Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jeff Deskovic

New York State Should Pass A
Standardized Evidence Preservation Law

Many states, including New York, lack a standardized evidence preservation law which would require authorities to preserve evidence. us, for the wrongfully convicted, the first obstacle to proving innocence, if they are lucky enough that there is even DNA to test in their case, is whether or not the evidence has been preserved, or if it has been lost or destroyed. If it has been destroyed, then the wrongfully accused
remains in prison, unable to prove his innocence, and with no legal remedy. Recently, Colorado’s Gov. Bill Ritter signed a law mandating evidence preservation.

The details are taken from The Coloradoan:

A new state law prompted in part by the Timothy Masters case requires police and prosecutors to preserve DNA evidence for as long as convicts of serious crimes remain alive. The law also establishes a special commission to review and investigate the state’s evidence-preservation laws and policies, and report back to the Legislature. “This law is a major step forward for justice in Colorado,” said Rebecca Brown, a policy analyst with the Innocence Project, which lobbied for the bill. “This evidence can provide clear answers to lingering questions about innocence or guilt.”

Previously, there was no statewide law setting standards for preserving DNA evidence. e New York-based Innocence Project has
documented 216 DNA-based exonerations nationally, not including Masters.

Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said his office has had such a policy for at least the 37 years he’s been in that office. Colorado law permits convicts in serious cases to appeal their sentences at any time following their conviction, meaning prosecutors would need to hold onto the evidence until there’s no chance a defendant will appeal. “It’s been the procedure we’ve followed,” Abrahamson said. “It’s been in place as long as I’ve been with the office, and I’ve been with the office for 37 years.”

Masters was convicted in 1999 of the 1987 fatal stabbing and mutilation of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. His conviction, based largely on circumstantial evidence, was overturned in January after DNA recovered from the original crime scene was tested with new techniques,
revealing a new suspect. Following Masters’ conviction, police and prosecutors were under no legal obligation to preserve the clothing and items collected from Hettrick. at evidence was retained, however, by prosecutors and police, per the longstanding policy, and a DNA pro le was created by a Dutch lab at the request of Masters’ defense team, then confirmed by state experts.

The new law, House Bill 1397, requires DNA evidence to be preserved for the life of the defendant, in the case of an indeterminate sentence. DNA evidence collected during an investigation in which no charges are brought would be preserved for the length of the statute of limitations on the crime. The bill also sets out clear procedures for retaining and destroying evidence, and notifying defendants when police or prosecutors propose to destroy it. “This law will create an automatic duty to preserve evidence,” Brown said. “The retention of this evidence is critical to proving someone’s innocence.” State Rep. Randy Fischer of Fort Collins co-sponsored the legislation, and said Masters’ plight brought the situation to the Legislature’s attention.

Fischer said. “This bill was brought in part because of the Timothy Masters case. It’s a good step forward, and we have a responsibility ... to make sure the evidence is properly handled.” Brown said the lifetime retention policy for serious crimes is important because convicts
who serve out their prison sentence are often required, upon release, to register as sex offenders or remain on probation or parole. Retaining the evidence means those people can clear their names even after completing their prison sentence, she said. “The collateral consequences
of a conviction can be felt much longer than the actual incarceration,” she said.

Abrahamson, in light of Masters’ release, announced a review earlier this year of any serious convictions won by his office in which new DNA testing techniques could prove helpful. The review of such cases stands at about 20, and Abrahamson said his prosecutors continue
reviewing the files.”

The Demonstrated Need For A Standardized Evidence Preservation Law

There are many examples of the need for such a law. Marvin Anderson was exonerated in 2002 after serving 15 years in prison in Virginia, and 4 years on parole for a rape he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project accepted Anderson’s case in 1994, and initial searches for biological evidence were unsuccessful.

Anderson’s Innocence Project attorneys were nearly ready to give up hope when a swab from the rape kit was discovered in the files of a lab analyst so meticulous that she preserved samples in her notebooks – a practice that didn’t follow her lab’s policy but that eventually led to proof of Marvin Anderson’s innocence.

After Anderson was proven innocent and exonerated, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered the state lab to systematically test evidence from ten percent of more than 300 cases from the files of Mary Jane Burton, the analyst whose unorthodox policy led to Anderson’s exoneration. DNA tests were performed in 31 cases, including 29 where convictions had been secured, and two more men – Willie Davidson and Phillip Thurman – were exonerated. Burton’s files have now been involved in five exonerations in all, and a review of all of her files is ongoing.

New York has not been exempt in the lack of an evidence preservation law. It has been a factor in continuing injustices. Alan Newton served 21 years for a rape which he was exonerated of by DNA. According to The Innocence Project, Newton first requested post-conviction DNA testing on August 16, 1994. The Court denied his request on November 3, 1994, because the kit could not be located. In 2005, at the request of the Innocence Project, the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office asked the Property Clerk Division to conduct a search for the victim’s
rape kit, despite claims made by offi-cials at the Property Clerk’s Office over the course of eleven years that the kit could not be located and was presumed destroyed. In November 2005, the kit was found after a physical search of the evidence barrels at the Pearson Place, Queens warehouse. The rape kit was found in the same barrel that was indicated on the evidence voucher. This mishap resulted in Newton serving an
additional 12 years.

Anthony Capozzi was wrongfully convicted of rape and served 20 years before being exonerated by DNA. The following account of Capozzi’s case, and exoneration, are taken from The Buffalo News: “Capozzi went before the Parole Board five times, but his refusal to admit to the rapes had led to his being denied parole. The path to Capozzi’s vindication began as detectives on the Bike Path Rapist Task Force, who helped catch Sanchez, came across Capozzi’s case as they pored over paperwork from old rape investigations.

The case caught their attention because the rapes Capozzi was accused of committing occurred in Delaware Park in 1983 and 1984. The investigators already had conclusively linked Sanchez to two other rapes in the park: in 1981 and 1986. Detectives Dennis A. Delano and Lissa M. Redmond continued to look into the Capozzi case, even after Sanchez’s arrest, and began raising questions about whether the wrong man had gone to prison. Simultaneously, D’Agostino was working with District Attorney Clark to try to free his client. But time and again, the investigators, D’Agostino and Clark kept running into a wall — the shared belief that there was no physical evidence that could point to
Capozzi’s innocence or guilt. Capozzi, who resembled Sanchez at the time of the Delaware Park attacks, had been convicted based on the testimony of the rape victims, who had picked him out of police lineups. The best anyone hoped for Capozzi was for the Parole Board to
take into consideration the developments in the bike path investigation when Capozzi came up for parole next month. But that all changed on one snowy day shortly after Sanchez’s arrest as Evans Police Detective Lt. Samuel V. DeJohn drove in the Southtowns with Amherst Detective Eddie Monin. While not on the official task force, they, too, were investigating unsolved rapes with possible connections to the Bike Path Killer, including one in 1977 in Evans. DeJohn recalled lamenting to Monin that his department had thrown out physical evidence from that investigation — leaving no chance of testing for traces of DNA that could connect it to the Bike Path Killer.

Monin had a suggestion: “Did you ever think that maybe ECMC (Erie County Medical Center) retained some of that stuff? You never know.” DeJohn called the hospital and learned, much to his surprise, that the hospital did, in fact, have a huge catalog of glass slides, taken as part of standard rape kits performed on victims, that dated back from 1973 and went up to 2002. The hospital did not have a slide for the 1977 victim, DeJohn said. But DeJohn said he decided to e-mail the Deputy District Attorney to let him know — just in case he didn’t — that these slides existed. It appears that no one in local law enforcement had any idea that these slides existed, although there had been rumors
about the possibility of old evidence lingering at ECMC and other hospitals.

Clark had said that his office, and numerous other law enforcement agencies, had made inquiries to ECMC previously about old evidence but never got anywhere until a subpoena was served to the hospital last week. “We were chasing our tails,” Clark said. Clark said his of-fice made three or four attempts to obtain old evidence. D’Agostino said that it was his understanding that another lawyer, a friend of the Capozzi’s, also contacted ECMC. No one got any results, according to Clark, until his office made contact with Dr. James J. Woytash, who is both the head of pathology at ECMC and the chief medical examiner for Erie County. Slides containing biological material were taken in 1983, prior to DNA being available. DNA first began being performed sometime between 1987 and 1990. On a hunch, But time and again, the investigators,
D’Agostino and Clark kept running into a wall — the shared belief that there was no physical evidence that could point to Capozzi’s innocence or guilt.


A standardized evidence preservation system, as these cases clearly illustrate, is badly needed. In other, less critical areas, state government files records in an orderly fashion, in case they need to locate them for whatever reason at a later date, such as license plate numbers, birth certificates, and death certificates. With the stakes even higher, as in freedom, it should be even more paramount.

To me, it is outrageous that the inability to locate files in a prompt fashion, due to the lack of a filing system has resulted in the prolonged incarceration of innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted. This needs to be remedied at once. It’s a no-brainer.

Similarly DNA evidence should be maintained, so that it is possible for those who have been wrongfully convicted to prove their innocence. The Innocence Project has reported that out of the 10% of all serious felony cases that have DNA to test, they have had to close one third
of all such cases that they have reviewed, due to the evidence being either lost or missing. There is no telling how many of those people are innocent, and thanks to the often literal trashing of the truth, we will never know.

I believe that non-DNA evidence should also be preserved. One need look no further than the Anthony Di-Simone case in Westchester, in which 376 pages, and 52 boxes of exculpatory material showing that a person other than DiSimone committed the stabbing murder for which he spent 7 years in prison, had been purposely withheld from his defense attorney’s under then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, before having his case finally overturned by the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals for what the presiding judge described as the worst brady violation he had seen in 12 years on the bench.

