A true story about a father and son, one a decorated homicide detective, the other an actor and local legend who struck fear in the hearts of all who crossed his path. One had a life laced with drug addiction, psych wards, and time in the country's toughest prisons. The other, a career with the NYPD and the task of keeping his boy alive.
NYC, The West Village
Joe Dean was a plucky Irish kid from Greenwich Village. He was born in 1945, raised in the city, and knew it like the back of his hand. Being from New York doesn’t just mean that’s where you grew up. It’s more than that, it’s like the city is a piece of you . . . or you of it. It’s a part of what defines you. It flows through your veins.
Growing up, Joe watched his neighborhood evolve. When he was a kid his mom could send him to the corner for bread without worry. As he got older, like most areas in the city, crime was on the rise and mothers stood on the stoop watching their kids walk to and from the bodegas.
Joe always wanted to be a cop. One of the good ones. He was straight-laced, never a thief as a kid, never in trouble, and the chances to head down that path were plenty. As a cop nothing would change, it’s who he was.
Straight out of Vietnam, Joe married the fun girl instead of the good girl and in 1968 he joined the force. His class had 1000 men, 950 were just back from the war.
1970, two years on the force.
The city was a different world than it is now. At the time it was reeling from the Vietnam War protests and the Martin Luther King assassination riots. Gambling and narcotics were two of the enemies and dice games were on every corner.
Joe was in the 32nd precinct in Harlem. On day one, after he had finally gotten a spot in a radio car, he and his partner rolled up on a game and the partner said ya gotta take this, as the kid holding the dice tossed two bucks in the window. That wasn’t the kind of cop Joe was. He said to his partner who was holding the wadded-up money in his hand, “You gotta be one or the other, you can’t be both.”
Back in the day, that’s how it was in those ghetto precincts. In Brooklyn, if a cop knocked on your door you gave him two bucks. If it was a sergeant he got five bucks and everyone knew it. Refusing to play by the ”rules” didn’t go over well and Joe was transferred to the 19th precinct. He was doing the right thing but his honesty let the sergeant know that he wasn’t going to fit in at the 32nd precinct so they booted him. He left that day unaware that the move to the 19th was going to be the biggest break of his life.
The 19th Precinct, Best in Manhattan.
It went from 59th Street to 86th and from Central Park to the East River. Things were crazy at the time. The Black Panther Party trial was going on and cops were being assassinated with submachine guns. It wasn’t long before things got close to home and two guys Joe worked with were gunned down. It was May 21st, 1971. That time the getaway drivers were caught and went to trial with Geraldo Rivera as their attorney.
On March 6th, 1971 Joe Dean went into the anti-crime division and never went back into uniform. He was assigned to the Black Liberation Army Task Force in 1972 after another attack on the NYPD and soon after made detective.
By this time Joe had a family, all boys, and one was a hell-raiser. Maybe it was the rowdy Irish bloodline, perhaps the alcoholism on both sides of the family, or the mental health issues stemming down from his grandfather who murdered three men. Regardless of the reason or the amount of trouble Joe’s boy found himself in, he loved his son from his core and would no sooner turn his back on him than the Pope would the Church, and Jerry Dean tested the limits of his father’s love like most parents couldn’t possibly imagine.
By the time Jerry was 10 years old, he had committed more crimes than most men ever would. By the second grade, he had what would be considered a felony for an adult, he set fire to the bathroom of his school, 2nd-degree arson. In third grade, he added sexual harassment to the list; his victim was a nun. From there he began selling drugs and had the sale of a controlled substance under his belt. He was in the 4th grade.
In the midst of it all, Joe’s wife left him for a woman which was unexpected for the entire family. He got an apartment with another cop on 11th street and Jerry stayed with his mother who was a hardcore alcoholic. The lack of supervision was a disaster. Joe still saw Jerry every day but he wasn’t hearing a word about any trouble. For one his mother was too drunk to notice his comings and goings and the clincher; if he did get pinched all he had to say was “My father’s a cop.”
As the years went by the neighborhood began to change. Different people were moving in. Neighborhood kids now included Gregory Hines’s and Dustin Hoffman’s kids. Jerry had twenty-dollar shoes, theirs cost a hundred. A cop's salary couldn’t keep up with that but at 13 Jerry got a job at McKenna's, a local bar in the neighborhood, cleaning out the Joker Poker machines. He had found a way to keep up with the neighborhood kids. Every day he stole $300.
