Thursday, April 30, 2009

Janet Difiore and Christopher Ridley Case.

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Four Brave Witnesses Tell The Truth About
Murder Of Officer Christopher Ridley
DA DiFiore’s Deceitful Scheme Exposed

Last Wednesday morning, four courageous individuals came forward at a press conference called by Civil Rights Attorney Jonathan Lovett at the site on Court Street, in White Plains, where Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley lost his life at the hands of brother officers some 15 months earlier, in an effort to reveal to the Westchester community what they had witnessed.

The tone and the content of the questions from News12 reporter Brian Conybeare and Journal News reporters Richard Liebson and Shawn Cohen were such that their pro-DiFiore bias could not have been more obvious. Conybeare insultingly asked Lovett if he had paid the witnesses to come forward.

One would have thought these three reporters were DiFiore’s legal defense team engaged in cross-examination. After all, why shouldn’t we believe her?

• This is the DA whose spouse tried to bribe Attorney Anthony DiCintio, the Right-To-Life candidate for DA to withdraw from
the race in 2005 because she was running as a Republican then, and theorized that most Right-To-Life voters would vote Republican
in the absence of their own candidate;

• This is the DA who lied and said she had prosecuted 2,000 cases as an Assistant DA when she ran for County Court against Les Adler. In truth, she had prosecuted only 12 cases, all misdemeanors;

• This is the DA who covered up rogue cop Wayne Simoes; instead prosecuting his innocent victim, Irma Marquez, who he had brutally body-slammed. She has done the same to Rui Florim, nearly beaten to death by six other rogue Yonkers cops, as well as to countless other victims of Yonkers police brutality. The United States Justice Department has stepped in to the Marquez case and is prosecuting violent Police Officer Simoes despite the DA’s attempt to cover up his criminal assault;

• This is the DA who continued to hide 376 pages, 52 boxes, and miles of secretly audio-taped conversations, all exculpatory to Anthony DiSimone until the federal courts demanded that she turn them over, and released Mr. DiSimone, who had served seven years in prison for a murder he was clearly innocent of, and to which the actual killer had confessed.

• This is the DA from whose Office 72 attorneys and investigators had resigned at last count. And, we are supposed to believe
she is telling the truth about the murder of heroic, young police officer, Christpher Ridley? We think not.

Stanley Ridley, Officer Ridley’s dad, has been very hurt by DiFiore’s cruel effort to discredit his son’s actions. Thanking
the four witnesses who unselfishly came forward to share the truth no matter what reprisal, what retaliation doing so might
bring, Mr. Ridley told them, “My son died taking care of people, and they are trying to make him look reckless. Nothing they put in my way will keep me from getting out the truth.”

One witness, John Fiumara, told reporters, “I told DiFiore shooting Officer Ridley in the head was uneccessary, and an execution; and, she told me ‘Don’t say that in Court.’” Obviously she did not want the grand jurors to know the truth.

Attorney Jonathan Lovett, who has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of Officer Ridley’s dad, Stanley Ridley, as well as on behalf of Efrem Burgos, the witness dubbed ‘The Good Samaritan’, for having gotten violent perpetrator Anthony Jacobs away from his elderly victim, told reporters, “The big lie will not stand. The truth is coming out. It was a polarizing event. A White cop shoots a Black cop.” He went on, “If the DA will release all of the footage from all of the cameras, we might see what really happened.” Each of the four eyewitnesses who came forward on Wednesday were put before a grand jury by Janet DiFiore, and, therefore, were deemed by her to be credible, trustworthy, and knowledgeable witnesses. She can not now attempt to discredit, or impeach what they are saying with respect to the manner in which Police Officer Christopher Ridley lost his life by an uneccessary shot to his head. She cannot erase what they each witnessed at close range just because when one of them, John Fiumara, told her to her face, “It was an uneccessary execution,” she told him, “Don’t say that in court.”

Neither can she brush off the fact that when asked by a grand juror directly, Efrem Burgos expressed the same opinion, that the shot to the head was uneccessary, but the Assistant DA controlling his appearance, declared, “Strike that.” Janet DiFiore cannot, now, avoid the inconvenient truth, the horrible, traumatic experience of witnessing the murder of a young man, a heroic police officer, at close range, and being compelled to keep that shocking experience bottled up for 15 months because someone who was sworn to search for the truth, used the power of her Office to keep it hidden for political and self-preserving reasons.

Each one of those four witnesses who spoke out publicly on Wednesday, David Boudreau, Kathy Allan, John Fiumara, and Efrem Burgos, expressed to this reporter their relief and their gratitude for the opportunity to publicly reveal what they, and others, have been forced to keep from the family of Officer Ridley and the Westchester community by the District Attorney and her agents.

It’s amazing what lengths certain media persons will go to in order to protect the sitting district attorney from exposure. The handling of the Ridley investigation is but one example. When you have a cable channel such as Cablevision’s News 12 that was not only granted their monopolistic franchise by the County Executive, but was also given a $22.5 million no-bid contract to their Lightpath subsidiary for a failed communication system in March 2000 by that same County Executive, you will do everything that you can, everything that Brian Conybeare and Janine Rose are now doing, to protect and promote the County Executive’s, Andy Spano’s, “partner in crime.” They did it for Jeanine Pirro, and now they’re doing it for Janet DiFiore.

Last Thursday, Conybeare spent hours on Court Street in White Plains searching for someone, anyone, who might contradict what four eyewitnesses to the murder of Police Officer Christopher Ridley revealed at a press conference the day before. They, News12, who had the images from four cameras out of nine that were in range, “exclusively” as they put it, were also in control of the particular clips from each that they showed. Of course they were; they were the only so-called news source that DiFiore knew she could trust to keep her secret.

As far as News 12’s witness, David Hess, is concerned, his claim that they did not see what happened, is totally wrong. Dave Boudreau was standing directly across the street at the time of the shooting. Kathy Allan had a clear view through the window of the van in which she was seated. John Fiumara was right there, behind Hess, outside the passenger side of the van, and Efrem Burgos, in fact, viewed the shooting by Officer Oliveri through the windows of the taxi.

Janet Difiore - #1.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Our Opinion...

DA DiFiore Is Playing Stud Poker With The Public

Weekend before last, Cablevision News12’s Brian Conybeare appeared in the usual weekend timeslots of the Newsmakers program with a special presentation specifically, and exclusively, pertaining to the federal lawsuit filed by Civil Rights Attorney Jonathan Lovett on behalf of his client, Stanley Ridley, father of the late Mount Vernon Police
Officer Christopher Ridley.

Interestingly, News12 went so far as to tell its viewers that Attorney Lovett had brought some 29 lawsuits against the County over a nine-year period, about three per year, as if he didn’t have the legal right to stand up for his clients against the offenses of County government.

Conybeare was showing a videotape that purportedly had been supplied by the Westchester County Police, but which had clearly been pieced together, quite possibly by Conybeare, from the production of either three or four of the nine surveillance cameras mounted on the north, south, and east sides of the County Office Building at 148 Martine Avenue in White Plains; an obvious and desperate attempt by District Attorney Janet DiFiore, with News 12’s assistance, to deflect some of the heat she was feeling for not releasing “the tapes.”

The simple truth is that the DA has released small segments of tape from only three or four surveillance cameras, and not the raw, full footage recorded by them and five or six other cameras mounted on the west side of Court Street as the incident was occurring from the
moment the mugging began, and Officer Ridley got out of his car, to the time he lay dead on the sidewalk immediately in front of 85 Court Street.

Those images, and the images from the cameras from which we are shown only selected pieces, the images the DA does not want seen, are the cards she continues to hold in her hand, turned face-down.

After all, we were told early on that there were some six cameras that must have recorded the incident, cameras mounted on the County Office Building. Each of those cameras obviously recorded every aspect of the incident, from start to finish, that was within its range of surveillance, each from a different angle.

For example, why is it that we are shown Officer Ridley emerging from his car only from images taken by the camera mounted on the northwest corner of the County Office Building?

Why not show us images from the camera mounted on the northeast corner of the building, a camera much closer to the car, a camera, in fact, facing the car head-on, and more likely to show what Officer Ridley removed from his car when he hesitated in order to retrieve something.

That camera was directly above the mugging of the elderly civilian by Anthony Jacobs which we only get to view from images from the northwest corner-mounted camera, and the camera mounted low on the Court Street-east face of the County Office Building.