It is a sad commentary that law enforcement agencies would not preserve the evidence and store it in an easily retrievable way on their own, without legislation. But given that, as case after case illustrates, police and prosecutorial misconduct and corruption, bad faith, tunnel vision, and the misguided effort to win and preserve convictions at all costs, even the sacrificing of the innocent, exists, it must be mandated.

It follows, as a logical extension of these laws, that if they are passed, they should be coupled with both financial and incarcerative penalties for prosecutors and police who willfully break the law. Otherwise, the law will have no teeth, and there will be nothing to give any rogue law enforcement personnel reason to pause. This legislation should not only cover the intentional failure to preserve evidence, it should also cover
medical examiner’s fabricating reports in order to tailor them to fit a prosecutor’s theory, the intentional withholding of exculpatory material, as well as both the intentional suborning of perjury and allowing a witness to commit perjury without correcting them while
knowing it is false.

In any other walk of life, if a citizen breaks the law, they are held to account to face the charges, and if found guilty, they are punished. Why should a prosecutor, or a policeman, not face penalties, merely because they draw their paychecks through law enforcement jobs? If anything, I think it should be even more serious when a prosecutor or policeman, entrusted to uphold the law, betrays that public trust. After all, in order for the law to be respected, it must apply equally, to everyone, regardless of their race, financial status, or job.
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Memorial Day Should Be Every Day

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~ Maya Angelou

Memorial Day was established to honor those Americans who have given their lives for our country. The holiday was first recognized in Waterloo, New York in 1866. Since 1971, it has been celebrated on the last Monday in May.

The number of Armed Forces killed or seriously wounded since the birth of this nation has totaled way over 1,000,000. For too many Americans, the recognition of the sacrifices our fellow citizens have made for us ends when we return to work the next day. However, many veterans among us face significant challenges every day in readjusting to society, even decades after their service. For those veterans in our midst, it is important that we remember them all year long. The Guardian spoke with local veterans and veterans groups to learn what issues they face.

Memorial Day Should Be Every Day David, a Vietnam vet who works with local veterans (his named has been changed at his request), stressed that all wars are basically the same, “Although the way wars are fought may change, you’re still a young person trying to kill a person you don’t even know.” He explained, “Trying to adjust to that when you come home is extremely difficult”.

David noted that current veterans returning home with injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan are often brain-damaged. They are now competing for nursing home space with aging veterans from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. “Fortunately there are lots of resources available to returning veterans in our area” David noted.

Westchester County is home to many agencies that cater to our local veterans. The County government operates a Veterans Service Agency (914-995-2145). According to County literature, the services offered by the agency “include free accredited representation, securing military and personnel records, obtaining medals and awards and assistance with veterans’ real property tax exemption filing and veterans’ medical ID card enrollment”. (Westchester County did not return our request for an interview for this article). Veterans can also turn to other local agencies for assistance. ere are dozens of veterans groups in our midst. Both New York State and the Federal government also have local centers, hospitals, and agencies dedicated to assisting our local veterans.

The New York State Legislature has announced several proposed changes to current laws governing education, health, taxes, jobs, and support to expand benefits offered to veterans in our state. The current State Budget already allows for veterans to receive a tuitionfree
education in the State and New York City University system. Other New York universities are following the State Legislature’s lead. Pace University announced on May 14, 2008 that it is establishing a “Veterans’ Tuition Scholarship Program” for veterans from all branches of the United States Armed Forces who served in Afghanistan and/or Iraq since September 11, 2001. According to Pace, “The new program grants eligible veterans a 50 percent tuition scholarship for new students in both undergraduate and graduate programs”. Veterans who apply
will also have their application fee waived. However, Pace Law School is not participating.

While able-bodied veterans can partake of these educational opportunities, many returning veterans have to overcome both physical and mental issues first. Senator Vincent Liebell, (Rep) 40th District, spoke to The Guardian about how Albany is addressing those issues. “We have just included $150,000 in the state budget to provide service dogs for our veterans, for example” Liebell said. “Washington does
not pay for this. These dogs provide an invaluable service. One local veteran lost both of his legs and is blind in one eye. His wife works and they have a young baby. The dog is trained to fetch the milk for the baby and to turn on the lights in a dark room since the vet is afraid of darkness. We have to provide these dogs to assist our veterans”, Liebell stressed.

According to Senator Liebell’s of-ficial biography, he is “a Navy veteran who has served on active duty, and rose to the rank of Captain in the United States Naval Reserve, commanding a unit based in upstate New York. In 2001, Senator Leibell was appointed to the rank of Rear Admiral in the New York Naval Militia”. Senator Liebell is the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security
and Military Affairs. He spoke to The Guardian at length on this topic.

“The VA (Veteran’s Administration) system has unbelievable facilities and incredibly dedicated doctors, nurses and workers” Liebell noted. “But it is a large bureaucratic system. We want New York State to be the leader in assisting our veterans. This is a bipartisan topic and has tremendous support.” Liebell noted that the major difference in the current conflicts are the injuries sustained by the soldiers but stressed, “The medical care our injured soldiers receive on the ground is amazing. They get medical care faster than previous conflicts and even faster
than someone back home in the United States. As a result, our soldiers are surviving at incredible rates. I am in awe of the work the doctors do”. Those soldiers, once they have recovered from their physical injuries, want to return to the work force and lead normal lives.

Liebell noted that the current returning veterans are a talented work pool and a “disciplined work force.” He explained, “We are expanding our educational programs to work with returning veterans. We have, in effect, put a New York State GI bill into this year’s budget. We want to keep our veterans in New York State. And we want our employers to hire them”.

NYS Senate Announces Bills To Help Veterans And Military Members

Members of the New York State Senate Majority Conference today introduced a package of legislation that would provide greater benefits and protections to New York’s military personnel.

Educational Opportunities for Veterans

This year’s state budget included $4.5 million to provide tuition assistance for veterans enrolled in an approved graduate, undergraduate and vocational program. Veterans’ tuition assistance was increased from $2,000 per year to $4,350, allowing veterans to attend a SUNY or SUNY school tuition-free. If a veteran chooses to attend a private school, they will receive the equivalent towards their education costs.

Veterans enrolled in part-time studies will receive a pro-rated amount. In addition, the enacted budget expanded the eligibility for this program to cover all veterans who served in the Armed Forces in any hostilities since 1961.

• S.5644: Extends the National Guard Scholarship Awards program to cover graduate education programs (Senator Leibell); and

• S.8264: Creates a Task Force to study the implementation of a program to allow SUNY and CUNY to accept military courses for college credit. (Senator Maltese) Health and Mental Health Initiatives

The Senate will act on legislation (S.5603-A, Senator Leibell) that would provide for State pick-up for costs for single or family co-pays for all active National Guard members enrolled in the TRI-CARE military health plan.

The 2008-09 state budget includes $250,000 to train mental health providers in veteran-specific mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse issues. (S.6799-A, Senator Fuschillo, Passed Senate 5/12/08)

The budget also included $150,000 for the Canines for Veterans Program, to provide working support dogs to combat veterans who are injured in the line of duty, a program initiated by the Senate Majority.

To enhance measures taken in this year’s budget, the Senate has also introduced legislation to:

Add two members to the mental health services council -- one from the Division of Veterans Affairs and one from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs (S.7183, Senator Morahan);

Extend the statue of limitations for actions involving exposure to Agent Orange for two years (S.7832, Senator Leibell).

Tax Credits and Employment

Included in the Senate’s veterans’ package is legislation that would:

Give preference to service disabled veteran-owned small businesses with respect to state contracts (S.4218, Senator Leibell, Passed Senate 2007); Provide a tax credit to businesses that hire disabled veterans and veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (S.3068, Senator Trunzo); Allow members of the armed forces to take special military make up civil service exams (S.7792, Senator Leibell).

Support for Military Families

The Senate package includes several bills to provide support to military families whose loved ones are serving in the armed forces, including legislation to:

Authorize State and Municipal employees to be paid for up to 45 days of military deployment each year, up from 30 days (S.7830A, Senator Leibell); Establish the New York military family relief fund to provide grants to military members who are called to active duty for more than 90 days and are stationed more than 300 miles from their primary residences (S.7643-A, Senator Larkin); Require the Division of Military and Naval Affairs and the Office of Children and Family Services to develop a day care assistance program when one or both parents who are members of the military are mobilized for active duty (S.4429, Senator Leibell);

Establish a personal income tax credit for the purchase of equipment used in the performance of duties (S.702, Senator Nozzolio); Provide recruiting incentive awards for New York National Guard and New York Air National Guard (S.3654-A, Senator Leibell); Prohibit courts from making determinations in child custody proceedings when a parent is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service
(S.5860, Senator Rath); Amend the domestic relations law to state that a parent’s military status shall not affect his or her parental rights during custody proceedings (S.5863, Senator DeFrancisco).

Honoring Our Veterans

In addition, the Senate plan includes components to honor our active military members, veterans, and their families. The package includes bills that would:

Authorize the use of State funds for the operation and maintenance of state veterans’ cemeteries (S.8010, Senator Leibell) Establish the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act (S.7879-A, Senator Leibell); and Establish May 11 as Military Spouses Day in New York State (S.6844, Senator DeFrancisco, passed Senate 3/18/08).

In addition to the legislation announced today, the Senate yesterday passed three bills that would: Exempt military personnel serving in a combat zone from income tax on compensation for their service (S.3574-A, Senator Lanza); Provide a United States burial flag for veterans of the New York Guard (S.7515, Senator Saland); and Allow the Defense Department 214 as proof of service for Cold War veterans applying for a real property tax exemption (S.6697, Senator Maziarz).

