Self-appointed Long Island Rail Road etiquette enforcer John Clifford lit a victory cigar outside a Manhattan courthouse yesterday - cleared of charges of harassment, attempted assault, attempted petit larceny and disorderly conduct, despite two days of testimony about his long history of expletive-laced screaming fits against cellphone-yapping fellow commuters.
"It's about time we brought some civility back to the Long Island Rail Road," the 60-year-old cop-turned-lawyer had told the judge who found him innocent.
"And if nobody can do it except an old ex-cop who wants to be left alone, so be it."
Clifford acted as his own lawyer in arguing against two misdemeanor charges and two violations stemming from a March 2007 cussing-and-slapping free-for-all.
He has now survived eight railroad-related arrests without a single charge sticking. That includes a 1994 arrest for admittedly "clocking" a barely 5-foot-tall female passenger in the head with his fist.
Other arrests were for allegedly screaming curses or tossing coffee at passengers, along with slapping cellphones out of commuters' hands.
"They're terrified of him," Assistant District Attorney Mary Weisgerber told the judge..
In the latest trial, three passengers and Clifford described how he screamed at 19-year-old dramatic-arts student Nicholas Bender, who'd been talking on his cellphone on the 8:03 a.m. from Long Beach.
Clifford waved his hand at the kid, snapped his fingers in the kid's face, and started cursing loudly, all agreed.
Clifford really blew a gasket - screaming "F- - -ing faggot!" - when the kid then suggested, comically, that Clifford himself not blow his nose and rustle his newspaper so loudly.
When fellow passenger Lydia Klein gave the kid her business card, offering to be a witness should he call the cops, Clifford slapped Klein's hand twice during a scuffle for the card, the witnesses agreed.
"He's the loudest person on the same train that he's trying to make quiet," Bender, who got to court via subway and skateboard, noted after testifying yesterday.
Clifford insists he's a hero, even if prosecutors say he's more Darth Vader than white knight.
"People will come up to me and wait till everyone else gets off and shake my hand or say 'God bless you,' " he testified.
"But your behavior is inappropriate," Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Larry Stephen interjected at that point.
"It becomes inappropriate when the people don't behave themselves," Clifford snapped.
Inappropriate, yes, but not illegal, the judge ruled.
"We're disappointed," an MTA spokesman said of the verdict. "We will not tolerate aggressive behavior by Mr. Clifford if he seeks to impose his own standards of conduct on others."
Additional reporting by Hasani Gittens and Patrick Gallahue