We must immediately demand to see all of the videotaped images shot from each and every one of the cameras, those nine mounted on the County Office Building at 148 Martine Avenue, in addition to any private surveillance cameras mounted at, or near, Mulino’s Restaurant, or any other business or residential locations such as Macy’s, and/or other establishments at or near the intersection of Martine Avenue and Court Street, as well as south and north on Court Street, and east and west on Martine.

Most importantly, we must view unedited, unredacted full footage from each camera if we are to learn what actually occurred.

Our Readers Respond...

Not Only At Donut Shops

Dear Editor:

Hi. I live in Yonkers, and have read your articles when I can. I go tanning at Beach Bum Tanning on Central Avenue in Yonkers. I go on
Sundays around 9pm at night and, for at least the past four weeks, there have been two to four police cars parked in the parking lot.

Not only are they parked there but they are tanning while in uniform and doing so for free.

I find it hard to believe that they have so much free time.

Thank you for your time.

A Burned-Up Taxpayer

Keep The Faith

Dear Editor:

I try to pray often because this world is corrupted. I will try to keep you and your staffers in my prayers.

Don’t get discouraged; do your very best.

J.D., Bronx

People Of Mt. Vernon Must Know

Dear Editor:

The People of Mount Vernon must know what is happening in our City, enough is enough.

Let’s start with city cars; we are paying for gas, wear and tear, and insurance on cars for people who take these cars home every day outside of Mount Vernon. Every police captain takes a City car home; all but one does not live in our City. The police commissioner lives in White Plains, chief of staff lives in White Plains, planning commissioner lives in Yonkers, add that to our tax bill.

The Department of Public Works commissioner is another winner in Junior’s administration.

He can be found at his private office on 3rd Street at least three times a day, every day. We would like to know who is signing off on all of QFI’s projects (Mr. Horton’s private company); oh, yeah, his brother Steve must be seeing to all that.

Steve sits on our City Council, and I understand he is a part-owner of QFI, because we all know Terrance cannot figure out what day of the week it is without his brother.

No one is watching our City; it is time that all Mount Vernon citizens wake up. We must hold Junior (Mayor Young) accountable for our hard-earned money; we are all hurting, taxes are out of control. We need help!!!

Young’s god-daughter is a 26-year-old trying to run programs for seniors; what does she know about being old, she has no idea.

The City Tax Assessor is scary; this man walks around town like he is untouchable. How does he sit on the board at Mount Vernon Hospital
and access their taxes without a conflict? Who sets his tax rate on his house, we wonder. On any given day you can find Mr. DeBellis’
car parked in Bronxville, he is the part-time tax assessor in Bronxville, yet he takes a Mount Vernon car there.

This man not only drives a City car but he drives a foreign car when everyone in America, including our President, is trying to buy American, again with total disregard of OUR money.

We need help!!! Who is watching our money, taxes...?

Al Passino, Mount Vernon

Westchester Guardian/The Court Report.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Chappaqua Accountant Pleads Guilty To
Stealing Client Tax Refund Checks.

LEV L. DASSIN, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and RAFAEL PRIETO, the Resident Agent in Charge of the White Plains Office of the United States Secret Service, announced that RANDAL L. KASE pleaded guilty in White Plains Federal Court to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his clients’ tax refund checks.

According to the Information to which KASE pled guilty, statements made in Court, and other documents publicly filed in the case: From approximately 1998 through February 2009, RANDAL L.KASE, a licensed certified public accountant in New York State, prepared tax returns for his clients. During this time, KASE diverted the tax refund checks of numerous clients to his address in Chappaqua, New York, without the knowledge or permission of these clients.

After the Internal Revenue Service mailed his clients’ tax refund checks to KASE, KASE forged his clients’ endorsements and falsely represented
that his clients had signed the refund checks over to him. KASE then deposited his clients’ tax refund checks into his own bank accounts or used the checks to pay off his credit card bills. In total, KASE misappropriated at least 60 tax refund checks from his clients, totaling more than $320,000.

KASE was arrested on February 2, 2009, and pleaded guilty to one count of forging endorsements on United States Treasury checks and one count of mail fraud before United States District Judge CATHY SEIBEL.

KASE faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison; a fine on the forgery count of $250,000 and on the mail fraud count of $1 million or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense; and the imposition of restitution.

KASE, 55, resides in Chappaqua, New York. Judge SEIBEL set sentencing for July 28, 2009, at 10:30 a.m.

Mr. DASSIN praised the efforts of the Secret Service.

This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant United States Attorney JASON P.W. HALPERIN is in charge of
this prosecution.

Westchester County Government.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taxpayers Take Note: Last Thursday afternoon, at approximately 2 pm, four County workers whose combined wages were
paid by you, mounted this sign, also paid for by you, on the front door of the County Office Building at 148 Martine Avenue.
It is a self-promotional message installed by Andy Spano, at your expense, just 48 hours prior to the Westchester Tea Party held
at this very site. What taxpayers need from County Government is less propaganda and more performance.

Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Low-Budget Fun In Westchester

Last week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that the global economy was not expected to recover from the current recession until mid-2010. A local international corporation, International Business Machines (IBM) in Armonk, also announced last week that it would be laying off up to 5,000 employees, many of them in the Hudson Valley region.

Witnessing neighbors losing their jobs and their homes, most Westchester residents are reacting to the grim news by tightening their belts. With so much bad news, the last thing on most people’s minds is having a good time in the midst of it all. But a group of feisty Westchester residents reacted to the grim news of our economy last week by kicking up their heels, literally. The “Arts Westchester”, a local non-profit arts council,
hosted an “Irish House Party” at their facility in White Plains complete with professional Irish step dancers, fiddlers, and Irish cuisine.

For several hours, over 50 hardy residents forgot their economic woes and concentrated instead on learning the intricate steps of the group dances,
swinging their partners around the floor of the Arts Exchange, a restored neo-classical bank building on Mamaroneck Avenue.

Participants had been invited to the traditional Ceilidh to “witness the agility and passion” of these typical Irish social gatherings, a passion that was evident and contagious among those attending. According to Jim Ormond, Communications Manager of the Arts Westchester “Irish music is cheerful and lively, and the basic steps can be learned easily.”

The event was priced affordably for these difficult economic times. Tickets were only $15, $10 for students, seniors and Arts Council members; a complete Irish dinner of Shepherd’s pie and corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes, was only $5 more. Area restaurants and brewers offered their wares, promoting the local economy. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of Pleasantville showcased their brews and Tighe’s Tavern of White Plains provided the food.

But it wasn’t just the cuisine that was on display. Several renowned Westchester musicians, among them fiddlers Brian Conway and John Whelan
and pianist Brendan Dolan, and several of their talented students, provided the evening’s entertainment.

According to Ormond the event was “an invitation to the Westchester community, regardless of heritage, to enjoy and participate in the house
party atmosphere with some of the finest performers living and working in the region”.

The Arts Westchester is the largest non-profit art council in all of New York State. The council provides arts programs and services, fund concerts, exhibitions and plays, and brings artists into area schools and community centers. Its dedicated purpose is to “weave the arts into the fabric of Westchester life, strengthen the county’s cultural institutions, and enrich the quality of life for all of Westchester’s residents”.

Among their partners is the Greenburgh School District which is working with Arts Westchester to incorporate arts into all elementary grade levels,
from kindergarten to eighth grade, to support the District’s International Baccalaureate curriculum.

According to the Greenburgh School District “the program brings artists into classrooms throughout the district”. Arts Westchester also provides
a “Summer Youth Photography Job Training Program”. The six-week program notes that it gives local students an “opportunity to learn the basics of photography and organize an exhibition of their work”.

Arts Westchester also offers grants for an array of cultural activities and exhibitions. A “Basic Program Support Grant” application is available on the Arts Westchester website, These grants give financial support to organizations that provide a full season of cultural events and activities.

Other grants offered are a JPMorgan Chase Capacity grant for small and mid-sized arts organizations operations, an Arts Partners grant for local arts-in education interdisciplinary and integrated studies of arts and arts subjects, and Arts Alive Artist and Project grants to
promote direct support to area artists and community cultural programs.

The Arts Westchester sponsors all types of arts events throughout the year. They followed up the Irish House Party with an Opera Concert on April 24th. Billed as “Viva La Musica Bella”, the night hosted “memorable and popular musical selections from opera and musical theater”.

The musical selections included works from Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Puccini’s La Boheme, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Bernstein’s Candide, Lee’s Man of LaMancha, and Verdi’s Rigoletto.