Liebell noted, “The major difference in the current conflicts is that many vets are in both theaters (Iraq and Afghanistan) and are rotating all over. Plus they are serving multiple tours of duty”. This difference presents a new set of challenges for the mental health providers in the Veterans Administration facilities. Dr. Ken Reinhard, of the F.D.R. VA Hospital in Montrose, spoke to The Guardian about the challenges
these veterans face. “The biggest dif-ficulty for our newest veterans is they come home, readjust to living their normal lives, and then they are now called back to serve again. These veterans can’t lose their hyper-vigilance and their heightened sense of their environment since they never know when they will be recalled. It’s harder for them to readjust to normal life”.

Dr. Reinhard is a clinical psychologist and has worked with veterans for over 30 years. The two greatest issues he deals with are combat issues and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder affects veterans of all con-flicts, and is now appearing even in veterans
of World War II. Dr. Reinhard, along with other VA psychologists, has reported the unique sequence of events that have led to the recent developments of PTSD in WWII vets: “Many of these veterans have possibly been suffering PTSD since their return home in the 1940s and ‘50s….

These are tough children of the Great Depression, who went to war, won it and came home to build fresh lives. They have known terrible privation and horrific violence, but learned they couldn’t afford to wallow in their emotions. Tears wouldn’t put food on the table or knock
out the machine gun killing their friends. So they swallowed their feelings, got the job done and moved on. But now all of the hurdles have been cleared. They’ve retired and are no longer able to keep their minds occupied by working 15 hours a day. There’s time to remember, and all those feelings they swallowed have started to bubble back up again, primed by incessant WWII tributes and the deaths of wives, siblings
and friends that remind them of other loved ones lost years ago”.

Reinhard noted that all veterans have similar challenges. “They are all young men going into situations away from home facing situations that would be traumatic for anybody. In the current conflicts, however, they are also dealing with explosive devices that can go off at any time. Just driving down the road is hazardous. That makes adjusting to normal life even harder”. Yet Reinhard noted the differences for each
group of returning veterans: “In WWI and WWII, everybody went to war and they had a sense of direction. In Korea it was less so since it was ‘not a war’. Vietnam veterans had to reintegrate into a society that blamed them. We’ve learned a lot from Korea and Vietnam on how to help and treat our veterans.” Reinhard noted that the difficulty for most veterans is handling the personal relationships around them. “The VA groups help them to connect with others who have similar experiences. We help them normalize their feelings so they can have normal relationships. Our first step is to help our vets feel accepted in the VA – we just try to help them feel good. Then we help them adjust.” He stressed, “That adjustment can be difficult for young veterans who return to a world that is moving very fast. They find it hard to relate and are in danger of anesthetizing themselves. So we help them to understand that being a combat vet is only one part of their lives. It colors your life, but they can blend it in. They need to reframe where they’ve been”.

Betty Gilmore runs several outpatient programs for the VA in Montrose including their homeless and substance abuse programs. “When it comes to PTSD we are trying to intervene a lot sooner” Gilmore noted. “The VA is mustering a lot of resources for our returning veterans. These young people want to return to their lives. We offer them a variety of services to assist them”. The VA services include community
based health clinics, subsidized housing and support housing groups, and supervised residences for the mentally ill. She pointed out, “The Vietnam vets had to go forward without help and many developed substance abuse problems. These vets were drafted and often went into war with existing problems, problems that were exacerbated by the war. But these older vets are now taking on a supportive/protective role
with our recent returning vets. They are mentoring them to ‘stick with it’ and get the help they need”. That help is critical. About 1/3 of
all the homeless in our society are veterans – a total of over 194,000 nationally.

Gilmore estimates that there are about 3,500 local veterans that have experienced homelessness at some point. “Many are helped and discharged. Some do well and then regress. There are as many different stories as there are veterans. But no matter how many times they fall down, they want to put their lives back in order”. Gilmore noted that the “signature injury of this conflict has been the traumatic brain injury. The nature of the troops and their composition has also changed the nature of the VA’s programs. “Over 10% of our troops are now women.
It is not uncommon for both parents to be called up. That presents unique challenges”. Gilmore noted. “Also, in prior wars, troops were often set to war as part of a base. The current troops are Reservists and National Guard Units”. The Reservists and Guards face difficulties
that regular military do not. “If you are regular military, you have a home base to return to” Gilmore said. “That base will have a network of programs to assist you upon your return and to assist your family while you are on duty. You will be surrounded by people with similar
experiences who understand you. As regular army, you also know that serving is your life – it is your job. The reservists are uprooted from their lives. And when they return home, they are often the only returning veteran in their communities. It can be particularly lonely.”

Both Gilmore and Dr. Reinhard repeatedly stressed that it was a privilege for them to serve in the VA. “A lot of people don’t understand that it’s a huge sacrifice just being there (in Iraq/Afghanistan)” Reinhard stressed. “These vets give up their daily lives for us. We should take a moment to reflect on how much our veterans have sacrificed for us in our place. For any of us who have been spared that, we should ask ‘what’s the price on that’?” It’s a question for all of us to ask every day of the year.
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Yonkers City Council President Lesnick Reaches
Out For One More Democratic Councilperson
Lesnick Declares The “Drive For Five” Starts Right Now

Too often, the four Democrats on the Yonkers City Council have passed progressive legislation like the Living Wage Bill, but can’t muster a fifth vote to override a mayoral veto. Since three current council members are term limited -- Annabi (D-2nd), McLaughlin (R-4th) and Barbato (R-6th)-- we must find good Democrats to run in those districts in 2009. We need to retain the 2nd District and capture one of the
other seats to get five Democrats on the Council. I will be seeking the Democratic designation and nomination for reelection to a second term as Council President in 2009.

Th e Democrats we nominate in 2009 will be designated by the Yonkers Democratic City Committee, which consists of two District Leaders
selected from each Election District (ED) City-wide. These District Leaders are chosen in the “even” years for a 2-year term and will be designated this month so that they can carry petitions starting June 3, 2008 for all of our candidates who run this November.

Any registered Democrat from Yonkers can run to be a District Leader in the Assembly District in which he/she resides. While we try
to put district leaders in the ED in which they live, sometimes it is necessary to shift people to other districts if there are more than two interested Democrats in any particular ED.

It is possible to have a Democratic primary in contested EDs, but we try to coordinate with the party leadership to avoid conflicts. The responsibilities of a District Leader are to help qualify the candidates by carrying petitions each year to help designate candidates at conventions. They then support the candidates and the Party by volunteering on campaigns and/or contributing financially. As with anything else -- the more you put in to it the more you get out of it.

I need your help. If you are a registered Democrat and would like to participate in the process by serving as a member of the Yonkers Democratic City Committee, please email back with your address and contact information.

If you are already a District Leader, I thank you. If you would like to register to vote or become a Democrat, please let me know and
contact the Board or Elections at 914-995-5700 for a voter registration form or click here.

With all of the enthusiasm that the Democratic Presidential candidates are generating this year, NOW is to time to strengthen our party
with new voters and new activists. The “Drive for Five” starts right now! Please join me.


Chuck Lesnick,
Yonkers City Council President

Janet Difiore.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Court Decision Only The Beginning
Of What Is Needed In Harrison

Last Tuesday, May 20, Harrison Police Officer Ralph Tancredi, under suspension for several months, as the result of retaliatory charges lodged by Chief David Hall and Captain Anthony Marraccini, appeared before State Supreme Court Justice Sam Walker in Westchester
County Court, having been falsely charged by the Westchester District Attorney with Harassment and Domestic Violence. Those allegations stemmed from an incident involving his former girlfriend, Sofia Saenz, and another male who, had in fact, menaced and threatened Tancredi with a baseball bat.

It was understood that this court appearance would either result in the dismissal of the charges brought by the DA’s Office or the commencement of a trial, depending upon Ms. Saenz’ willingness to testify for the Prosecution. Some months earlier, Saenz had retained the same attorney as Of-ficer Tancredi, Jonathan Lovett, bringing charges in Federal Court against the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, and Assistant District Attorney Barbara Egenhauser, alleging Harassment and Attempted Subornation of Perjury in their effort to get her to testify falsely against Officer Tancredi.

The case had become one of the more obvious examples of the injustice typically meted out to rank and file police officers by the
Westchester District Attorney, beholden as she is to the top brass in many of the 44 police departments across the County for their inappropriate outspoken endorsements and substantial financial campaign contributions. Harrison Police Chief Hall had led a rally for Janet DiFiore at the Polish Center in Yonkers just days before the election of 2005, and Captain Marraccini contributed $3,000 to her campaign.

When Officer Tancredi, then President of the Harrison PBA, and several members, went to the District Attorney and filed a complaint regarding Chief Hall’s theft and forgery of a check written to the PBA in the amount of $2,500, the complaint was ignored, as was their complaint over Hall’s, and Marraccini’s, installation of audio and video recording equipment in the locker room at Harrison Police Headquarters. Yet, the full resources of the DA’s Office were put to work, aiding and abetting the retaliatory, bogus charges levelled
against Tancredi by those same high-ranking offenders.

DiFiore’s subordinate, ADA Barbara Egenhauser, would stop at nothing, not even Subornation of Perjury, in the effort to hurt Tancredi.
Present in the Court last Tuesday, with Tancredi, were PBA Attorney Gustav Vila and White Plains Civil Rights Attorney Jonathan Lovett. Sofia Saenz, accompanied by her mother, was present, as well as Attorney Pam Howard, of My Sister’s Place, who had been assigned by the Judge several weeks earlier to inform Saenz of her rights and options, and to report her intentions with regard to her willingness to testify
as a Prosecution witness, to the Court. Judge Walker opened the session, inquiring if the Defense was ready, and was answered, “Ready.”

