NEW YORK (AP) -- A white police officer was disciplined for acting "in a discourteous manner" when he confronted a black motorist who turned out to be one of the highest-ranking commanders in the New York City Police Department, an agency spokesman said Saturday.
Chief Douglas Zeigler, the head of the NYPD's Community Affairs Bureau and the highest uniformed black officer on the force, was off duty and sitting in his department-issued sport utility vehicle on a street in the borough of Queens on May 2 when two white police officers approached.
The encounter turned testy, and one of the officers tried to wrest open Zeigler's door, even after the three-star chief had identified himself, police spokesman Paul Browne said.
"He dealt with the chief in a discourteous manner, which is unacceptable," Browne said.
He did not provide details of why the officers decided to question Zeigler. The New York Daily News reported Saturday that Zeigler was parked near a fire hydrant and that one of the plainclothed officers spotted Zeigler's service weapon inside the vehicle. Browne said he could not confirm whether the officers saw a gun.
He did not specify what discipline was taken by the department. The News said the officer was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on modified duty Friday.
The incident was reported as police are being criticized for stopping and frisking record numbers of pedestrians - about 145,000 in the first quarter of this year. The majority were black or Hispanic.
Zeigler has headed the Community Affairs Bureau since January 2006. His wife, Neldra Zeigler, is the NYPD's deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been leading demonstrations in the city to protest the acquittal of three police officers in the shooting death of an unarmed man as he left his bachelor party, took note of the Zeigler incident while speaking at his weekly rally in Harlem.
"You can't make this stuff up!" he said. "The problem isn't that they didn't recognize him. It is that they don't recognize our rights!"
Also, a New York man has filed a lawsuit claiming that he was taunted and falsely arrested by police officers after they learned that he had the same name as a West African immigrant shot to death by other officers in 1999.
Amadou Diallo said a group of officers confronted him over a broken headlight in February, then searched his vehicle for weapons.
Once the officers learned his name, it became "a source of much amusement, laughing and inappropriate joking amongst the officers, with crude and disgusting comments," Diallo's lawyer said in the suit.
Amadou Diallo was also the name of an unarmed immigrant killed in 1999 when four plainclothed officers, apparently mistakenly thinking he was reaching for a gun, fired 41 rounds in the doorway of a Bronx apartment building. The officers in that case were also acquitted of criminal charges.