New Rochelle Opera’s Georgianna Pappas accompanied soprano Samantha Grenell-Zaidman, mezzo-soprano Malena Dayen, baritone Ross Benoliel from Career Bridges as well as fellow New Rochelle Opera performers soprano Roseanne Ackerley, tenor Jin Hwan Byun, and baritone Lawrence Harris.

On May 1st, the council will be showcasing contemporary works by new choreographers in their “New Dance Downtown” event. According to Ormond “Acclaimed Choreographer Peter Pucci will be presenting a new work performed by students of Manhattanville College”. Pucci
has received numerous awards for his works, among them the “Arts-Westchester 2009 Artist Award”, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Choreographer of the Year, and an Absolut Joffrey Award for Choreography.

Other choreographers will showcase their works as well on May 1st, Sidra Bell, the winner of the Bessie choreography award from the Dance Theater Workshop, Jessica DiMauro, a 2007 recipient of an Arts Alive grant from the Westchester Arts Council, and Mariah Steele, the winner of the 2009 Emerging Artist grant from Green Street Studios.

According to Ormond, each choreographer at this event will “present a piece in the style that best exemplifies the work that they do”. Young students are encouraged to attend this event; they will be admitted free with a paying adult.

Following that performance, the Arts Exchange will host what will easily be a most memorable event. On May 2nd, the Tribes Hill folk group will celebrate the 90th birthday ofTribes Hill member Pete Seeger.

The featured performers will be Anthony daCosta, Fred Gillen Jr., Matt Turk, Kathleen Pemble, KJ Denhert, and Steve Kirkman. According to the event’s announcement, “many of the musicians have long-term associations with this elder statesman of American folk music, having performed and collaborated with Seeger at concerts, festivals, and on various social justice projects.

The Tribes Hill musician’s collective has approximately 100 active musician members throughout the Hudson Valley. On the first Monday of every month, a group of the musicians gather at Hammond House in Valhalla, “to share a potluck dinner as well as each other’s songs”.

The “Tribe” evolved at this historic meeting place where George Washington was nearly captured during the American Revolution. The Arts Exchange will also be previewing the first ever Tribes Hill songbook for sale at this event, dedicated to Pete Seeger.

The council views this event as a “warm-up for Seeger’s 90th Birthday extravaganza the following following day, May 3rd, at Madison Square Garden”. The celebration at the Garden is expected to be a star-studded affair; in contrast, Westchester residents can attend an honorary event for Seeger at a far more convenient locale, and at far less expensive ticket prices!

Area residents, potential students, and just plain lovers of the arts can contact the Arts Westchester at or 914-428-4220 for more information about upcoming events. Or just stop by their beautiful building at the corner of Mamaroneck Avenue and Martine Avenue, officially renamed “Arts Avenue” by the City of White Plains.

Jeffrey Deskovic.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jeff Deskovic

Speaking At Harvard

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching students on the subject of wrongful convictions at Harvard University Law School and several other Harvard schools. The events were the first ones put together by the student group Harvard Divinity School Innocence Project Engagement Group.

In February 2007 I was visiting The Innocence Project in New York City. After making the rounds to see familiar faces, I went to their second floor, which contains their Policy Department which focuses on legislative reform. At that time, I unexpectedly met Mike Klinger.

Klinger had just began working with the Innocence Project as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs in New York City. He was drawn to the Intelligence Project’s criminal justice reform work, finding it in alignment with his vocational interests, intellectual passions, and spiritual curiosities.

Upon completion of his Coro experience, Klinger began working full-time in the Policy Department, and has been engaged with the work ever since. We hit it off, and he requested a meeting with me to discuss college education in prison.

From our initial meeting, Klinger and I became friends and periodically would get together to socialize. He attended several of my speaking events.

About eight months ago, he was admitted to the Harvard Divinity School to pursue a Masters Degree. Although this required him to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, he continues to work for The Innocence Project as a Policy Consultant. His primary function involves supporting the administration of the Eyewitness Identification Reform Litigation Network, which consists of a group of attorneys working to:

1) reduce wrongful convictions by strengthening defense strategies focused on suppressing problematic identifications;

2) enacting Eyewitness Identification policy reforms nationwide through both litigation and legislative channels.

His current focus on this project is building infrastructure and capacity for the network through grassroots Speaking At Harvard
organizing and implementation of web technologies.

Despite the physical distance, Klinger and I have maintained our friendship by phone. One night I was outside on Mercy College campus. He called me and said that he wanted to form a student group for the purpose of raising awareness about the problem of
wrongful convictions.

He knew that various student organizations in the past at other schools had sponsored my events, and he told me he wanted to bring me to Harvard. About six months later, he contacted me and said that he was ready to go. On April 14, 2009 I arrived at Harvard to speak about wrongful convictions.

In order to further publicize the event, I accompanied Mike to a class that he was attending pertaining to community organizing, where the professor was nice enough to permit me to give a short two minute blurb about the upcoming event the next night.

Following that, we went to a function called “The Community Tea.” The Harvard website defines the tea as follows: “Each week during the fall and spring terms, the Office of Student Life hosts a community tea, a chance for students, faculty, and staff to engage in conversation over a cup of tea or punch. A table of goodies is spread with tea sandwiches, fruit, and sweets. It is a time to relax, refuel, and connect with friends.”

Following several announcements about various upcoming events, I again referenced the upcoming event the next night.

HDS Innocence Project

The HDS Innocence Project Engagement Group describes itself as “Offering students the opportunity to participate in the DNA-driven criminal justice reform movement through supportive political action and public education initiatives. Through a range of activities, students will have the opportunity to explore interrelated issues including, but not limited to: religious life in prison, capital punishment, prisoner reentry, forensic science, and peace and reconciliation processes. There will be several opportunities to meet with DNA exonerees so that we may bear witness to their suffering, and engage with them in dialogue to explore ways in which we as a community of diverse spiritual leaders of all faiths can perhaps assist in facilitating their healing.”

Contacted by The Guardian in connection with this article, Mike Klinger gave the following statement: “I founded the HDS Innocence Project Engagement Group with a vision of raising awareness amongst the spiritual leadership of tomorrow of the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions. My hope is to empower this leadership community with the awareness and advocacy skills required to help bring about a more just, accurate criminal justice system, which currently impacts every religious and spiritual community across the country.”

The first event was on Wednesday, April 15 at 8:20 AM at Harvard Law School, in the “Evidence” class taught by Prof. Bruce Hay. There were 80 students in the class. Prof. Hay had assisted in obtaining funding to cover the travel costs for the event. The class had been prepped on my case, and therefore I only spoke for about ten minutes.

I was a bit nervous starting out, but Prof. Hay asked me a few questions which helped me to relax, and then I got into a rhythm.

Following those ten minutes, however the rest of the period was spent with the students asking me questions regarding the legal aspects of my case, and also about wrongful convictions in general.

There were a few questions which required me to give information about a some other wrongful conviction cases as well. At times, Prof. Hay requested that I address different subjects.

The second event, out of all of the events that I participated in, was the main one since it was held in an auditorium and was open to students in all of the Harvard schools. This event began at 6pm and ran for about two hours at the Harvard Divinity School.

It was attended by students from Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Law School, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard’s School of Design, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and Harvard’s Extension School.

The HDS Innocence Project designed a poster to advertise the event. The poster’s headlines read “Innocence Project Engagement Group Presents… Jeff Deskovic: 16 Years of Wrongful Incarceration.”

In further elaboration of the event, the poster stated that I would speak about my wrongful conviction, time in prison, life post exoneration, and being involved in efforts to raise public awareness and bring about legislative changes.

I was introduced by Kerry Maloney. She spoke briefly about the importance of liberation. Then Mike Klinger was called to the podium. He thanked Maloney for her assistance, and then promptly
called me to the podium to speak.

Before launching into the presentation, I commented on how surreal it was to be at as a prestigious a school as Harvard whereas just a short two and a half years earlier I was in a prison cell with the weight of a life sentence on me.

I also reflected about how eight months ago Mike had called me and expressed interest in putting together some events at Harvard, and now it had come true. I then thanked him as well as all of the different people and groups that had helped but whose names were too numerous for me to remember, and then launched into the presentation.