He then turned to ADA Egenhauser, who responded, “Ready, Your Honor, with an Application.” Having appointed Attorney Howard to represent Sofia Saenz, Walker stated, “Ms. Howard, please come forward.” Howard, after stepping forward and identifying herself, told the Judge, “I can assure the Court she wishes to assert her Fifth Amendment rights. I can state that unequivocally. She unequivocally intends to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights.” On the heels of that statement, Walker turned to ADA Egenhauser, asking, “Would you accept Ms. Howard’s representation?” Egenhauser responded, “I accept Ms. Howard’s statement, but I would prefer, in the interest of justice, if Ms. Saenz were sworn in and speaks for herself.”

At that point, Walker called Sofia Saenz forward, and she was sworn in. Walker asked, “Ms. Saenz, is it your intention to take the Fifth Amendment if questioned in this matter?”

Saenz: “Yes, Your Honor.”

Egenhauser: “I would say Ms. Saenz is essential to going forward with this case, both as a witness and as a complainant. The People
would not oppose a dismissal of the charges by the Court.”

Judge Walker then announced, “All charges are dismissed against Mr. Tancredi. The proceedings are sealed and bail is exonerated.”
Upon leaving the courtroom, Officer Tancredi, noticed about ten Harrison police officers who had been summoned to Court by the DA’s Office to testify in the event the trial had gone forward. Walking over to them, he made a point of saying ‘hello’ and shaking the hand of each and every officer in an obvious gesture of comaraderie.

At a later press conference, when asked, “How do you feel about the outcome?” Tancredi summarized his feelings, saying, “I feel happy
today, especially as a police officer, particularly for my brother and sister officers who have also been subjected to harassment.”

PBA Attorney Gustav Vila expressed similar sentiments, stating, “We are moving toward progress in Harrison, not only for police officers,
but for the citizens. Imagine if they could do this to one of their own?” However, Sofia Saenz expressed her ongoing concerns, stating, “I
just want to say I’m extremely afraid of what they may do to me; the police and District Attorney, for not testifying as they wanted me to.”

Attorney Jonathan Lovett explained the positive implications of the dismissal, by Judge Walker, with respect to Officer Tancredi’s action against Hall and Marraccini in Federal Court, as well as Sofia Saenz’ Federal Court action against the District Attorney’s Office and the Harrison Police, and also with respect to the actions by the Harrison Police Benevolent Association regarding the $2,500 misappropriated
check by Hall, and the installation of audio and video recording devices in the locker room at Police Headquarters.

The Guardian has described Harrison as a town under siege by its police department, a department essentially controlled by Captain Anthony Marraccini, who manipulates and abuses the human and material resources of the department in furtherance of his numerous,
conflicting enterprises and unlawful activities. Chief Hall, who lately has taken to whining about his “35 years of public service,” is,
in effect, little more than a willing front man for Marriccini.

Clearly, the dismissal of the bogus case against Officer Tancredi represents a serious blow to Marraccini, and those, including Hall, who are under his influence and control. However, the recent failure by the Town Board, and particularly Supervisor Joan Walsh, to accept
and assert their vested authority as Police Commissioners, particularly in light of the long history and extent of Marraccini’s unlawful, often
violent, activities demands intervention by the FBI.

Janet Difiore.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Pleasantville Police Chief Chiarlitti Should Think Again

We think there are few spectacles more pathetic than public officials so fearful of the truth, so blindly loyal to oppressive authority, that they eagerly sacri-fice rank and file subordinates, worthy, thoughtful soldiers, in their panic to save their own skin. Such a slug is Police Chief Chiarlitti, obviously so worried about the possible consequences to himself, if he did not punish Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura, a 27-year police veteran, for his truthful comments to a newspaper reporter regarding the handling of a career criminal by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

What should rank and file police, under such a chief, conclude? Many things, none of them good. For one thing, Chiarlitti is no leader. He has demonstrated by his actions that he will sell out even one of his most highly regarded officers, a man with a distinguished record over nearly three decades. Furthermore, he has made it clear that he expects his officers to check their intelligence and their Constitutional rights at the door, once having joined his department.

Frankly, We wonder what was so inappropriate in Officer Bonura’s expression of disappointment with the decision of the DA’s Office to accept a very soft sentence from a career criminal whose rap sheet included drug, assault, weapons, and burglary convictions, and numerous arrests, given the fact that prosecutors had indicated they would be sending Kahill Gonzalez away for at least three years. Bonura, was, after all, the Department’s Public Relations Officer, someone presumably expected to communicate with press and media.

We note the position was Public Relations, not Public Information. The two are not synonymous, nor mutually exclusive. In any case, what was Chiarlitti so concerned about? Was he fearful of reprisal against himself, against his Department, by a District Attorney who has already established a willingness to play politics with any number of Westchester police departments; Harrison, White Plains, Mount Kisco, Bedford, and Yonkers, to name just a few.

Janet DiFiore, in two and a half years in office, has repeatedly demonstrated her propensity not only to lie herself, but also to send her assistants into federal courts to lie in the faces of appellate panels; as was the case with ADA Valerie Livingston, of her Appeals Bureau, who not only lied to District Court Judge Brieant, but also to a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals presided over by Judge Calabresi in her effort to keep concealed 376 pages, 52 boxes, and miles of audio tape, all of which established the innocence of Anthony DiSimone who DiFiore knew, right along, was innocent of the murder of Louis Balancio.

And, just because she entered into a conspiracy with Chief Dave Hall and Captain Anthony Marraccini of the Harrison Police Department to help them retaliate against a 10-year veteran police officer, Ralph Tancredi, and other rank and file of-ficers, obviously doesn’t guarantee to Chiarlitti that DiFiore won’t come after him for the critical, but truthful, comments of his Detective Sergeant.

Finally, police chiefs, the likes of Chiarlitti, in Our opinion, strengthen the argument for doing away with so many separate police departments, and establishing one County-wide department, as in Nassau County. There are just “too many Chiefs and not enough Indians”.

Our Readers Respond...

Aghast At The Price Of Gas

Dear Editor:

When is this nonsense going to end? Now that the price of gas has gone above $4 a gallon, there’s talk about it going to $5 in the very near future. For crying out loud, give us a chance to adjust to the $4 price before hitting us with more bad news.

I’m a regular commuter, drive about 70 miles a day to and from work, five days a week, and I’ve had it with the rising cost of gas. But the only thing anyone can do, besides boycott the oil industry, is just shrug their shoulders, take the rising gas prices in stride, and pray to whomever they pray to that our elected officials will come to their senses and do whatever needs to be done to end this insanity (short of invading the Middle East and forcibly seizing their oil reserves. Oh, we’re already there. Never mind.). After all, the purpose of government is not only to govern, but fulfill the needs of the general public. I’m afraid, though, the time will soon come when the people will have had enough.

I heard on the radio this morning on my way in to work that the oil companies were complaining their profits are small. Small? With crude something like $134 a barrel, the highest it’s ever been, and the steadily rising gas prices (the $5-per-gallon cost I mentioned above will surely be here before you know it), I find that “small profit” complaint hard to believe.

And what about our oh, so, illustrious President Bush? When he was in the Middle East he supposedly inquired about the Saudis increasing their oil production. They refused. The nerve! We did them a huge favor by getting Saddam out of Iraq and this is how they pay us back? The namby-pamby should have quietly told them that unless they increase production and lower the price-per-barrel, we’ll ignore their cries for help when and if Iran comes after them. There was talk a few weeks ago about temporarily suspending the federal gas tax, at least for the summer, but while that sounded like a good idea, it wasn’t. Imagine, come Labor Day, when the tax is reinstated. By that time everyone would have gotten used to the “lower” prices (provided they haven’t risen steadily by then) and then, suddenly, the price again jumps when the “tax holiday” is over. Imagine the reaction.

Well, I guess it’s time to go back to the old horse n’ buggy. But, wait, if we do that, I’m sure the price of hay and oats and whatever else they
feed horses with will skyrocket.


Reflecting On The Paterson Opportunity

Dear Editor:

Some critics see Governor David Paterson’s victory as being a default. I see it as being a gift from God to save the residents of this great state from the shoot-first ask- questions-later peace officers who are paid with our tax dollars to protect and serve the many communities across New York. By passing legislation requiring that one of every two officers carry stun guns, tasers, and/or bean bag or rubber bullets; and that they must first use them to gain control or protect themselves and the citizenry, and if they don’t they will be imprisoned for failing to do the first directive.

I went to Albany to see Governor Paterson sworn in because I couldn’t believe that a man of African and Irish ancestry was really going to be the new governor of New York, a governor who will finally listen, to hear, the cries for justice from his state residents. On the drive home I kept asking myself why him God? And why in New York State now? I know in my heart that whether Governor Paterson does good or great works while in office, the wolves surrounding him will try to get rid of him next term, or he himself may want out. But why him and why now remained unanswered.

The answer came to me while talking on the phone with my friend about the march across the Brooklyn Bridge, in response to the judge’s decision freeing the public servants who shot Sean Bell 50 times. I told my friend I’m tired of all this marching when the police shoot up state residents, but not doing anything legislatively to stop it. In answer to my friend’s question of what should be done, I said make the community peace officers use less lethal means to bring situations under control. Like shocking them, or hitting with a few rubber bullets or bean bags, instead of shoot first because ‘dead men tell no tales’, followed by million dollar law suits, just for another killing to come about a
few years down the road.

Jokingly my friend said that when they pump him full of bullets his wife has been directed to sue for everything. He laughed. I didn’t. I was wondering what he would do to get the police’s attention. Reading my silence as confusion to his remark, he asked if he’d told me he was
a diabetic. I answered he did. He told me that sometimes he has to keep candy in his pockets and in the car because when his sugar level drops he becomes disoriented. He asked me to imagine him being pulled over by the police because his sugar has dropped and he needs more candy then he has. In my mind I saw him weaving all across the road, with a single minded mission to get something sweet to get his sugar back up, and suddenly I felt relieved that the police would stop him before he kills himself or someone else.