At fourteen Jerry added extortion to his list of criminal accomplishments. He and his best friend overheard the son of the owner of the A&W restaurant bragging about stealing money out of the safe. Jerry told him that if he didn’t give him $6000 he would kill him. He had a reputation in the Village and the kid was terrified so he delivered the cash.
This was a big take for two 14-year-olds and they were on cloud nine. During the 80s street art was a subculture and the art supply shop was the first stop the boys made. They loaded up on all of their favorite colors and brands, a graffiti artist’s dream. Back in the day graffiti was like today’s Instagram. That’s how you got your ”likes”, your views, people respected your work, your “tag” meant something, and tagging over someone’s paint was a sign of disrespect. The graffiti scene was no game.
Next, he called all the other artists, even the older guys and they collaborated on an amazing piece. It was enormous and beautiful. Jerry felt great, almost a high. Not because he had a pocket full of cash or he had just smoked something but because he just created something magnificent.
Walking home, fingers covered in spray paint and a wad of cash in his pocket, he was feeling nervous. He wasn’t afraid of much. The streets, guns, and mafia hits around the corner; none of that made him flinch. His mother, that’s what scared him. She was unpredictable when she was drunk, and she was drunk all the time.
Jerry was in trouble before he got to the stoop, the attendance office had already called. She started eyeing him the minute he walked in and he started to sweat while clutching the cash in his hand. She was drunk, not stupid, and yelled . . .
Whatcha got in your pocket, Jerry!?
He pulled out the money and made up a ridiculous story, and she didn’t buy a word of it.
I’m calling your father, she threatened. As Jerry stood there shifting his weight from foot to foot she continued through slurred speech, unless...you give me half.
He had no choice, she had him up against a wall. The extortioner was just extorted by his mother. The alcohol had distilled her down to just a shell of who she should have been.
The Teen Years
Joe ended up remarrying a fellow police officer as time passed. Simultaneously the clock ticked by until Jerry turned sixteen. That’s when the shit hit the fan.
If Jerry Dean wanted something he took it. Most often he wanted money. Whore houses were full of money and Jerry had a lot of balls. Most of these “massage parlors” were mafia-owned, but one thing they didn’t have on-premises were guns, they were too much trouble. They also wouldn’t call the cops. Jerry didn’t think twice at sixteen years old, about walking into these houses with a sawed-off shotgun and walking out with the cash.
Eventually, during one of these stickups, a prostitute jumped out of the window onto Second Ave. and found a cop. Next thing Jerry knows he’s in cuffs. He looked at the officer and came out with his usual line, “my father’s a cop,” but that time it didn’t work. With murder, rape, and robbery that line will get you nowhere.
January 12, 1987.
It’s 2 A.M. Joe gets a call from the 17th squad about a stickup. They said it was Jerry.
“No, he’s with his cousin.”
Yeah, he’s here too, the officer said and then described Jerry right down to his tattoo.
“Oh, that’s not my kid, Jerry doesn’t have a tattoo.”
The officer puts Jerry on the phone.
“Dad, it’s me.”
“When the fuck did you get a tattoo?!”
By now, Joe had been a cop for a long time. He had been in five shootouts, had windshields shot out in his face, and continued to do his job through a veil of blood. He was assigned to multiple special forces including the arson task force during the burning of The Bronx, he spent nine months on the Son of Sam task force, he was a decorated and respected homicide detective; he was a tough guy who had pretty much witnessed it all.
When Joe walked into the 17th precinct that night and laid eyes on his son, he broke into sobs. The tough cop was gone and had been replaced with a shattered father. Joe had to borrow ten thousand dollars for bail that night. He went to a loan shark, he had no choice. A cop doesn’t just have an extra ten grand lying around, then or now. When it came to reputation, Joe had the one thing he wanted, he was respected for being a good cop, the guy didn’t even charge him interest, he had him over a barrel but didn’t take an extra dime.
After Jerry got out on bail Joe had him put in Jacob Riis Mental Hospital for six weeks where he was diagnosed with depression. Joe went from smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day to three packs. At a bar one night a fellow cop came in, it was one of the guys on the Castellano taskforce. At the time the Castellanos were the most powerful crime family in the city. The guy pushed a list in front of Joe on a folded piece of paper, as he read his heart hit the floor. Jerry had robbed twenty-six whore houses without him having a clue. They were all uptown and Joe’s precinct was downtown. One of the robberies was on Thanksgiving day. He robbed a member of the Hells Angels at gunpoint and came home as if nothing had happened. Joe was in shock.