I began by explaining how murders were rare in the small city of Peekskill, and how ultimately the police coerced a false confession out of me, and how I was convicted despite a negative DNA test, based upon prosecutor George Bolen’s concocting a baseless story that the 15 year old victim, who was an immigrant, had engaged in a consensual sexual encounter close enough to her murder and rape so as to exp lain away the negative DNA test, without ever attempting to prove that.

I spoke a little bit about my prison experience, including the violence in prison, disciplinary sanctions being imposed at various instances including in response to my defending myself which was thought of as “fighting”, including taking limited showers and being sent less food, including, at times, food that was old.

I spoke about trying to prevent the time in prison from being a total waste by earning an A.S. Degree and completing one year of further study towards a B.A. before Gov. Pataki eliminated funding for college education of prisoners.

I also having to choose between seeing my grandmother on her death bed, alive but comatose, or waiting till she passed away and then attending the religious service, as well as the mistreatment and humiliation I endured in the process.

Then I walked students through the appeals process and how then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro fought all seven of my appeals, including blocking me from getting more sophisticated DNA testing. I mentioned the letter writing campaign that I started, sending letters to individuals, and organizations, including churches and other faith-based organizations, big law firms, reporters, and not-for-profit
organizations that help clear wrongfully convicted prisoners but who don’t have enough resources to take all the meritorious cases that come their way.

I explained how when I ultimately obtained help from The Innocence Project, by which time Pirro was no longer in office, the Westchester District Attorney allowed further DNA testing, which matched the real perpetrator, one Steven Cunningham, who killed school teacher Pat Morrison three and a half years after he killed the victim for which I was incarcerated.

I then spoke about life post-release and it’s multi-faceted difficulties, including having to learn new technology, still having a hard time breaking in socially, and being released from prison with nothing and consequently struggling financially. I also mentioned becoming an advocate to make the criminal justice system more accurate and to raise awareness about the deficiencies in the system which make it possible for innocent
people to be wrongfully convicted, and that I engaged in these activities by speaking, writing, giving print, radio, and television interviews, lobbying, and testifying at legislative hearings.

I then provided the students with some ideas as to how they might get involved by learning more about the causes of wrongful convictions and the reforms needed and then sharing that information with friends and family, calling their representatives and encouraging them to pass laws implementing those reforms.

I said they could join Mike’s group. I then mentioned different ways that they could embark on careers that assisted the movement: becoming attorney’s who work on wrongful conviction cases, either working in the media department at organizations that work on wrongful conviction cases or being a reporter who writes articles, at least occasionally, on the subject; the mental health fields via counseling and social worker, paralegal, or simply going into law enforcement.

I made them understand that they could be that honest police officer who doesn’t cut corners nor tries to coerce suspects or allow it, being careful that innocent people are not arrested, and not participating in the blue wall of silence.

I said they could be a prosecutor who plays it by the book, doesn’t withhold exculpatory evidence, engage in prosecutorial misconduct or look the other way while it is happening.

Mike Klinger thanked Life Together, which is the Harvard Divinity’s School student body government, and the Office Of Student Life for providing funding for the event. Mike then thanked Kerry Maloney, HDS Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Chris Scheller, President, HDS Zen Peacemaker Order, a student organization, Zachary Ugolnik, President of the HDS Prison Education Project, a student organization, and Marcus McCullough, President of the HDS Harambee, another student organization, who assisted him non-monetarily in bringing the event together.

He then mentioned my emerging from my ordeal to try to make a difference, preventing this from happening to others. He then invited the students to get involved in the HDS Innocence Project Engagement Group, which planned to get involved in battling
against wrongful convictions.

A question and answer session then began. Some of the more memorable questions which elicited responses from me pertained to the prison industrial complex, and how I would like to assist prison reform groups who seek more humane prison conditions.

I also fielded some questions that brought out information I had not been able to include during the lecture phase pertaining to the dilemma of needing to take the sex offender program to have any chance of making parole but how that would mean admitting guilt and giving details, and to do so verbally and in writing to the staff and to the other prisoners in the program.

After much soul-searching, I decided that I could not bring myself to say I committed something that I had not, even if it would cost me my freedom. I then segued off of that question to mention how the Parole Board denied me release even though it acknowledged that I had a good disciplinary record and had a good educational record, and, how it was in the habit of rubber stamp denying parole applications even to people who could demonstrate that if they were released they would not be arrested again.

After the presentation I was pleased to meet Gretchen Bennett, who was with the New England Innocence Project, and a paralegal who worked with her. I also did the usual ‘meet and greet’ with the audience members. At the same time, some of the students signed up to participate in the HDS Innocence Project Engagement Group. Then Mike and I headed to the third event.

The third event ran a little bit more than an hour at the Harvard Extension School, in a classroom that physically was in the Harvard Law School, called “Evidence, Law, and Reason.” This class was also taught by Prof. Hay. Some 75 students were in attendance.

As with the first event, I spoke for about 10 minutes, and then the class started asking me a lot of questions, with Prof.
Hay occasionally directing that different subjects be addressed.

One of the more meaningful exchanges included a student commenting how there seemed to be a lot of public apathy regarding wrongful convictions. He also noted how one pirate attack on the U.S. has prompted talk of war but how in contrast 235 wrongful convictions has not similarly gotten the public demanding that action be taken.

Another meaningful exchange occurred when the a student mentioned the need for compensation in every state, and how this could potentially serve as a deterrent to future prosecutorial misconduct.

I commented how wrongful convictions were still going on even in those states with compensation, and how instead incarcerative penalties were needed for rogue prosecutors, as well as the ability to sue them personally. Much of the audience was in agreement.

I enjoyed visiting Mike after not seeing him for 8 months. We caught up with what we had been doing, played some chess. I had a chance to see some of the town of Cambridge. In my quest to try new things, I sampled an exotically named tea which was described as being the “champagne of tea.”

The student campus seemed alive with many extra curricular events, and the students were very friendly. One of them joined Mike and me at a restaurant.

Speaking at Harvard was a great experience. There was a part of me that was happy to potentially touch many students. One clear issue in the struggle in Massachusetts is that there is currently no post-conviction DNA law on the books giving prisoners the right to DNA Testing.

I think that other schools should be having student groups revolving around the issue of wrongful convictions, as it would further raise awareness and enable young adults to take action.

I really enjoyed sitting in on the community organizing class, and I think that is the next natural step in my advocacy work. As an individual, we are largely powerless. As a whole, we have the collective power of many, the energy, abilities, and most importantly, the votes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Christopher Ridley Case/Janet Difiore.

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Stanley Ridley, Father Of Slain Heroic
Police Officer Christopher Ridley, Declares,
“My Son Didn’t Have To Die That Way”

Last Tuesday morning, April 14th, a press conference was held at the site of the tragic shooting of Police Officer Christopher Ridley on January 25, 2008. The purpose of the press conference was to officially announce the filing of a $90 million federal lawsuit by Officer Ridley’s father,
Stanley Ridley, in United States District Court, White Plains.

The suit, which names Janet DiFiore, District Attorney of Westchester, individually and in her capacity as District Attorney, as well as the four County police officers directly involved in the shooting, together with their commissioner, Thomas Belfiore, Chief Medical Examiner Millard Hyland, and County Executive Andrew Spano, also names the County of Westchester, New York; nine Defendants in all, and seeks $10 million from each.

Stanley Ridley, the Plaintiff, is primarily motivated to uncover the truth, the whole truth, regarding what actually happened outside 85 Court Street, White Plains just minutes before 5pm on January 25, 2008. He knows, logically and instinctively, that much of what the district attorney
and her cohorts would have him, and the rest of us, believe is neither truthful nor believable; and, what’s more, that there are witnesses who insist that from their vantage point, much of what came out of the grand jury was a whitewash.

Mostly, Stanley Ridley wants to clear his son’s name, something he shouldn’t have to do except for Janet DiFiore’s demeaning fabrications that Officer Ridley would embark upon a mission to confront and apprehend a brutally violent perpetrator, Anthony Jacobs, who had just assaulted
and battered a middle-aged man, breaking both of the man’s wrists, but would carry out an arrest carrying only his service weapon, but leaving his badge, his universally-recognized symbol of police authority, behind in his car.

DiFiore would have Mr. Ridley, and all of us in Westchester with sense enough to tie our own shoelaces, believe that Christopher would first go running into the security entry area of the County Office Building seeking to enlist police assistance, with a gun in his belt, but no badge.