I responded that if the officer pulled him off the road the officer would just be doing his job. My friend agreed and rebutted, but when I can’t
get out of the car fast enough or get on that ground fast enough. I interrupted him by saying, “And you’d be made into Swiss cheese” because
I didn’t want him to say it. We both laughed. He continued by telling me not to worry cause he doesn’t do too much driving, but if he were made into Swiss cheese, his wife would be rich. Angrily, I responded by asking him what about his friends? All we’ll have is memories.

After that conversation, my friend made contact with a couple of members of the Brooklyn Bridge marchers. He said they agreed with
the idea of getting laws passed to stop the police from shooting first and that I, since it is my idea should call the Brooklyn Bridge Marchers office and speak with the name my friend gave me. I called and asked for the named person. Well, all I could say is, after speaking with this angry man who informed me that the idea of making laws to have the police carry stun guns and rubber bullets was tried before and that it never became law, in other words I didn’t invent the wheel. I responded by saying New York State didn’t have David Paterson as governor then, and I believe he would be honored to be remembered as the governor who put an end to out of control public servants who shoot down residents in the street, in other words a Saver of lives. The angry office worker told me to put something in writing. After hanging up the
phone, I realized that getting shot many times by cops is almost like winning the lottery. The winners of the six numbers state lottery gets
to spend the money whereas the cop killing lottery only the victim’s family gets to spend the money.

I’m asking the readers of The Westchester Guardian to please email the governor and your state representatives and ask them to move legislation to have peace of-ficers trained to use stun guns, tasers, bean bags, rubber bullets first, and make it so that if they don’t do
peace first, they’ll do some hard time like any other convicted killer. Let’s not only pass laws to get the guns out of teenagers’ hands, let’s
do the same for the true protectors of our community. I’m sure they want to find another way to bring a situation under control than killing
the innocent. Remember guns don’t kill people; people in and out of uniform kill people.

Vicki Camacho, Mount Vernon

Janet Difiore/Joe Spiezio.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Developer “Buddy” Of Mayor Amicone Dragged
Into Federal Court For Serious Labor Violations

Last Thursday, May 22, Attorney Jonathan Lovett, accompanied by 20 Latino clients, held a press conference on the plaza in front of the United States District Courthouse in White Plains following the filing of a summons and complaint against developer Joseph Spiezio and his accountant and bookkeeper, accusing the three of enforcing a conspiratorial agreement in violation of his clients’ rights under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and New York State Labor Law.

Specifically, Spiezio is accused of numerous intentional unlawful acts including violation of Hours And Wages Laws, failing to pay overtime wages “for work performed in excess of 40 hours per week,” and “periodically requiring work on Sundays without any compensation at all.” More egregious, Spiezio unlawfully appropriated, in cash, for his own benefit, 20 percent of the wages paid to all of more than 40 Latino manual laborers and carpenters on the false representation that it was for “taxes to be withheld and paid by Defendants to federal, state
and Yonkers tax authorities.” In actuality, beginning in 2000 and over a period of several years, the money was stolen and not paid to any taxing authority.

Asked why the Plaintiffs did not complain sooner, Attorney Lovett indicated that former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was notified, and “couldn’t care less,” and that Janet DiFiore refused to act as well. Asked what evidence he had, given the fact that the Plaintiffs were paid in cash, Lovett responded, “We have copies of a number of their payroll sheets.”

The 20 Plaintiffs who filed on Thursday come originally from Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador. Lovett told reporters, “They were referred to as Spics, and treated like garbage.” He indicated that there are 20 more Plaintiffs who will also be filing against Spiezio soon.

Spiezio, who has enjoyed a “very cozy relationship” with Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone, and special treatment from his administration, is known to have received an $800,000 “loan” from the City which he has failed to repay.

Court Report PG 1 -

Court Report PG 2 -

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jeff Deskovic

An Emotional Night At The Innocence
Project’s Second Annual Gala Dinner

On May 7, 2008, The Innocence Project held its second annual fundraising Gala Dinner. The Innocence Project is a not-for-profit organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners in those cases in which DNA testing can prove innocence. They also work towards bringing about legislative changes to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. There have been 215 people across the country who have been exonerated through DNA evidence. Over 150 of those cases were personally worked on by The Innocence Project.

Such work, of course, requires money. The attorneys and other staff members must be paid a salary in order to focus full-time on the cases, as do the people who work on policy. Beyond that, there is other overhead, and other costs of litigation. Additionally, as a tactic that has sometimes worked in overcoming prosecutorial objections to the testing based on cost, The Innocence Project also offers to pay for the

The focus of the evening was to show previous donors the result of their work, with the purpose of encouraging them to continue making contributions, while at the same time raising money to cover the event. Celebrated author John Grisham, who is also an attorney, was the guest of honor. The evening was billed as a “Celebration of Justice and Freedom.”

Grisham had written a book entitled “The Innocent Man”, which was the story of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder in Oklahoma. The book has been responsible for raising the awareness of countless people across the country about wrongful convictions. In addition, Grisham serves on the board of directors of The Innocence Project, and has helped raised funds for the Mississippi Innocence Project. He has also lectured about wrongful convictions around the country.

Grisham was invited to speak. He spoke of how he came to write the book, and mentioned that he had read the following obituary in The
New York Times, written by Jim Dwyer:

Ronald Williamson, Freed From Death Row,
Dies at 51
Published: December 9, 2004

Ronald Keith Williamson, who left his small town in Oklahoma as a high school baseball star with hopes of a Major League career but was
later sent to death row and came within five days of execution for a murder he did not commit, died on Saturday at a nursing home near Tulsa.
He was 51. The cause was cirrhosis of the liver, which he learned he had six weeks ago, his sister Annette Hudson said. Mr. Williamson’s early life appeared charmed. As a pitcher and catcher in Ada, he twice led his high school teams to the championship of a state where another native son, Mickey Mantle, enjoyed the status of near deity.

The Oakland Athletics picked Mr. Williamson in the second round of the 1971 amateur draft. After six years in the minor leagues, Mr. Williamson saw his career end because of arm injuries. He returned to Oklahoma and worked at a sales job, but began to show signs of a mental illness that was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. His marriage, to a former Miss Ada, broke up. He returned to his mother’s home and slept 20 hours a day on the couch, Ms. Hudson said, afraid of his old bedroom. In late 1982, a waitress, Debbie Sue Carter, 21, was found raped and killed in her apartment in Ada. The case remained open until 1987, when a woman who had been arrested for passing bad
checks told the police that she had heard another prisoner discussing the killing. The man, she said, was Mr. Williamson, who had been in the jail for kiting checks.

Mr. Williamson was charged with the killing. So was a second man, Dennis Fritz, a high school science teacher who had been one of Mr. Williamson’s few friends when he returned to town a er his baseball career. The evidence, the authorities said, consisted of 17 hairs that matched those of Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz, and the account provided by the woman who said she had heard Mr. Williamson confess.

A second jailhouse informer later stepped forward to buttress the case against Mr. Fritz. Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz were tried separately and found guilty. Mr. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison, and Mr. Williamson - who had not received his psychiatric medicines for months before the trial and shouted angrily at the prosecution witnesses - was sentenced to die. Mr. Williamson later said the prison guards taunted him over an intercom about Ms. Carter’s murder. In September 1994, when all of his state appeals had been exhausted, he was taken to the warden’s office and told that he would be executed on Sept. 24. He recalled filling out a form that directed his body to be returned to his sister for burial. A team of appellate lawyers, however, sought a writ of habeas corpus from Judge Frank H. Seay of Federal District Court, arguing that Mr. Williamson had not been competent to stand trial and that his lawyer had not effectively challenged the hair evidence or sought other suspects.

Judge Seay granted a stay five days before Mr. Williamson was scheduled to die. In 1998, lawyers from the Innocence Project at the Benjamin C. Cardozo School of Law in New York arranged DNA tests for Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz. They showed that neither man had been the source of the semen or hair collected from the victim’s body. Another man, Glen D. Gore, has since been convicted of the killing and sentenced to die for it. Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz were freed in April 1999. On a visit that spring to New York, they took a tour of
Yankee Stadium, and Mr. Williamson wandered along the sparkling outfield grass. “I just got a taste of how much fun they were having up here,” he said. Besides Ms. Hudson, another sister, Renee Simmons of Allen, Tex., survives.

The two men later won settlements for their convictions. But Mr. Williamson continued to be troubled by his psychiatric problems, Ms. Hudson said. Last year, however, he participated in a one-mile march, making an appeal to the governor of Illinois to commute the sentences
of death row prisoners in that state. That obituary led Grisham to learn more and more about Williamson and Fritz’s case, and eventually he decided to write the book.

Grisham recounted how Williamson had suffered on death row: struggling with mental illness and being given improper medication, pulling
his own hair out as well as his teeth. He mentioned how the guards had tortured him as well, speaking to him through an intercom, pretending to be the victim and how he would pay for the crime. Further, the author stated that Williamson, who died from cirrhosis of the liver, which went untreated in prison.

He then spoke a little bit about the death penalty, and how it poses the danger of executing innocent people, and why that was a reason to do away with it. He said that one day DNA testing would prove that an innocent person had been executed; though he was unsure of the ultimate impact of that on the whole death penalty debate, however he seemed to be saying that that element was probably the best shot at
ending the death penalty, and that he would want to write a book on that case if and when it occurred.

Of course, the late Ron Williamson, and his surviving co-defendant Dennis Fritz, who was, in fact, in attendance at the Gala, were not the only people horrifically impacted by their wrongful convictions. I cannot imagine what Renee Simmons and Annette Hudson, Ron Williamson’s sisters, went through. Grisham mentioned that when Williamson was within days of being executed, the family was called by the prison and asked what they wanted to do with the body. Both Simmons and Hudson were in attendance.