The case drew the attention of Columbia law professor, Richard Uvillar. Joe and The Professor had crossed paths during Uvillar’s time with the NYPD. He spent a year embedded on the streets with them to collect material for his book, Tempered Zeal. The professor offered to help Jerry find a good attorney and came back with Austin Campriello.
Campriello was a former trial bureau chief who worked for $350 an hour; he was one of the most prestigious lawyers around at the time. For Joe, it was $125 an hour. Professor Uvillar, who was in charge of all casework for juvenile crime, made $400 an hour but didn’t take a penny from Joe.
When the captain from the robbery squad called wanting Jerry at the precinct for information, Detective Dean stepped back and Jerry’s dad stepped forward. With his son still in the mental hospital, he told the captain, “My fucking son ain’t talking to nobody, you wanna talk to him? He’s got a lawyer!” The instinct to protect his son would eventually cost him his career.
The DA’s first offer was eight and a half to fifteen years in prison. The lawyer told Joe to request a letter from the psychiatrist that highlighted Jerry’s mental state and the family history of mental illness. The Dr. wrote the letter but wouldn’t turn it over unless Joe gave him sixty-five $100 bills.
A decorated homicide detective and he was getting shaken down by a well-respected doctor. A doctor who is still in practice, treating children in NYC to this day. Campriello told him he had no choice but to pay up, so Joe went back to the streets for the cash. That $6500 report lowered the sentence to two and a half to seven years.
Jerry was sentenced on March 6, 1987. He immediately left for the C74 adolescent detention center on Rikers Island, at the time he was the youngest inmate ever there. This prison had some high profile inmates, the serial killer David Berkowitz, better known as The Son of Sam, Mark David Chapman who killed John Lennon, and Sid Vicious, it was as rough as you’ve heard. Kids were cutting each other’s faces to earn respect and a place in the pecking order. Jerry, a kid with mental health issues was thrown to the wolves, but he would leave there leading the pack.
While on a call with his girl, another inmate hung up the phone. He couldn’t let the others think he was weak so he snuck into the guy’s cell while he was asleep and set him on fire. His respect was instantly earned. To survive on Rikers Island he could not be the prey, he had to be the predator. He spent 60 days there before being transferred.
The day after the initial sentencing March 7th, 1987, Joe was transferred from the 9th detective squad to the 7/5 detective squad in Bedstein. The chief of detectives from Manhattan South clued him in. When he refused to bring Jerry in to talk about the whore house robberies he rubbed those Irish Mafia cops the wrong way. That decision was coming back to haunt him.
From Rikers, Jerry went to Goshen, a maximum-security prison for juveniles. He came out of that prison harder than when he went in. By this time he had been through a fair share of psychiatric evaluations. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder with rapid cycling psychotic features, centralized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and substance abuse mood disorder. He had been prescribed Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Prozac, Lithium, Paxil, Methadone, Adderall, Busbar, Klonopin, Risperidone, and Geodon.
Around this time Joe was getting a lot of flack at work. Some cops speculated he knew about the robberies or was somehow in on it. He had enough. He held out until the 20-year mark and then collected his pension.
Jerry’s next run-in with the police was exactly that; he ran his motorcycle into the side of a cop car and nearly died. He had been learning to run cons from a local swindler and he was a natural. With his charm and good looks, he had no problem gaining the confidence of his mark. The money was rolling in and he was spending it on heroin and cocaine, and instead of a fast car, Jerry bought a fast motorcycle. A bike capable of high speeds in New York City, driven by a kid with no experience that was high as a kite was an explosive combination. Three hours after he bought it he slammed into a patrol car and was rushed to the hospital.
Joe, alone as usual, rushed to Bellvue where his boy was in the ER. He sat by his side for days in the ICU praying until he knew he wasn’t going to die. Just like when Jerry was in prison, Joe was the only one there.
He had no idea at the time that his son was under indictment for selling drugs with an organized crime crew. As soon as he could leave the hospital Joe drove him down to the station and he was arrested by a lieutenant in the organized crime taskforce, one of Joe’s old friends. He was still a cop at heart and it wouldn’t be the last time he had to turn his boy in. Every time it hurt a little more, that time he lost thirty pounds.
It turned out Jerry had sold to an undercover agent and unknowingly led some other neighborhood guys that way. He knew he had to clear his name on the streets or it wouldn’t be safe to walk around. He couldn’t be thought of as a rat or he would get killed.
He was right, within two weeks there was a botched attempt on his life. A mob hit gone wrong. Through an informant, Joe and Jerry learned there was a contract on his head, the mafia wanted him dead.