Witnesses very close to the action are saying it didn’t happen that way. They’re saying he was holding a badge in his right hand and his service weapon in his left hand, arms fully extended from his sides, facing three of the four County police officers standing no more than 10 feet from him when they opened fire, though his gun wasn’t pointed at any of them. Those witnesses are saying that he then dropped his badge and his gun on the sidewalk, and was going down to his knees when a fourth officer, who had taken cover behind a tree at the curb, came out and placed his gun, at point-blank range, and shot Officer Ridley in the head above his left eyebrow.

Witnesses also report seeing the entry wound with powder burns around it as Christopher Ridley’s body lay on the sidewalk, uncovered for some time; and, that the badge which lay on the sidewalk near him was quickly removed, even before White Plains police arrived on the scene.When Plaintiff Stanley Ridley went to the Westchester County Medical Examiner’s Office to identify his son’s mortal remains, he was shown Christopher’s body with his head wrapped in white bandaging from his eyebrows up.

He told reporters, “We want the truth, we want the tapes, and I want all the people involved in this brought to justice. My son didn’t have to die that way.” Responding to questions from a large contingent of newspaper and broadcast reporters, attorney Jonathan Lovett declared, “I have plenty of witnesses, but now we will have a tidal wave.” He cited District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s “repeated refusal to release the unredacted video
tapes.” Asked why the grand jury found the killing was an accident, Lovett responded, “Grand juries do what they are asked to do by the DA.”

Damon Jones, a Westchester Corrections Officer and President of the Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association, told reporters, “The Westchester County justice system needs an enema because it’s full of crap!” He went on to say that there were “lots of witnesses who came forward to the Mount Vernon police,” but that they were all directed to White Plains.

Jones expressed his opinion with regard to the DA’s investigation saying, “This case is a poster child for the need for a special prosecutor.”

There were no fewer than four surveillance cameras mounted on the County Office Building, and elsewhere, that took videotapes of the tragic events leading up to the killing of heroic police officer Christopher Ridley, and the shooting itself. The fact that District Attorney Janet
DiFiore has repeatedly refused to show the public the unredacted, untampered-with tapes for more than 15 months now, speaks volumes about the integrity of her investigation and the product of her grand jury.

This is the same district attorney, after all, who covered up the violence of Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes, the rogue cop who bodyslammed Irma Marquez without justification; the same district attorney who then proceeded to prosecute Ms. Marquez on totally fictitious charges even after viewing the horrific videotape of Simoes’ unprovoked attack. Likewise, this is the same district attorney who prosecuted Rui Florim, who was brutalized by six off-duty Yonkers cops, and who prosecuted numerous other victims of Yonkers police brutality, including Dr. Sherry Bobrowsky.

Janet DiFiore is the same district attorney who, upon entering office, kept concealed, for 16 months, until compelled by the federal courts, to turn over 376 pages, 52 boxes, and miles of audio tape, all of which indicate Anthony DiSimone’s innocence in the stabbing death of Louis Balancio,
in Yonkers, 15 years ago, including a confession by the actual murderer, Nick Djonovic. How can Stanley Ridley, or any intelligent and reasonable
individual, trust anything as crucial as the investigation of the killing of their only child to such an individual?

Nevertheless, before and after the press conference, The Journal News made their bias very clear. On Tuesday, the day of the press conference,
Phil Reisman, who always drank the kool aid for Jeanine Pirro, willingly did the same for Janet DiFiore. For him, the Ridley tragedy and the failure of the DA’s Office to come clean, was merely about an effort to “take down the DA.”

The simple fact is DA DiFiore has refused to reveal the unredacted, unaltered videotapes taken by several surveillance cameras of the tragic incident. If those original images supported her version of the killing, she would have shown them to the public 15 months ago, would have
released the medical examiner’s report, and turned over articles of Christopher Ridley’s clothing to his family immediately.

Yonkers Police Commissioner Edmund Hartnett/Police Brutality in Yonkers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In Our Opinion...

Yonkers Police Commissioner Hartnett Continues To Ignore Police Brutality

In our April 16th issue, Damon K. Jones, Executive Director of the Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association declared, in a press release, “There is hypocrisy in Westchester politics. Why did the County Executive and County Legislators push a Shot Spotter System that
is neither preventative nor a true quality-of-life investment for the residents of Mount Vernon and Yonkers, while residents of Ardsley receive monies for school improvement, road maintenance, and wireless systems for their schools?”

Jones was essentially questioning whether the $3 million that the County had agreed to spend on the state-of-the-art technology to more promptly locate the scene of gunfire and probable violence on the streets of Yonkers and Mount Vernon might not have been spent more effectively on other, more fundamental, police department equipment such as computers and working car cams in squad cars. He further suggested that some of the funds might have been better allocated for preventative measures such as job placement, outreach and educational assistance in coordination
with Operation Protect. Officer Jones also expressed his views in The Journal News to which Yonkers Police Commissioner Edmund Hartnett saw fit to respond on Sunday, April 12th.

Responding to Jones’ position, Hartnett accurately indicated that Jones felt the taxpayer funds “would be better spent on long-term solutions to long-standing problems in both communities,” Mount Vernon and Yonkers. Then Hartnett gave Jones the benefit of the doubt declaring, “Although he is probably well-intended, Mr. Jones is missing the point.”

In Mount Vernon, how can Commissioner Chong have any realistic expectation of cooperation and assistance from law-abiding adults and seniors when their 12- and 13-year-old sons and grandsons are beaten and bitten up by squads of rogue cops bent on racial retaliation and punishment
reminiscent of the South of 50 years ago; missing only the high-pressure hoses?

And then there is the Yonkers Police Department, to whom the Mount Vernon Police turned when their own dog was otherwise occupied. For some two and a half years now, Edmund Hartnett, who authored the response to Officer Jones’ comments, has been heading that department as its commissioner.

Hartnett declares, “Gun violence is an immediate problem that requires using all resources and tools at our disposal,” and, We certainly agree. He goes on to say, “The People, especially the children of Yonkers, and Mount Vernon need our help and protection now.” Again, We couldn’t agree

However, the People, especially the children, shouldn’t need our help and protection from violent rogue cops such as the squad of both Mount Vernon and Yonkers Police who beat up and mauled three young boys found loitering in the A.B. Davis Middle School one Saturday evening several
weeks ago.

Furthermore, perhaps if the cities of Yonkers and Mount Vernon had meaningful civilian complaint review boards, Irma Marquez would not have been brutally body-slammed by Officer Wayne Simoes as a half-dozen other Yonkers officers did nothing to stop or apprehend him; and, Rui Florim would not have been beaten, nearly to death, by six off-duty Yonkers cops in the Town of Greenburgh. Commissioner Hartnett, and the Mayor who hired him, see no need for a civilian complaint review board. Each of them have told The Guardian as much, publicly. They like things
just the way they are; and, so, apparently, does DA Janet DiFiore, who covers up the actions of rogue cops while prosecuting not only their civilian victims, but good cops as well.

Our Readers Respond....

Re: Paul Cote

Dear Editor:

I am writing regarding Paul Cote, the Westchester Correction Officer. I have known this man for a very long time. My sister (who lives in Mount
Vernon) is Paul’s aunt. When I heard of his involvement with the incident at the County Jail I could not believe this was the same Paul Cote I know.

I know Paul to be a family man who is respectful, soft-spoken, loving and kind. My understanding is he went to help his partner, another correction officer, who had a problem with an inmate. How come Paul is the only one charged and convicted? Are young people, familiar with this case, going to believe “it doesn’t pay to help a friend”?

Paul doesn’t deserve this injustice. He has suffered enough. Send him home to his children, his wife and his family.

Catherine Mascali,
Staten Island

Mount Vernon City Hall, Janet Difiore and Sam Zherka.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

DA Presents A Very Weak Case
Against Publisher Sam Zherka
Mount Vernon City Court
Judge Adam Seiden Presiding

Last Thursday, Guardian publisher Sam Zherka appeared in Mount Vernon City Court for a bench trial before Judge Adam Seiden, charged with Disorderly Conduct, a violation. The charge grew out of an incident outside the chambers of the City Council on
the second floor in City Hall October 31, 2008.

ADA Alexis Celestin told Judge Seiden, sitting as the trier of fact, “The People intend to prove that on Halloween, Friday, October 31st, the City of Mount Vernon conducted an auction of properties foreclosed for tax liens, and, that the Defendant got into an altercation with Police Officer Morris, and that he became loud and he became irate. He said, ‘I pay your salary, and you shouldn’t even be a cop’. Yolanda Robinson, Mount Vernon Chief of Staff, tried to calm the Defendant down, but he
paid no attention to her and went on yelling, screaming and cursing at Police Officer Morris. At the end of the trial, the Court will find that the Defendant is guilty of Disorderly

Attorney Jonathan Lovett, representing Sam Zherka, declined to
make an opening statement.

