are those dreams?
No reflection on Donald Trump but I always have a young Donald Trump in my brain. I grew up in that era when he was like the icon and so I was into properties and these things are still in my brain. Adam and I are going to open a resort in the Domenican Republic, we’re looking at something just now.
So you’re still in touch with Adam Diaz?
Yeah, we just reengaged over the last several months due to this film.
So the film brought you back together?
Yeah, you know my life has changed, his life has changed, and we’re both different people today. Our means are less, both his and mine, and in some respects that’s better. We can go forward a clean approach. We’re cleansed, prison cleansed me!
You mentioned during the film when you got caught, finally, that you felt relieved about it. So when you were working with Diaz, was every day just insanely stressful?
Yeah, yeah. What a lot of people don’t understand – and I have a book coming out that’ll explain the whole thing because it’s an onion and you can just keep peeling the layers and layers. Adam and I only really worked together for approximately a year, year and a half of my ten year police career. Kenny and I only worked together for about the same. People don’t know that Kenny was retired on a three-quarters disability pension when I was brought into a conspiracy of his that we all got arrested for. I had my own thing going for eight years, he had it for six months. He went down in six months!
I happened to put my foot in a goddamn conspiracy of his, I get wrapped up, I’m out on bail looking around thinking I still have an organisation that wants their drugs because none of them got arrested and Kenny’s whole organisation – which I knew nothing about – 54 people, all just disintegrated and Kenny was looking for anybody to latch onto to save his ass and who was there? The loving friend that I am! Like, come on Mike, let’s do some things together, let’s execute somebody! Oh, so now we’re executing people? This is interesting. Something I wasn’t given to, nor was it something I would ever do, and he somehow convinced me that this was gonna happen. It wasn’t even the plan, he just made it part of the plan, he kept changing the game, I’m like wait a minute! This is my plan, how did it suddenly become your plan?
So at this point I’m like yeah, we’ll throw her in the car or whatever. Here am I saying go to the tape, then they play the tape and I’m like oh fuck! But what they didn’t tell you is for forty minutes on that tape, I’m telling him no! You don’t hear any of that discussion, you just hear Oh so we throw her in the car, tie her up, what the fuck?
Meanwhile we’re not even going there for that, we’re going there to look at the house. We’re not even going there to do anything but look at the house, see the surroundings, when the fucking radio goes off that he’s hiding. I told him to turn his fucking radio on. He finally turns it on and out comes 107, be advised of suspicious vehicles on the block and this and that, and I’m like we’re going right there! Oh they’re not looking for kidnappers and executors, they’re looking for burglars! Oh, so we should just go in the middle of this burglary sting, ‘cause we’re not doing that sir, we’re kidnapping and executing people! The fucking asshole. Excuse my language!
I was just like going along for the ride and at that point he took control of the ride which was uncharacteristic for him, and then finally I realise you fuck, you’re trying to set me up. And he’s like oh, I’m not setting you up and I said someone is ‘cause I don’t want to believe he’s doing this to me.
And how are things with Kenny now? Have you met him since the movie was made?
Oh yeah, they’re just fine! (laughs) Well I spoke to him at a couple of different locations that we run into each other at and it’s all good, you know. I just don’t like the fact that people, when they see this film, they don’t know that he wasn’t actually working with me, he was collecting a disability pension from the police department for the rest of his life when he brought me into this and he sits there smug and perfect, like yeah I think I saved someone’s life. How about you destroyed a bunch of people’s lives? But whatever.
What situation is he in now? He didn’t serve any jail time.
No, he didn’t. He’s doing well. It took me eleven years to get employment, he didn’t miss a day. He got his pension in like 1990, I got arrested with him in 92. So he was collecting a pension in 92 and is still collecting it twenty years later so yeah, he’s doing okay.
How is it that he didn’t go to prison?
He gave me up. He cut himself a deal. It was a good deal! Good damn deal, tell you right now, wish I had that deal! But whatever, he had to sleep at night! Probably slept pretty good…I didn’t sleep so good! (laughs)
What do you think about police now? Do you think you could do what you did, now that they’re under more scrutiny, cameras everywhere…
No, you can’t do what I did. No-one could do it then! It’s a different world today. If asked on the subject of policing today, I’m gonna tell you this: number one, I’d be a great advocate to the police departments of today because I’ve been on both sides, and that may be where my future’s going to take me, I hope it does. I’m trying to get before the federal government to speak before them, but we’re working on that. But I believe – and this is a question a lot of people ask and I hope it leads you to where you want to be – body cameras should be on every cop. I think that’s the answer. Cops might say it’s not fair because of their behaviour but look, cops have a tough fucking job. I don’t give a shit if they’re right or wrong, they still have a tough job. Tough meaning what? It’s not so much necessarily physical, it’s just a mental and emotional approach to everything. You’re asking a human being to do the job of a robot. Well, good luck! There’s gonna be mistakes, I don’t give a shit, there’s gonna be mistakes.
The fact is, if it were recorded, you would go wow, thank god that was him and not me. You know, Johnny Public would say that, like wow, he just put up with so much shit from this individual and he didn’t lop his head off! You know, you’d be so surprised at the restraint of cops in general. Yeah, there’s a cop that jumps over the line now and then because we’re all emotional human beings so I think you would definitely get a first-hand perspective and it would change your perception of police and their quote-unquote misdeeds or overreactions and you’d say holy fuck, I can’t believe he held himself back that much during this moment. Then there’s the case where this guy went overboard, okay, it happens.
How would you have reacted back in the day if you knew you were going to have a camera on all the time?
If I had a camera on? I’d have got a pension! (laughs) I’d have been a good boy, I wish I had a camera back then, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation, I’d be in Florida retired with my second home!
How was it being a cop that went to prison?
Oh, it was a lot of fun on a daily basis! I will assure you, they knew who I was! They knew who I was in every prison I went to, every individual.
Did you have to move around a lot?
No, I chose to move a couple different times but only for my own purposes, so no. It was definitely a challenge on a daily basis. Everybody knew me and I was a target for one reason or another and the fact is, I survived it unscathed and I’m very happy to say that!
The rights to your story have been bought by Sony…
Yeah Sony, Yann Demange and Scott Franks, the writer. Yann Demange is a British director.
He did the film ’71.
Yes, he’s pretty cool. I met him, he’s cool. I’m excited.
So how involved are you going to be?
Oh I’m there! You can’t do the film without me so yeah, I’m involved.
And who do you think should play you?
We talked about Mark Wahlberg! We’ll see, hopefully. I understand he’s interested, so we’ll see.
That’d work. He is a Boston guy though…
Yeah he’s a Boston guy so if he could get rid of the (adopts Boston accent) Park the car in Harvard yard, he’d be pretty good!