That’s when Joe brought Jerry back to his house to protect him from the mob. For years now Joe had been keeping it all together but he was at the end of his rope. He was breaking, he was all that Jerry had, and that put another weight on his shoulders. All of the crime, gangsters, drugs, and shootouts had taken a toll. Compound that with everything Jerry added to the table and it was too much.
Joe came down the stairs and into the kitchen that day with fire in his eyes and a gun in each hand. He wasn’t the father Jerry knew. Joe had snapped. He slammed the guns on the table and with his face red with anger he screamed, “Now you listen! I was a kid from the street a long time before I was a cop! What do you wanna do? You wanna go down there and shoot it out with these guinea cock suckers or do you want to turn yourself in early? Do you want to kill these fucking guys and be done with it or what?” That’s where his head was, that's where he had been driven.
Jerry thought about it for a moment. He and his dad like a team, shooting it out with these guys. He romanticized it for a minute. He had a whole scene playing out in his head like a movie where they would come out on top. He imagined them ducking behind cars, popping off their shots. For an instant, it sounded exciting and exhilarating, but then at that moment, the real Jerry Dean came back. The one not tormented by mental illness or with judgment clouded by drugs. The love for his father pushed that all away and the roles were reversed. “I couldn't do that to the old man.” That day it was Jerry who pulled his father back from the brink of madness to save his life.
Trauma and pain can cause the strongest of us to build a protective shell around ourselves. It’s self-preservation. Jerry spent a great deal of time in the defense zone. He was sexually abused by a family friend as a child and the trauma was never dealt with. That in combination with a family history of mental illness was a bomb waiting to go off. A bomb his dad defused over and over again until it drove him to the edge of insanity.
Seeing his father about to cross the point of no return, his tough-as-nails dad cracking in front of him was all it took to break the shell and make him feel.
All of the good that Joe Dean instilled in his son came rushing to the surface that day. The bond that Joe and Jerry had created a force so strong it was enough to overpower the mental illness long enough to save them both.
Jerry Turned himself in and was hidden in Bellevue. The hearing was closed and he was sent to Groveland prison. The sentence was for two years but he was paroled after seven months. Joe worried not enough time had gone by and his instincts were right, it was too soon and Jerry was getting eyed on the streets everywhere he went so he packed up and went back to LA. Joe was in New York, living on Long Island and enjoying a new career working with the fraud division of American Express but worried about Jerry in California.
Jerry was a skilled boxer and had always wanted to be a personal trainer so when he got to Los Angeles he made up some business cards and tried to get work. The cards had a great picture of him and boasted that he was a weight lifting finalist in 1987-1988, he was actually in jail during that time but people were none the wiser. A modeling agency noticed a card and Jerry’s luck started to turn around. He was 21 years old.
During this time he worked for Heidi Fleiss, the “Hollywood Madam.” While working at Heidi’s bordello Jerry had affairs with supermodels, met movie producers, and executives, and led a fast-paced lifestyle. His path crossed with actor and screenwriter Bruce Rubenstein and by the age of twenty-four, Bruce was so taken with Jerry that he wrote him a part in a movie and he began acting. The movie was Bullet with Tupac Shakur, Mickey Rourke, and Ted Levine.
Despite his newfound success, the pain he held onto was constant and so were the drugs he used to numb it. Still, his talent shone through and he was landing movies like No Way Home with James Russo, and Gloria with Sharon Stone and the late George C. Scott.
He was rubbing elbows with some of the greats. Dani Devito, Robert Deniro, Al Pachino and Samual L Jackson. The only thing still holding him back was substance abuse. This time he didn’t want to self-destruct and he started attending AA meetings.
The Summer of Madness
He fell in love with a supermodel who was also in recovery, they both stayed clean for a while and Jerry Dean had the best summer he had experienced in years. Eventually, she fell off of the wagon and he tumbled off after her. He found her in a crack house accompanied by Dominicans wielding machetes. The bizarre events that unfolded there that night led Jerry back down the same old path.
True to form for Jerry, things spiraled out of control and during a psychotherapy session, his first of many manic episodes was triggered. This time the drug that he used as a coping mechanism was crystal meth.
One day while high and in a delusional state of mind he devised a plan to “kill” Bruce Rubenstein, his friend who started his movie career. Symbolically of course, because he believed that he was ridding the world of “the illusion of fame."
Jerry went to Rubenstein’s house, found his gun, and removed the bullets. Then he pulled the gun on Rubenstein and scared the shit out of him. He went home feeling like he accomplished his “goal” and Bruce of course called the cops.