The Prosecution’s first witness was Mount Vernon Police Officer
Morris, a woman who has spent two and a half years in the Patrol Division.

Asked what she was doing on the date in question, she told the
Court that she was working an 8 am - 4 pm tour of duty, and was called to City Hall to relieve Police Officer Pasqua.

Officer Morris claimed early in her testimony that she was instructed not to let anybody else into the auction before Sam Zherka, pre-registered, arrived a few minutes after the scheduled 11am starting time.

She claimed that she turned someone else away.

Morris said, “The Defendant said, ‘I pay your f---ing salary. You shouldn’t be a cop.’”

ADA Celestin asked, “What did you say?”

Police Officer Morris: “I told him to stop yelling at me and using bad language.”

ADA Celestin: “Did anyone approach you?”

Officer Morris: “Yolanda Robinson; she began to talk to the Defendant.”

ADA Celestin: “Do you recall what she said?”

Officer Morris: “No.”

ADA Celestin: “What happened with Officer Pasqua?”

Officer Morris: “We escorted the Defendant downstairs.”

Jonathan Lovett then cross-examined Officer Morris. He started
with, “On October 31, 2008, when were you told by Central what time you arrived earlier outside the doors at City Council Chambers at City Hall? What were you told?”

Morris answered, “Respond to City Hall Council Chambers.” Morris
said that PO Pasqua told her “We’re going to stand here to keep
order and peace.”

Responding to a statement by Morris on direct examination that
she had been told by Second Deputy Controller Valentine not to let anybody else into the auction, Lovett asked, “So before Mr. Zherka got there she told you nobody else was allowed to go in?
Did anyone else go in? Did anyone else go in or out?”

Morris: “I don’t remember.”

Lovett: “Didn’t you see John Boykin come out?”

Morris: “I don’t remember.”

Lovett: “What was the first thing the Defendant said to you?”

Morris: “He asked why he couldn’t go in.”

Lovett: “What did you say?”

Morris: “I told him he couldn’t go in.”

Lovett: “Did Mr. Zherka say anything about being registered to
attend the auction?”

Morris: “I don’t remember.”

Lovett: “How close were you to the door?”

Morris: “About a foot.”

Lovett: “What time did you call for backup?”

Morris: “I’m not sure.”

Lovett: “Do you remember Mr. Zherka pulling out a tape recorder?”

Morris: “I’m not sure.”

Lovett: “Do you remember Yolanda Robinson calling Mr. Zherka
a White mother f---er?”

Morris: “I don’t remember.”

At this point, ADA Celestin began a continuing overruled objection.

Lovett: “Did anyone come out of the auction to say what was going on in the hall was interrupting the auction?”

Lovett then asked if at any point after the incident Officer Morris told Mayor Young, “in words or substance,” that she wanted to apologize to Mr. Zherka; but, Morris denied it.

Morris claimed that she and Mr. Boykin, and Officer Pasqua, accompanied Mr. Zherka down to the first floor.

Lovett then asked Officer Morris a series of questions with regard to what happened when she got down to the first floor:

• If she told the sergeant on duty about Zherka;

• If she told the squad of cops who responded to her call, when
they arrived, and passed her as they ran upstairs;

• If she recalled being with Police Commissioner Chong just inside the front door to City Hall;

• If she checked to see if the auction was still going on on the second floor? All of which she responded to negatively.

Lovett followed up with, “Did John Boykin say anything in your

Morris responded, “Yes,” without elaborating.

He then asked the same question with respect to Police Commissioner Chong, to which Officer Morris responded that Chong had said there would be a summons issued.

Lovett then asked, “Do you remember the Defendant’s holding
up his tape recorder and offering to play what had occurred for Commissioner Chong?” Morris denied remembering it.

He then asked, “Are you aware that the entire incident was recorded by Mr. Zherka?”

Morris responded, “No.”

Finally, Lovett asked Morris, “In light of that fact, are there any statements you made here, today, that you might wish to change?”

Morris again said, “No.”

ADA Celestin, at that point, made an application for Judge Seiden to listen to the tape. The Judge reserved decision.

The Prosecution then presented Mount Vernon Police Officer Vincent J. Pasqua, Thomas Rejalla, First Deputy Controller, Susan Valentine, Second Deputy Controller, and Rudy Persaud,
Public Works Supervisor, none of whom had anything particularly supportive of the charges against Mr. Zherka to say.

If anything, their recollection of events suggested that the incident occurring right outside the door to City Council Chambers was in no way audible inside and did not interrupt the auction going on in that room. Public Works Supervisor Rudy Persaud’s testimony was particularly exculpatory to Zherka in
that Attorney Lovett established, with his testimony, on cross-examination, that neither John Boykin nor Yolanda Robinson were spoken to offensively by Zherka in his presence.

As if to confirm the fact, Judge Seiden asked the witness, “When
you got to the top of the stairs, was Robinson with you?”

Persaud responded, “Yes,” and indicated that he remained for a few minutes outside Council chambers.

The sixth Prosecution witness was Yolanda Robinson, who took
the witness stand declaring, “I am Yolanda Robinson, Chief of Staff of the City of Mount Vernon.” Robinson, responding to ADA Celestin’s inquiry about her whereabouts at the time in question, said, “I was walking upstairs with Rudy Persaud.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I heard a commotion.”

Celestin asked, “Did you know who the Defendant was?”

Robinson said, “No.”

Asked what she did next, Robinson said, “I identified myself.”

Celestin then asked, “Did he pay attention to you?”

Robinson responded, “No, he didn’t.”

Prosecutor Celestin then asked, “Who was standing there?”

Robinson replied, “I saw Police Officer Morris, Mr. Zherka, and Rob DiBenedictis.”

ADA Celestin asked what Robinson said to Zherka, to which Robinson responded, “I said if you do not behave, you will be escorted out.”

Probed further by Celestin, she indicated, “A crowd had gathered
and I became alarmed for the people gathered.”

Celestin asked, “Did you accompany Mr. Zherka out?”

Robinson responded, affirmatively, following up with, “I saw
Commissioner Chong and identified myself.”

Attorney Jonathan Lovett then proceeded to cross-examine the witness.

Mr. Lovett asked, “Why did you leave your office?”

Robinson replied, “I went to see the auction,” and then said she
was having a Department of Public Works issue.

At that point, Judge Seiden asked the witness, “Do you have any
recollection of what you discussed with Mr. Persaud?” Robinson did not recall.

Lovett then asked, “From the point at which you approached the
Chamber door, until you left the area, how much time elapsed?”
Robinson responded, “About 20 to 25 minutes.”

Lovett then asked, “What did the Defendant yell at the officer?”

Robinson responded, “You are not fit to wear the uniform. I pay
your salary.”

Robinson had no recollection of her conversation about a key, a car, or New Jersey, all of which the previous witness, Public Works Supervisor Rudy Persaud, had explained to the Court were the reasons he was with her, looking for John Boykin, and accompanied her to the area outside City Council Chambers.

Lovett went on, “Do you recall telling John Boykin, ‘mind your own business?’” Robinson said she did not.

Lovett pursued the matter further, “Did you say to Mr. Boykin, ‘What kind of Black man allows a White man to talk to a Black woman like that?’”

Robinson did not recall having said that. However, she did admit to telling Boykin, “If you don’t stop interfering, you’re going down with him.”

Speaking further of Boykin, Robinson said, “I recall him trying
to interfere as the police officers were trying to remove him.” Lovett came back with, “Do you recall saying, ‘This White motherf---er f---ed with the wrong f---er.’”

ADA Celestin immediately objected, and was sustained. Lovett then asked, “How long was Mr. Zherka outside the chambers?”

Robinson responded, “Ten minutes.”

Judge Seiden then said, “What we are trying to get at here are the exact words that you used.”

To that, Robinson responded, “I told Commissioner Chong that I
told him [Zherka] who I was, and he kept doing what he was doing.”

Jeffrey Deskovic.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jeff Deskovic.