Christy Sheppard, the sister of Debra Sue Carter, the murder victim that Williamson and Fritz were wrongfully convicted for killing, also had her life changed forever. She was only eight years old when the crime happened, and she grew up believing that Williamson and Fritz were guilty. Grisham mentioned that it had shattered their family. Carter’s family believed they could finally move forward knowing that the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Trying to triumph over the tragedy, Sheppard became part of a growing and critical component of the innocence movement: crime victims and their families who want to address and prevent wrongful convictions. Working with the Innocence Project and local advocates for the past two years, Sheppard has campaigned for an Oklahoma innocence commission, an independent entity with members from all areas of
the criminal justice system that investigates previous wrongful convictions and suggests reforms to prevent them. Sheppard has talked with legislators and the public about wrongful convictions and the need for a state commission. “When I learned about this innocence commission, all the stars aligned, and I knew that’s what needed to be done,” Sheppard said. When Curtis McCarty of Oklahoma was exonerated in
May, Sheppard’s family joined McCarty’s parents and others at a press conference to renew the call for an innocence commission.

The gala dinner was a very emotional experience for me. As I watched each exoneree mention their name along with the amount of time that they served, I understood, as no one, other than an exoneree, could, the suffering that wrongful incarceration wreaks on a person. I realized that in some ways each person’s traumatic time in prison was different, and that the particular horrors may differ, along with the types of mistreatment. Yet there are a lot of similarities that are true across the spectrum, and certainly the experience of being wrongfully imprisoned
puts people in a much better vantage point from which to understand the havoc that it wreaks.

With each mention of a name, along with the amount of time served, thoughts raced through my mind of just what that incarceration and all of its effects entailed. Then, I tried to imagine going through it with that length of time. I kept in mind as well that many had experiences worse than mine. Some had been on death row, while others were housed in prisons in other states that were much worse than the horrible
ones in New York.

I heard the names of Alan Newton, who served 21 years in New York for rape; Barry Gibbs, who served 19 years for murder in New York; Scott Fappiano, who served 21 years in New York for rape, sodomy, burglary, and sexual abuse; Roy Brown, who served 15 years for murder in New York; David Shephard, who served 9 ½ years in New Jersey for rape, robbery, weapons violations, and terrorist threats; Chris Conover, who served 18 years in North Carolina; Kennedy Brewer, who had been sentenced to death and served 15 years in Mississippi; Dennis Fritz, who served 12 years for murder in Oklahoma; Jerry Miller, who served 24 ½ years in Illinois for kidnapping, rape, and robbery; James Tillman, who served 16 ½ years for sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, assault, and larceny in Connecticut; Calvin Johnson, who served 15 ½ years for rape, aggravated sodomy, and burglary in Georgia.

The sight of Fritz on stage, with Williamson’s sisters, along with Sheppard, all in solidarity, was so powerful that I teared up a bit. When it was my turn to speak, I quickly mentioned that from 17-years of age, I served 16 years in New York for a murder and rape which DNA cleared me of. I also mentioned obtaining my B.A. in Behavioral Science, and of my dream of becoming an attorney and working to exonerate others who have been wrongfully convicted. The exonerees had all been allotted 30 seconds in which to speak, yet I felt that this was an opportunity to try to bring awareness to a problem that is very often overlooked amidst all of the justifiable attention paid to wrongful convictions and exonerations: the financial difficulties in being able to reintegrate.

Much as I had done in prior interviews with the media, I decided to sacrifice personal privacy by using myself as an example of a problem, in order to call attention to it, with the hope that there would be changes, or at the very least that I would get the conversation started. I mentioned that The Innocence Project has a program by which they collect donations, and spend them on the exonerees on an emergency basis. These funds had been paying the costs of my phone, mental health services, my car insurance, as well as my internet connection, but that these funds would be cut off in a few months, due to my reaching the cap of what they will allocate to each wrongfully convicted person.

Despite making money by speaking and writing articles, I would be unable to absorb these additional costs, yet I would need these services just as much as before. Elaborating further, I mentioned that when I had tried to get consistent work in addition to these, not having the work experience, I have been unable to compete with others my age group, due to what happened to me, and thus financial offers have been dead end jobs paying next to nothing. I also referenced other exonerees who would be facing similar issues. Many came up to me afterwards and said that they had been moved. Whether or not that translates into donors making more contributions to the emergency fund or not, remains to be seen. But despite feeling inadequate and somewhat embarrassed at not being able to thus far be on an even par with others my age who had never been wrongfully convicted, I felt that I had to at least try.
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

What To Do About Rising Gas Prices

Oil prices have reached record levels for this country in recent weeks. It’s now not uncommon to see prices of over $4 for a gallon of gas at local stations. What is unusual is why the price of gasoline has risen to begin with. Oil prices are set on the open market globally, in much the same way as corporate stock prices are determined on the stock exchange. Part of the reason for the increase in oil prices is the value of the dollar which has been falling for the past several years. A cheaper dollar has made United States-based oil contracts appealing to foreign investors who are snatching oil contracts up placing these contracts out of American hands. Oil contracts are also more appealing to investors who are avoiding the turbulence in the current stock market. is sudden demand for oil from new sources has pushed up prices and taken the oil away from our country.

Supplies of natural gas are also being depleted as our country turns from coal as a source of heating fuel. is depletion of our natural gas supplies has lead to a further demand for oil, pushing the price of gasoline even higher. Natural disasters worldwide also impact local prices. The recent earthquake in China damaged their natural gas pipelines which economists feel will now lead to a temporary increased demand
for diesel in that country to fuel emergency generators. A drop in the energy supply in one country, results in an increased demand for the limited oil resources worldwide, causing prices to spike for everyone. So what is the average Westchester resident to do when facing $4 or more at the pump?

Westchester County Department of Consumer Affairs tracks the cost of gasoline at local gas stations each week. The County posts these prices on their website, every week. On May 14, the County reported that their “survey of 338 stations in the County found the average price for regular is $4.02, 16 cents higher than two weeks earlier”. Residents can search this website for the lowest gas prices in their town or check the County’s survey for lowest prices in our region overall. On their May 12 survey, the County reported that the lowest price for gasoline was $3.849 at the Getty station at 719 Bronx River Road in Yonkers, while the highest price was $4.019 at the Mobil station at 8 Marbledale Road in Tuckahoe.

Local residents do not have to travel far out of their way to find less expensive gas – the Getty station in Yonkers is a mere two miles down the road from the Mobil station in Tuckahoe. For those residents who are finding it too expensive to drive at all lately, alternatives to driving abound in our region. Many of our local residents have already turned to other modes of transportation. Marjorie Anders, a spokesperson
for the Metro-North railroad, informed The Guardian that they had already seen a spike in ridership in the first quarter of 2008. “Metro-North has had 1,000,000 additional riders in three months” Anders said. “We are monitoring this increase and, if needed, we will add trains and cars to trains”. Anders noted that “most of our trains are below capacity. Most riders do not use the middle seats. But as the trains get
full, those middle seats are now being used up”.

Anders noted that growing ridership has been a trend for Metro-North for the past 25 years and they have responded with additional frequency of trains, providing service for reverse commutes, and have targeted early/predawn departures, and more weekend and mid-day ridership. “We now serve over 80,000,000 passengers a year and our on-time performance rate is above 97%” Anders said. “We are addressing our current ridership by purchasing a new fleet of trains so their ride is comfortable. Metro-North is a dependable, safe, and predictable alternative to driving”.

Lawrence Sallie, of the Westchester County Department of Transportation (DoT) agreed that the County has seen an increase in ridership lately. “There is a very extensive bus system available in Westchester County” Sallie noted. “We have 66 routes and 374 buses that serve
our residents from Putnam Valley to New York City”. The Bee-Line bus service is a bargain compared to driving – a one-way fare, which can take you from Yonkers up to Putnam Valley, costs only $2.00, a fraction of the cost of driving the same route. All transfers
are free, and seniors get reduced prices.

Riders to New York City get even bigger breaks. “We are part of the regional fare system” Sallie noted. “So if you ride the Bee-Line into New York City you can transfer onto a city bus for the same one fare”. Local commuters do not need a “commuter car” either. “The Bee-Line system has railroad feeder routes that hook up to Metro-North stations and the train schedules,” Sallie said. “We also have an express bus that runs from the County Center to Wall Street in about an hour and 10 minutes”.

The County is negotiating to keep fares down on its bus system despite the rising costs of fuel. “Last year at this time we were paying $2.46 a gallon for our fuel,” Sallie noted. “We are now paying $3.77 under our current contract which expires in June 2008. This year we opted for a shorter contract since our fuel costs usually decrease in summer and we are anticipating lower costs then”. The reason for this seasonal decline is because the Bee-Line System competes with home heating oil, not local gas stations, for its fuel. Home heating oil costs traditionally decrease in the summer months due to lower demand for heating oil during those months. “Our most significant costs are labor,” Sallie pointed out. “But our current union contract doesn’t expire until next year. And we are also able to keep fares down with subsidies from New York State”. “We put great emphasis on passenger courtesy and customer service,” Sallie stressed. “These are not the typical
‘city’ buses. Our buses are air-conditioned and clean and our drivers are friendly”.

One of the alternatives to driving is the use of bicycles and scooters. Eileen Marcos of Bicycle World in Mt. Kisco has recently seen a few customers inquire about bicycles for around-town use. “We have seen an increase in the use of bicycles in recent years but that has been mostly for fitness,” Marcos said. “Our customers are inspired by Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France, or they are families buying bicycles for outings”. But lately some customers are expressing a desire to use bicycles for local use. For those customers, Marcos noted “We offer grocery panniers. These are carriers that expand to hold a full-sized grocery bag”. Marcos noted that bicycles are a good alternative for
local shopping trips and commuting to train stations since, in addition to saving gasoline, bicycles offer tremendous health benefits.

