Thursday, July 10, 2008

Westchester Guardian/Janet Difiore.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

DiFiore Slips Through Their Fingers
Says “I was told that we were not going to speak about specific cases.”


Saturday, June 28, there was a meeting, a community gathering at the Mount Vernon Grace Baptist Church, attended by some 250 individuals, mostly Mount Vernon residents, including approximately ten city clergymen and an equal number of African-American police of-ficers. The gathering was understood, by nearly everyone in attendance, as an opportunity, after five months, for the community,
and specifically, those such as Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Darin Moore, who have been working closely with the family of the late Christopher Ridley, to fi-nally get some straight answers to a host of questions.

Rev. Moore opened the session with a quick anecdote about a woman living in Harlem, “who fears the police, but is glad they are right down the street.” He went on to say, “The woman has a polemic”; adding, “My Grandma called it being between a rock and a hard place.” On that note, Rev. Sharpton, acknowledging that a grand jury had looked at the killing of Christopher Ridley, declared, “The case, in our opinion, has not been resolved.” Then, looking toward those who had come seeking the truth, he said, “Police cannot be above the law; we all must be held
accountable. We need accountability, legislation, and the truth.”

Next it was Rev. Richardson’s turn to define the purpose of the gathering, an event he had promised would occur as he stood in the rain, months earlier, at the spot on Court Street in White Plains where young Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley had lost his life trying to save an innocent middle-aged man under brutal attack by a homeless, criminal vagrant.

Standing before the People, he told the officials seated on stage, speaking directly to DA Janet DiFiore, “First and foremost, we want answers.” He went on, “We know the issue is law enforcement and community relations.”

Andy Spano, riding shotgun for Janet DiFiore, got up to address the crowd, telling them, “There’s a concern out of the community that we hear. We’ve got to come out of here with one thing that could make a difference.”

Spano was trying to shift the focus of the proceedings from fact-finding, and learning of the truth, to suggesting preventative measures.
But Rev. Richardson came back with, “The DA’s Office has played a critical role in what we perceive was wrong in what happened in the
Christopher Ridley incident.” Janet DiFiore, looking very uncomfortable, said, “Rev. Richardson told me a lack of understanding builds suspicion.”

Then, she began to duck and dodge, telling everyone, “There are limitations upon what the District Attorney’s Office can do.” Her
next comment was a whopper: “My commitment to fairness has no boundary.”

At that point, the discussion shift-ed. Note paper had been distributed to the audience so that questions could be written out and passed up to the table consisting of Revs. Moore, Sharpton and Richardson, as well as State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. The issue of what percentage of African-Ameri-can cops were serving in the Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and Yonkers Police Departments was raised.

Mount Vernon Police Commissioner David Chong acknowledged, “We are only at 24 percent. We try hard to hire Mount Vernon people first.” Rev. Sharpton, injecting a little sardonic wit, asked Chong, “Did you invite the White officers here today?” Newly-appointed Mount
Vernon Police Chief Barbara Duncan, seated way in the back of the chapel, stood up in response.

A number of comments followed that acknowledged the struggle to get more African-Americans to join their local police departments. Richardson summarized with, “If the People are not passing the tests, then we have to help them.” Senator Hassell-Thompson then read a question, directed to DA DiFiore, that referred to the Grand Jury process, which she concluded with her own direct statement, “You control the information the Grand Jury gets.”

DiFiore, somewhat indignant, immediately went on the defensive, stating, “I’ve been a prosecutor, a judge, and a lawyer, for almost 30 years. If you think I would compromise my... People need to recall that...” Al Sharpton broke in with, “They can’t review what is not in front of
them.” He then made reference to the arrest of Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes the day before, by Federal authorities rather than DA DiFiore’s of-fice. DiFiore responded with, “There were grave mistakes of judgment in that case.” She proceeded to lay blame for her Office’s wrongful prosecution of the victim, and her failure to prosecute Offficer Simoes on one of her assistant District Attorneys [see Our Readers Respond, p4]. Pressed for more details by Sharpton, she quickly ducked behind so-called rules that prevented her from being more forthcoming.

However, Sharpton came right back, with, “In light of the federal arrest, and the People’s understanding of the relationship between the police and prosecutors in Westchester, we believe there is a need for a Special Prosecutor in cases involving the police.” DiFiore quickly cracked, “I am not convinced that we need a special prosecutor.”

That comment was met with audible groans from the audience. Senator Hassell-Thompson then, first asked the DA to explain the grand
jury process; second, having not heard what she was interested in pursuing, the senator, obviously referring to the Ridley Investigation, spoke of state legislation in 1976 that dealt with grand jury reports, following which she asked the DA, “Are you planning to release a report?” DiFiore responded, “There’s no report issued by the District Attorney on the grand jury.”

Now, the senator, becoming more specific and more insistent, asked, “Are you prepared to issue a report on Christopher Ridley?”
At that point, Janet DiFiore dug in her heels, and replied, “I was told that we were not going to speak about specific cases.”

The DA made it abundantly clear, with that statement, that she had absolutely no intention of discussing the very subject that had brought everyone who filled the Chapel to Grace Baptist Church. She would not be accounting either for the conduct of the investiga-tion or the presentation to the grand jury. She would not be answering any questions pertaining to Christopher Ridley, period!

Although the session went on for another hour, with discussion of sensitivity training, and enlisting more African-American police officers, etc., it might just as well have ended with that declaration.

DiFiore had no intention of shedding any further light on what really happened to Christopher Ridley.The frustration felt by Rev. Richardson and Rev. Moore was apparent in their closing remarks as they ended the meeting a half hour earlier than scheduled.Richardson told the crowd, “What is very important is that there is a crisis with law enforcement in our community.

There is a problem, and dealing with what happened to Christopher Ridley is an opportunity for us to get it together. This is just the beginning of the discourse.

This is not going to go away.”Rev. Moore wasted few words expressing his frustration and disappointment. Speaking for all those gathered, hestated flatly, “This community is not going away.” Referring to the unanswered questions about the killing of Christopher Ridley, Moore vowed, “If it is not solved, we will do whatever it takes.”

Questions Needing To Be Answered By DA DiFiore

1. Why are you withholding Christopher Ridley’s wallet, clothing, and personal effects from his parents; could it be that they might reveal the circumstances under which he really died?

2. Why did you withhold so much from the public right from the start,but made sure to leak, within hours, the name of Sgt. Martin, the only Black County Officer involved in the incident?

3. Why have you withheld, to this moment, the fact that no shell casings from Martin’s gun were found?

4. Why do you perpetuate the lie that Officer Ridley was standing, holding a gun, and refusing to put it down when shot?

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