Gideon Day

In previous issues I have written about the broken public defender system and called for reform. One of the problems is that each county has its own public defender system and thus there is no statewide oversight or means of quality control. In addition, there is a vastly uneven economic playing field between the District Attorney and public defenders’ offices. District attorneys have huge staffs and financial resources which permit them to hire experts to assist in reviewing evidence and preparing cases; whereas public defenders have much smaller staffs and often must resort to
asking judges to allocate discretionary funding in order to hire experts. Often such requests are denied by judges who feel pressure to keep the costs of trials down.

In addition, public defenders usually carry way too much caseload. In The Bronx, for example, it is not unusual for one public defender to simultaneously represent 120 defendants. With an overwhelming case load such as that, just how much attention can actually be paid to each case?

Because of the time constraints due to their excessive caseloads, public defenders frequently do not meet often enough, or long enough, with their clients, and thus enter court ill-prepared. Often during preliminary, though important, pretrial proceedings, attorneys can be seen outside of the courtroom, and sometimes even inside of the courtroom, quickly thumbing through a file five minutes before their case is before
a judge.

Beyond the pretrial implications, the inadequate time spent on cases and on meetings with clients amounts to inadequate investigation of the facts, evidence helpful to the Defense, and possible defenses. The end result is often that the best defense is not put forward on behalf of the Defendant; and, a harsher than necessary sentence may be imposed as a result of a court not having all of the facts in front of it that could have been brought forward by a competent attorney. Often Defendants plead guilty out of a realization that their court-appointed attorney is not that good, and/or well equipped to fight the case; and, often wrongful convictions result.

There is also a pay disparity between prosecutors and public defenders. As I see it, both sides should receive equal pay so that all the best legal talent
does not go to the prosecution side, or into private practice. The difference in the quality of defense that a poor person receives as compared with that of a wealthy and/or politically-connected person is like night and day.

In 2005, the Spangdenberg Group, at the behest of New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye, studied the quality of public defense in New York. They released a final report in June 2006 entitled “The State Of Indigent Defense In New York State.” In addition to noting the broken public defender system and its failings, one of the solutions proposed involved having one statewide system of public defense, one which would provide oversight and quality control, as well as promulgate standards.

As yet, no reform has occurred legislatively, and poor defendants often do not receive quality representation. This past March 18, however, a major effort was undertaken to both raise legislators’ awareness of this issue and the public’s support for reforms in this area, while raising public awareness.

The Campaign For An Independent Public Defense Commission

An organization called Campaign For An Independent Public Defense Commission [referred to hereafter as “The Campaign”] has been put together to improve the state of indigent defense. They have a website page on Facebook which states, “Money should not buy justice. We need a public defense system that works for everyone. It’s time to stand up and call for a commission to oversee defense services in New York as well as
a fully state-funded system. We cannot wait for the system to change itself. We want the Independent Public Defense Commission.”

Their concept is to have the state legislature fund the Independent Public Defense Commission, at a rate of three million dollars per year, for three years. The Commission would figure out how to implement the changes advocated by The Spangdenberg Group and to promulgate standards on
effective attorney representation. The money was already present; and The Legislative Gazette reported that the group said, “because funding was already set aside from the Indigent Legal Services Fund, under state finance law … to be used to improve the quality of public defense services.”The
funds went unspent. The organization is a coalition of over 220 organizations and scores of individuals. Members include faith-based organizations, bar associations, good-government and social justice groups, and many others.

In addition, individuals who have dealt first-hand with the tragedies created by the current deficient system, along with others committed to justice, are calling for public defense reform now and are in support of the Independent Public Defense Commission.

Gideon Day

Gideon Day was celebrated on March 18th, commemorating the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the immortal case Gideon v
Wainwright, which established that under the 6th Amendment of The United States Constitution, all states and the federal government have to provide to poor defendants an attorney, free of charge, if they cannot afford to hire their own.

The Campaign chose Gideon Day as the day in which a major push would be made to establish The Independent Public Defense Commission. In order to pave the way, there had been, of course, a lot of preparatory work. Outreach had successfully been made to all of those organizations and people described above.Many newspapers had written articles urging the implementation of public defense reform, including: the Post Standard of Syracuse, The New York Times, Newsday, Press Republican of Plattsburgh, Times Union of Albany, Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester.

Additionally, the following people had written op-ed pieces which appeared in newspapers: Senator Antoine Thompson, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, President-Elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association Roberto Ramirez, Senator Schneiderman and Senator Ruth Hassell Thompson, former NY Court Of Appeals Judges Stewart F. Hancock, Jr., Joseph Bellacosa, and George Bundy Smith, as well as Ron Waterman, who is a Montana Attorney.

Concerned citizens from all parts of the state were bussed in for the purpose of laying peaceful siege to the Legislative Office Building. Their presence at the rotunda gathering was to demonstrate how high a priority this issue is for citizens. Additionally, lobbying visits had been scheduled between the citizens and their local elected officials.

More than 250 people came. Folders were given out which contained information regarding the Independent Public Defense Commission, the most
important piece of information being that the citizens were to ask their local official to write a letter to both the Senate and Assembly leadership asking them to write The Commission For An Independent Defense Commission into their budget itself.

There was also an informational packet which was to be left at the various Senate and Assembly offices upon the conclusion of the visit by the delegation’s coordinator.

All of the participants were asked to sign in as a means of tracking who came, and complimentary tee shirts were given out which read “Campaign
For An Independent Public Defense Commission.”

The Program

The event kicked off at approximately 9 AM. Many organizations which were in solidarity with the Campaign had tables set up at The Well, forming a kind of huge circle with plenty of sitting and walking room in the middle. There were various social justice organizations, including those which worked on prisoner re-entry issues and The Innocence Project. Jay Salpeter, the investigator who helped to clear Marty Tankleff, was present, as was Tankleff. They were seated at a table together, which had copies of the book A Criminal Injustice by Salpeter and Rick Firstman.

They also had a sign up in the front of the table regarding the organization which they formed together called “Fortress Innocence” which is designed to help others who are wrongfully convicted that cannot pay for their legal assistance. The manger of The Campaign, Jonathan Gradess, who is also the executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, addressed the gathering. He spoke of the broken public defender system and how The Independent Public Defense Commission would remedy much of the ills of the present system. He pointed out the link between ineffective representation and wrongful convictions. He referenced my case as well as that of Tankleff. He encouraged the audience to “speak truth to power”, and further encouraged them to ask their representatives to write the Senate and Assembly leadership.

Noted wrongful conviction expert and author Scott Christianson, whose works have been cited by the United States Supreme Court, and who is the
author of the book Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases, was on hand for the event. His exhibit, which also goes by the name of “Innocent”, consisting of tall wooden frames which contain news stories of wrongful convictions, each one covering a different cause of wrongful convictions along with a case example, was displayed in The Well. The cases mentioned included that of Betty Tyson and her co-defendant John Duval, whose convictions were overturned because a buried report contradicting trial testimony of one of the two witnesses against them was unearthed, and the second witness stated that he had been coerced by the police to implicate them, along with the Pedro Morales and Reuben
Montalvo case, in which the real perpetrator confessed to a priest who then informed the court once the perpetrator died; and the still ongoing wrongful conviction of Frank Sterling, who was convicted after a false confession spanning several hours while a hypnotist was trying to hypnotize him. Six of the twelve cases Christianson had documented have, since the book came out, had their innocence established. Christianson spoke several different times at the podium, and was also available to answer questions as different people examined his art exhibit.

Starting between 10:30 AM and 11 AM lobbying visits began and the citizens moved out for their first two meetings. At 12 PM a press conference was held in the press room of the L.O.B. Press Conference Chairman Eric T. Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, said the right to representation is “the right that guards all other rights.” When people are denied adequate representation, he said, “the consequences are devastating: ruined communities,
ruined families.” “is absolutely clear that there are people going to prison for crimes they did not commit due to problems with indigent defense.”

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman, Joseph R. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, spoke on the plight of his fellow lawyers in the state, saying he hears stories in his community of “dedicated lawyers, counselors of law that are reduced to assembly-line representation of clients” because they are assigned too
many defendants at once. Assembly Corrections Committee Chairman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens, spoke from another angle, saying, “Lots of folks in my neighborhood contend that they are not able to receive the kind of defense that they deserve as citizens of this state,” and “it’s not a mistake” the “prison population is overwhelmingly black and brown” and poor. “If we were to create a system that provides adequate defense, we would see those numbers lessen,” Aubry said. Michael Whiteman, chairman of the Committee for an Independent Public Defense Commission, said the proposed commission would work to create new “standards on case loads, training and experiences,” giving more access to resources for investigators working for the defense and updating management systems “to make sure things don’t fall between the cracks.”