This past Friday, May 16, was “National Ride Your Bike to Work Day”. Cycle clubs across the nation hope this day will encourage the use of bikes as an alternative to driving. But many local residents turning to bicycles for commuting or around town use may not have ridden since their “banana bike” days in childhood. But riding a bicycle on local streets is a different riding experience from cycling up and down a
driveway or cul-de-sac. For residents wanting to get back on a bike for transportation purposes, the Westchester Cycle Club recommends
taking one of their courses or beginner rides. Michael Miller is the Safety and Education Chair for the Westchester Cycle Club. He spoke to The Guardian about bicycle safety. “Bicycles are vehicles and must obey all traffic laws” Miller noted. “Bicyclists must ride with the traffic, never against it. They must stop for traffic lights and stop signs. And bicyclists should wear helmets all the time”.

Miller offers an “Effective Cycling” course with the Westchester Bicycle Club and will provide a “Street Smarts” brochure for free to anyone requesting this from their website, . “The main safety issue for cyclists is not cars,” Miller pointed out. “As long as the cyclist does what the cars are doing, they should be fine. The number one cause for accidents for cyclists, especially for skinny-tire bikes, is seams in the road. A two-inch gap can cause a bicyclist to spill. Twigs, bumps, rocks, dead animals all pose a threat. These are hazards that drivers often do not notice but bicyclists must be aware of at all times”.

When cyclists swerve to avoid such hazards, drivers often become mad. “Drivers will yell at cyclists to ride on the sidewalk,” Miller noted. “But we cannot ride on sidewalks. Sidewalks have intersections at every driveway and intersections are especially hazard-ous for cyclists. It is much safer for a rider on a flat road, not a sidewalk”. As more commuters and shoppers turn to cycling as a way to reduce their transportation costs, Miller asked for local drivers to be understanding and to observe some safety rules and courtesy towards the riders. “Leaning on a horn can unnerve an inexperienced rider,” Miller pointed out. “It can make a dif-ficult situation potentially dangerous.

It’s far better for a driver to lightly tap their horn to warn a rider”. “Experienced riders rarely get into difficulty,” Miller noted. “They are far more aware of their surroundings than the drivers. It is the inexperienced riders that will have problems. But if they take some safety classes they’ll learn how to cope”.Miller also recommends that local residents join the club for a modest annual fee of $20, and take some group
rides with them. The club offers rides at all levels from easy, to competitive, to mountain trails. One upcoming offering, a “Two Bridges Classic” for Memorial Day, stresses the camaraderie of the club:

“In honor of the day, we will ride through this famous area of our region, rich with the efforts of our former patriots. The leader will point out interesting and significant sites along the way.” Scenic Hudson Valley including Garrison, Bear Mountain Bridge, Ft. Montgomery, Highland Falls, scenic overlook drive to Cornwall plus roads along the river, Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, rest stop in funky Beacon,
Breakneck Mtn. and Cold Spring. We will be detouring around West Point where there is one long hill and a short segment on Rt. 9W. True 13-14mph C+ pace, I promise! We’re grouping. Helmets required, no headphones. Rain or strong wind cancels the ride. Meet at 8:30 to depart promptly at 9am. A mix of exercise, touring + comaradarie, not a race. Tail Gate party at finish, bring your own refreshments. John might fire up the barby. Let’s have fun!

Miller noted that the club is now becoming a full non-profit. The club is now hosting events and fund-raisers in addition to their local rides. One such event, the “Ride Of Silence”, is being held on Wednesday, May 21st, in honor of those injured or killed while riding: Gather at Midway Shopping Center at 1001 Central Park Ave., the plaza with Linens ‘n Things & Starbucks, in Greenburgh at 6:15 p.m. for a prompt
6:45 p.m. start. The Ride of Silence is a worldwide slow-paced silent ride to honor all cyclists injured or killed on public roads. The ride’s goal is to increase awareness of the rights of cyclists and peacefully ask all to share the roads. This year the event will be filmed as part of a documentary, The Long Bike Back, about a bicyclist’s recovery after a severe hit-and-run accident and his quest to ride across America to raise awareness for road sharing.

The cyclist, Pearson Constantino, was hit on Central Ave in Greenburgh in June 2006 and he will be leading the ride. The route is 8 miles with a 12 mph pace and we will be starting promptly at 6:45 to ensure that we can finish before dark, so please arrive early. We will
ride up Central Ave to Battle Ave. (at the Pathmark) and return to the Midway Shopping Center. Please wear helmets and bring a black armband, red if you’ve been injured on the road. The cycle club is also hosting a “Pedals for Progress” fund-raiser on Saturday, May 24th to collect used bikes for Central America and Africa to foster low-cost transportation and support economic development. According to the club’s website, since 2006, they’ve sent more than 700 bikes and 40 sewing machines to the developing world while raising more than $8,000 to support the effort. The May 24th event will be at the First Presbyterian Church, 2880 Crompond Road, Yorktown Heights, from 9 a.m. to noon.

The club will also be collecting used portable sewing machines to distribute through Pedals for Progress’ companion program in the developing world. These machines are vital tools to provide a direct means of financial independence for people struggling to support their families. Bike owners should bring rust-free bikes with a $10 donation to cover part of the shipping costs. Both the monetary donation and
the gift of the bike are tax-deductible.

So while rising gasoline prices may be frustrating local residents, there are alternatives to driving. Local towns are already noting the trend. Mayor Michael Cindrich of Mt. Kisco noted that their town was “already pedestrian-friendly”. Bicycle racks are appearing on sidewalks
in New York City. The Guardian contacted Westchester County Government and the City of White Plains to ask what those governments will be doing to accommodate and encourage the use of bicycles and scooters. Neither government contacted The Guardian in response. But as our residents have already seen for themselves, the alternatives to driving are more affordable and better for our planet. And the supporters of some of those alternatives, like cycling, are taking their own steps to further community awareness and to help others in need. Our local
governments must take immediate action to support such community efforts and encourage and further these trends and alternatives in the face of ever-increasing gasoline prices.
Thursday, May 22, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Runaway County Government - A Culture Of Corruption

In this bottom-line society in which we live, there is a tendency to assess most every human enterprise and institution quantitatively, rather than qualitatively. And, so it is that, with respect to Westchester County Government, an institution that lately has become a very sore point in the lives of most homeowners and taxpayers, concerns are mostly connected to quantifiable issues; chief amongst them the rapidly-growing county tax portion of our property tax bills.

Naturally, those who are sounding the alarm and expressing their concerns with Runaway County Government are pointing to the rapidly inflated ranks of County employees, aides to the County Executive’s Office, and the Board of Legislators, most conspicuous amongst them, not to mention their high salaries and benefits. It’s all about numbers. It is not difficult to understand the focus, the concrete financial reality, given its immediate impact on most households, particularly as we enter what many economists are predicting, may be the worst stagflation since the mid-70s. The numbers are scary, as many contemplate the possible loss of their homes, stuck between a rock and a hard place, not able to afford the taxes and upkeep of their single biggest asset, their house; and yet, unable, or unwilling, to sell it for substantially less than it was worth a year ago.

However, the trouble with County Government, as it has evolved under Larry Schwartz and his front man, Andy Spano, involves many more undesireable aspects than the immense financial burden they have dropped upon our shoulders. Every bit as worrisome is the culture of intrusion, Big Brother-ism, and outright interference in our daily lives, legislated and imposed under the oppressive rule of a man who goes about telling innocent senior citizens that he is “the most powerful person in Westchester.”

Make no mistake about it, he is; at least under conditions as they presently exist. There is no separation of powers; the County Legislature, even before Democrats had the present 13-4 super majority, has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for Schwartz’ schemes and demands. He controls through the purse strings, and his control is absolute!

Consider the fact that not only the nomination and election of most legislators, but also many judges, as well as the District Attorney and County Clerk, are all under the control of Public Enemy No. 1, Larry Schwartz. Consider, too, that the overwhelming majority of County employees harbor a strong dislike for his oppressive and overbearing ways. The rigging and fixing of elections has brought Larry and his cronies and puppets to the level of arrogance, blatant disrespect, and contempt for the People of Westchester that allows them to enrich themselves by leaps and bounds even as we all struggle as never before, just to make ends meet.

If it were only about numbers, and the need to trim fat and waste from the County Budget, we would not be talking about abolishing it. No, the problem runs much deeper than the financial burden that has become unbearable. It involves the sheer nerve and raw impudence of the machine that believes it can bark “Jump,” and we will only ask “How high?”

People in increasing numbers are declaring, “No more.” Larry, Andy, Bill, Susan, and all their agents; their overpaid commissioners and deputies, have gone too far, much too far in our faces, for us to take them back. Looking around, we realize that our neighbors in Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts have long ago rid themselves of such duplication and patronage, and that we do not need to tolerate the abuse any longer.

The organizational meeting of the Task Force To Eliminate County Government, on June 2, 7:30pm, at Greenburgh Town Hall, will be a good opportunity for citizens to come out in great numbers and make it clear they mean business.

Our Readers Respond....

Supervisor Paul Feiner Responds To Reader’s Criticisms

To the Editor:

I would appreciate the opportunity to respond to the letter “Political Opponent Takes Issue With Supervisor Paul Feiner.” The letter writer suggested that if I want to investigate the efficacy of having a county government that we also investigate the effi-cacy of Greenburgh Town Government.