In the meantime, Jerry's dad gets wind of it and calls him.
“What the hell are you doing Jerry? Either go to jail or head to a hospital!”
Jerry says, “I choose neither, I’m going to the beach.”
He opened the door and there stood a bunch of cops with shotguns.
The meth had his reasoning skills out the window but his acting chops were still intact, so he slammed the door and said . . .
“Listen real good . . .I got a movie star in here with me! And I got a 9mm. Come near my door and I will put a bullet in his head, one in your head, and one in my own! Do I make myself clear?”
Soon the house was surrounded by cops, snipers, CNN trucks, and helicopters. The cops knew about Jerry’s close friendship with actor and comedian Michael Rapaport, but they couldn’t reach him by phone so they suspected he was the hostage. While they were outside speculating, Jerry was inside hanging blankets over the windows. He owned a gun but no one was certain if he had the gun.
Jerry knew he could die that day so he figured he may as well go out happy. He got comfortable, picked up the phone, and gave a model he had a crush on a call. They chatted for a long time and after hanging up, not bothered by the helicopters still circling overhead, Jerry ended up falling asleep.
He awoke to the sound of glass breaking as a box with a phone came smashing through the window. The box was also equipped with a camera. Now they knew there was no
hostage . . . or gun.
Jerry knew the cops were coming in and the chances of getting shot were pretty high. The LAPD would hear a lot of shit for shooting an unarmed man but there would be a mountain of negative press if they shot a naked unarmed man. So he undressed, wrapped a leopard print scarf around his head, and began dancing to Sade’s Smooth Operator while he waited for the door to be kicked in. He didn’t wait long, then spent a year in the LA County Jail.
Through all of it, Joe remained on his son’s side. Knowing who Jerry really was, the creative, kind kid that was underneath it all kept Joe hopeful. Unfortunately, Jerry was issued one blow after another. A judge who presided over three of his cases, who knew of his mental instability, sent him back to Rikers, a prison that was known for abusing its mentally ill inmates. Then a transfer to Arthur Kill on Staten Island where he was sexually abused by a guard and forced to endure 70 days of isolation for defending himself only added to the madness.
Both men had reached their weakest point. Joe was mentally and physically exhausted from years of this lifestyle. The loss of his career, the pain of turning his son over to the police multiple times, the internal turmoil from wondering if only he had done something different. The failed relationships with women due to all of his efforts being concentrated on Jerry had eaten away at him.
Jerry had lost hope. He no longer imagined a life outside the cold walls of a prison or not feeling the ache withdrawal causes. He had stopped dreaming of a future, had stopped planning or even wanting. Then the light appeared.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility
The Core Program is for some of the most mentally ill prisoners in the state. It would be the best thing that ever happened to Jerry and Joe. The next person to walk into their life was going to make all the difference in the world.
Miss Jones. Cute and young, the kind of girl who always garnered Jerry’s attention. Immediately he realized something was different. He didn’t want to play his usual “patient and shrink” games with her, she could see right through him. Together they healed things that for years had festered like infected wounds. The same Jerry that pulled his father back when he was about to fall from the cliff of sanity years before came back, the Jerry Dean who had a mind to create, write, act, and live.
He had accomplished some pretty amazing things for a troubled kid from Greenwich Village. Model, Actor, Writer, but he wasn’t done. There was more he wanted to accomplish. When it was time for his release he said he knew he wasn’t fixed but he knew he had a chance.
He’s been sober for years, started practicing Shaivism, a branch of modern Hinduism, got involved in his community, and says that he “just tries to be a little better every day.”
He has continued to act and co-wrote and performed in a one-man show about the story of his life called My Father’s A Cop with director Kurt Brungardt. The show ran twice in Los Angeles, and once in New York, and there is currently a deal on the table with a major Hollywood studio for the story.
Jerry hasn’t been back in jail since he left Sing Sing but he did see Miss Jones and the warden at the opening of his New York debut of My Father’s A Cop when they came to support him.
Jerry has managed over the years to turn the list of people who feared him into a long and ever-growing list of fans with his father being his biggest. They are an extraordinary example of the power of love between a parent and a child. A bond so strong that it cannot be broken even in a hurricane of turmoil, and so powerful that it can bring the mind back into reality.
Jerry has recently starred in the 2018 film The Martyr Maker with Tom Sizemore and Alexander Mercier which was written and directed by former jerky boy Kamal Ahmed. nHe recently wrapped up filming The Crusaders written and directed by Maxx Starr and is currently working on Crash The System, a TV mini-series in development.