Among the do's and don'ts for New York City's Italian organized crime families, knocking off anyone in law enforcement is one of the bigger don'ts.
That's why admitted mobster Dino Calabro claims he was stunned by a front-page headline in his newspaper one morning in 1997. It identified a man he admits helping gun down the day before _ someone he thought was an ordinary citizen _ as an off-duty New York Police Department patrolman.
"I was amazed," Calabro testified on Tuesday at a Mafia murder trial. "We don't typically kill police officers. That's just the rule _ you don't hurt kids and you don't kill cops."
Calabro offered a Brooklyn jury the first detailed account of the previously unsolved slaying of Officer Ralph Dols _ and the first explanation of how he got duped into breaking the don't-kill-cops rule.
Prosecutors allege Dols was among six murder victims who died during the 1990s at the hands of Thomas "Tommy Guns" Gioeli, the former reputed boss of the Colombo crime family. A recent crop of mob turncoats, including Calabro, have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Gioeli about the gangland slayings in exchange for leniency.
Investigators believe Dols ran afoul of the mob by marrying the ex-wife of Joel Cacace, another Colombo boss. Calabro, at the time a Colombo associate, described being recruited by Gioeli for a "piece of work" wanted by Cacace.
Gioeli told Calabro the target was a worker at a Queens social club who was in trouble with the family, and Gioeli ordered Calabro to kill him when he got home from work, the witness said. Calabro and another assassin donned baseball caps and gloves before confronting Dols as he got out of his car, he added.
"What's up?" the officer asked before both men opened fire and left him fatally wounded on the street, Calabro said. The killers tossed their guns in the sewer as they fled, he said.
Once Calabro learned the victim's identity, he said he confronted Gioeli, telling him, "What the (F-word)? The guy's a cop." Gioeli acted like it was a surprise to him as well, the witness said.
Calabro testified that his first instinct was to seek retribution against Cacace "because he screwed us." But the higher-ranking Gioeli wouldn't allow it, he added.
The topic of Dols' killing quickly became taboo. When it was came up, Calabro said, the gangsters silently referred to the officer by miming putting a hypodermic needle into their arms _ a reference to the fact that killing a police officer could bring a punishment of death by lethal injection.