During my tenure as Town Supervisor I have always encouraged a review of our operations. In fact, one of the reasons why Standard & Poors upgraded the Town’s bond rating to AAA (highest rating possible—less than 3% of all communities in the nation have this rating) on April 17, 2008 was because “we recently formalized financial management policies, specifically the Town’s new formal reserve policy and long range planning.” Since I have been Town Supervisor our bond rating has gone up 4 times, to the highest rating possible. That’s because the Town does not run on automatic pilot. We’re always looking for better ways to manage Town operations. And, we are constantly making changes.

In January I invited critics and supporters to serve on a Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee that is looking for ways to tighten up operations. We have a new comptroller (who was also one of the budget critics for many years). We’re tightening up oversight and stablishing more controls.

The Town recently received a $75,000 grant from the state to conduct an independent review of the Greenburgh police and Dobbs Ferry police departments. That review will analyze whether or not the Greenburgh and Dobbs Ferry police should share more services or consolidate. We are looking for other ways to save money and run a more efficient operation.

The Town actively encourages our citizens to monitor their government and to let us know what we can do better. Our meetings are streamed live on the internet. Our work sessions are also streamed live on the internet. All resolutions are posted on the internet –before each Board meeting, to enable citizens to scrutinize the resolutions, legislation, contracts we’re voting on before the fact.

Westchester County is the third most expensive place in the United States (tax wise) to live in. If we are going to be successful in making our community a more affordable place to live in – everything must be on the table. We need to seriously explore whether we need County Government. If we can do without County Government (like Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts) we should eliminate this level of government. Other layers of government should also be looked at. There should be no sacred cows. Reinvent government in New York.

Paul Feiner, Greenburgh, Town Supervisor

Ed Krauss Strikes Again!

Dear Editor:

One must wonder what the Ed Krauss agenda is? Last week he had another one of his mindless diatribes printed in the Westchester Guardian. Most people who engage in personal invective for years on end must have a personal issue or two. Of course part of Mr. Krauss’ style is to repeat lies and half-truths until people start to believe them. His accusations that the financial affairs of the Town of Greenburgh have been mismanaged for years, is idiotic and inaccurate. Greenburgh has had extremely high bond ratings for many years now. Greenburgh, like many
communities, has had recent high tax increases. Is that because of mismanagement or malfeasance? In fact, it’s the economy, stupid! Falling real estate values, certioraris, and less sales tax revenues seem to any reasonable individual the culprit we are all facing. His specious claim that Greenburgh’s government has not been administered well is also ridiculous.

The services in Greenburgh are excellent, the parks are open, clean, and well managed and the amount of people that complain are few and far between. In fact, most of the complaints emanate from the mouths of a small clique of power-wannabees like Mr. Krauss. With regards to the Ethics Code, his simplistic view and understanding of why they were re-written begs the question.

They were put in to give Mr. Krauss’s allies and friends advantages in fund-raising. Any casual observer of the language of the code would laugh. It seems Mr. Krauss is not interested in democracy or the rule of the electorate, but in politics of derision and character assassination.

Supervisor Feiner has a long distinguished record of achievement, honesty, public service, and he has been rewarded for that fine effort by re-election many times. Because of the previous Town Board’s profligate spending and abuses, these allies of Mr. Krauss, were defeated. Now in the wake of his defeat, there are more sour grapes from his mouth and pen. What else is new?

The record is clear Supervisor Feiner has come out strongly against the incredible waste, feather-bedding and the ballooning of County government. The County Board Chairman Bill Ryan has been jaw-boning, arm-twisting and campaigning for more and more money, and more and more unnecessary layering of government. Where has been the cost-control from both Andy Spano and Bill Ryan? Supervisor Feiner has had the courage to stand up and expose what we all know, and few have the intestinal fortitude to say. Of course we have freedom of
speech and the press in this great country, and therefore people like Ed Krauss are given the right, and often the forum, to make fools of themselves. Any casual observer of the Greenburgh Town Board meetings over the years has seen ample evidence of his verbal contributions.
Come down every other Wednesday of the month and get a big laugh.

Richard J. Garfunkel, Tarrytown

Reader Goes Beep...Beep

Dear Editor:

Ernie Davis’ attorney Stephen Jackson was one of the lawyers involved in the Tawana Brawley hoax. The New York Times reported that he was the attorney for C. Vernon Mason in an article on April 23, 1998. The former prosecutor, Steven Pagones, sued Al Sharpton, Mason, and Maxon for defamation because they falsely accused Pagones of raping Tawana Brawley. Stephen Jackson tried to shift the blame to others. What a character! He also ran for Assemblyman in Queens in 1994 and City Council in 2001 and lost miserably in both elections.

Why didn’t he bring a lawsuit to overturn those elections? I wonder who will Ernie Davis, Jackson, and his cohorts shift the blame to after their frivolous lawsuit is kicked out of court? They will be at the other end of a multi-million dollar lawsuit for their behavior. I don’t think
a jury in Westchester will be too kind to Ernie and his crew. By then Ernie should be indicted...beep, beep.

Mount Vernon Road Runner II

Janet Difiore.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Tragic Shooting Of Christopher Ridley Exposes
Hypocrisy And Cruelty Of DA Janet DiFiore
County Report, 60 Days In The Making, Dubbed “Police Reform Ideas For Dummies”

Last week two events, 24 hours apart, clearly demonstrated the utter hypocrisy and cruelty of Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore. On Tuesday, the 13th, Police Officer’s Memorial Day, DiFiore appeared alongside Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young and Police Commissioner David Chong in City Hall Plaza for the solemn memorial and awards ceremonies at which the parents of fallen hero, Detective Christopher Ridley, were given their son’s Medal of Honor. More than two dozen Mount Vernon police officers were recognized
for “their acts of valor.”

Twenty-four hours later, at a press conference in the same city, organized by the Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association, Officer Ridley’s mother, Felita Rucker Bouche, told The Guardian that District Attorney Janet DiFiore has continued to refuse to turn over her son’s personal effects, including the clothing he wore when he was killed in a hail of bullets fired by Westchester County Police Officers, unaware that he was a fellow police officer attempting to apprehend Anthony Jacobs, a violent, homeless assailant with a substantial criminal record. Ms. Bouche, accompanied by her attorney, Calvin Scholar, a family member who previously worked as an
Assistant District Attorney in DiFiore’s office, expressed her distress with the DA’s unwillingness to honor her request, “despite the fact that the case is closed.”

When advised that The Guardian would continue to demand that the videotapes of the tragic shooting be released in order to settle numerous
lingering questions, Attorney Scholar responded, “Requests for the tapes have been repeatedly refused.” Bouche added, “We were shown
only an edited version.” Damon K. Jones, Executive Director of Westchester Blacks In Law Enforcement, speaking to members of the press and media, declared, “The investigation into the death of Detective Ridley, as well as many other investigations into cases of alleged police
brutality and misconduct, have consistently shown that the New York Justice System is not blind when the colors are blue and black.” Jones continued, “The Westchester Chapter NBPA fully supports New York State Senator Eric Adams, Attorney Norman Siegel, Marq
Claxton, and One Hundred Blacks In Law Enforcement’s Proposal for a permanent state-level special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases that involve police brutality and police misconduct, especially those considered high-profile cases.”

Marq Claxton, of One Hundred Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care, next approached the podium, declaring, “There is a need for outside investigation of police criminality.” He did not mince words, stating flatly, “There exists an incestuous relationship in New York State between local police agencies and prosecutors.”

Claxton went on, “We are disappointed with the Governor’s muted response thus far. You can’t be involved in the issue for so many years, and then, when you have the opportunity, fail to bring about meaningful, comprehensive, revolutionary reform.” Pausing momentarily, he announced, “We are calling upon Governor Paterson to install an Independent Special Prosecutor, and a fully independent Crime Scene Investigation Unit.”

Holding a copy of the report just released by the County, ostensibly intended to recommend changes that would prevent incidents such as the Ridley tragedy, Claxton described it as, “Police Reform Ideas For Dummies; a few pages of worthless data.”

With obvious disgust and contempt for the Westchester District Attorney, Claxton declared, “What happened to Detective Ridley was not understood by those who insulted the Ridley family and the People of Westchester.”

It was very clear to this reporter that the Black law enforcement community was outraged by a worthless re-port issued by the County after 60 days, intended, in their view, to do nothing more than avoid blame and responsibility while accomplishing nothing to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Claxton spoke about the need to pass legislation that would punish police and prosecutorial misconduct, noting that district attorneys such as Janet DiFiore were “merely politicians,” and that their conduct was driven by their need to maintain political connections with local police departments for selfserving purposes, and not, by any desire, to mete out justice.

Janet DiFiore has made several miscalculations with regard to the shooting death of Detective Christopher Ridley. From the very outset,
the “wall of silence” puncuated in the first 24 hours by her intentional leak that Sergeant Martin, an African-American, former Mount Vernon Police Officer, was one of the County Police involved. It is now believed that Martin never fired his weapon, a fact that would be exposed if the videotapes were released.

It is widely rumored that DA Di-Fiore, while out on the town with former White Plains Chief of Detectives Peter Viviano, in New York City several months ago, carelessly lost her gun and her badge, and was compelled to report the loss to the New York City Police Department. It is further rumored that she called upon Westchester County Police Commissioner Tom Belfiore, a former high-ranking New York City cop, to use his influence to keep her losses from getting out to the media.

Those, in the position to know, have suggested her secretive management of the Ridley investigation, and her refusal to release the videotapes that might be damaging to Belfiore’s department, and, in turn, to his reputation, were motivated by her need to repay his earlier favor to her; not to mention her obligations to Larry Schwartz and Andy Spano with regard to the “Election” of 2005. Relationships between prosecutors and police don’t get much more incestuous than that.

The Guardian has been calling for an FBI investigation of the Ridley shooting from Day One, as has the National Black Police Association. We do so once again, particularly in light of DA DiFiore’s refusal to release the videotapes, and Detective Ridley’s personal effects.

About Me