Whiteman also said the three years before a state takeover would allow the commission adequate planning time to identify other areas where savings and efficiencies can be found. The campaign is proposing the commission get its funding — $3 million a year over the next three years —
from the Indigent Legal Services Fund, a fund Jonathan Gradess, who manages the campaign, says “exists under state finance law … to be used to improve the quality of public defense services.”

My Role

Reservations had been made for me to meet with Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins. At the same time, another Westchester County resident, who refers
to remain anonymous, would meet with another Westchester Legislator. Following that, all of us would meet with Assemblyman Adam Bradley and,
then after lunch, we would meet with Assemblyman George Latimer. The resident stated that a relative of his had been wrongfully convicted of rape, and that it had emotionally devastated the entire family. That conviction, he said, was caused by ineffective representation by a private attorney who had never before tried a criminal case. He indicated that it was particularly hard for relatives to visit the convicted relative in prison
and then leave him behind at the conclusion of the visit knowing that he was innocent.

The citizen was nervous about his meeting, and so I quickly gave him tips on what to expect and how to utilize his personal story and then make the connection between ineffective representation that his relative received and the issue of seeking the implementation of an independent public defense commission. After the first two meetings, during the lunch period, I spoke for about fifteen minutes in the Rotunda, and then had the group meeting with Assemblyman Latimer. While still in the L.O.B. I was able to set up a number of unrelated lobbying visits on other wrongful conviction issues.

District Attorney DiFiore

On April 2, 2009, Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore published an op-ed piece in The Journal News regarding Gideon Day. In the article she stated that, as District Attorney, it was not just her duty to prosecute the guilty but to ensure that justice is done. She further stated that the Public Defender system was “under-funded, overburdened, and without uniform standards to measure and enforce quality representation.

Under the present system, the quality of counsel was determined by the happenstance of where one was tried. To correct this fractured system, the Kaye Commission called for the creation of an Independent Public Defense Commission (Defense Commission) to operate and finance the provision of defense counsel for the indigent uniformly throughout the state.

The Defense Commission would issue statewide standards for caseload limits, training and availability of investigatory resources.”


There is indeed a great need for an Independent Public Defense Commission, and I am proud to add my voice in support to the movement. I salute the legislative leaders who supported and continue to support the initiative. The relationship between quality legal representation and justice is obvious. As the quote on one of the informational sheets that The Campaign handed out stated, paraphrased “Without an attorney, Gideon was convicted. With an attorney he was acquitted in an hour.”

Although The Commission was not written into the budget and it should have been, I do believe that a big impact was made and that there is a good
chance that legislation can be passed this year if enough concerned citizens reach out to their elected officials and prevail upon them. It is critical that efforts not cease now after this momentary setback; rather, there is a need to intensify our efforts because although a battle may have been lost, clearly the war can still be won this year.

I believe that we need more people in the movement who are employed in law enforcement, who do not simply pay lip service to the need for change, but whose actions in the discharging of their job responsibilities support it. In the recent case of Kian Khatibi, that was not what The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office did, nor was it what happened in other recent Westchester cases where wrongful convictions were ultimately overturned.

Instead, the Westchester DA took an unreasonable, win-at-all cost position in seeking to preserve those convictions which judges later determined
should, in fact, be overturned. Frankly, I believe that actions speak much louder than words, and what I see and hear are not the sounds of a real reformer who is truly interested in preventing and correcting wrongful convictions.

Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Identifying And Dealing With Dementia

Last month, an elderly woman was found wandering in Yonkers. The Police Department identified where she lived and placed her in a cab to
be taken home. However, the police did not notify her next of kin or determine if she was capable of going home unescorted or if she even had
her house keys with her to get back into her home.

Fortunately the cab driver assigned to her handled the situation correctly, avoiding possible disaster. He did not drive off when he dropped
her at her destination; rather he waited to see if she was able to enter her home. She was not, since she had indeed forgotten her house keys.

The driver then went through the woman’s possessions, identified her next of kin, and informed her daughter of her mother’s dilemma. Given the thousands of elderly and dementia victims in Westchester, the ineffective response of the Yonkers Police Department is concernful. At
a minimum, this woman should only have been released to a relative; she should not have been allowed to go home alone. Ironically, a minimum-wage cab driver handled this situation more responsibly than highly-paid“trained” professionals.

According to Michele Muir, Communications Director for the Westchester Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, there are at least 22,000 known cases of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in Westchester County. “That statistic is probably extremely low,” Muir warns. “Many
individuals are undiagnosed so the actual number of victims could easily be twice that amount or more.” Muir also noted the high rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s among the elderly, far greater than heart disease and cancer rates. “Alzheimer’s strikes one out of every two individuals over the age of 85,” Muir said.

As the population ages and survives diseases such as cancer and heart attacks, the likelihood of a local resident being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s in their lifetime is extremely high. For that reason, the Westchester Alzheimer’s Association has joined a statewide coalition to lobby for passage of the Omnibus Alzheimer Service Act of 2009 in Albany.

According to the Alzheimer’s coalition, the Omnibus Act would “create a statewide Silver Alert system; this is a prompt response and
notification program used by law enforcement to help locate cognitively impaired citizens who have been reported as missing. Among its other provisions this legislation would allow for the education and training of police officers with regard to individuals with Alzheimer’s’
disease or other dementias.

This legislation is necessary to implement statewide protocols aimed at returning individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias to their home as soon as possible. National statistics have shown that individuals suffering from these diseases, who are missing for over 24 hours, have a 60% chance of not being found alive.”

In addition, the Coalition has requested the following appropriations in the New York State 2009-2010 budget
for Alzheimer’s related programs:

• $351,000 for Alzheimer’s Disease Community Assistance Programs;

• $250,000 for education, support services, and early diagnosis related to Alzheimer’s;

• $250,000 for the services and expenses of the Alzheimer’s Association chapters;

• $225,000 for the Alzheimer’s Disease Coordinating Council.

In short, the Alzheimer’s statewide coalition is requesting only slightly over $1,000,000 for assistance with a disease that has the highest probability among all diseases of affecting any one of us as we age. This disease eventually robs its victims of all cognitive understanding
and the ability to perform bodily functions.

At the final stage, most Alzheimer’s victims lack any awareness of their surroundings and all memory of their lives, as if they never lived at all. But, despite the horrific consequences of this disease, the high probability of its occurrence, and the growing number of victims as the population ages, the coalition’s proposals in the Omnibus Act were vetoed by Governor Paterson late last year. In 2008, the members of both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate passed legislation introduced by Senator DeFrancisco, the Omnibus
Alzheimer’s Services Act of 2008. This act was based on the following findings by the State legislature:

“The legislature hereby finds and declares that over 330,000 New York citizens are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and that one in eight citizens over the age of 65, and half of those over the age of 85, are affected by these diseases.

The legislature further finds and declares that 70 percent of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia patients are cared for at home by family
members, in what are often extraordinary and moving acts of love and devotion during the progress of the disease, which on average lasts between five and fifteen years and is marked by progressive symptoms that, over time, make the patient completely dependent on their caregivers.

The legislature further finds that a common behavior of this disease that causes great concern for families and caregivers is wandering, and that there have been several recent incidents in which a New York State citizen diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia has engaged in wandering, and the locality was not equipped with the tools necessary to locate them in a timely manner, with the unfortunate result that these individuals never returned home to their families.

The legislature therefore finds and declares that it is imperative that New York State and its localities develop plans to ensure that, in the event an individual with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other cognitive impairments is missing, the appropriate technology and infrastructure are available and can be easily and timely activated to protect the health and safety of these vulnerable citizens.”

Ms. Carolyn Keleher, the Communications Coordinator for Senator DeFrancisco, provided an outline of the provisions in this act to aid Alzheimer’s and dementia victims:

• Authorizes the Office of Aging to enter into contracts for training for law enforcement personnel on issues related to persons with cognitive impairments;

• Establishes the Silver Alert system for the location of missing persons with cognitive impairments;

• Requires the Coordinating Council for Services Related to Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementia to make recommendations on
certain technology to be used for the location of persons with cognitive impairments.

After success in the New York State Senate on June 19, 2008, the original Omnibus act then immediately passed the New York State Assembly on June 24, 2008 and was forwarded to Governor Paterson for his signature. However, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, on November 24, 2008, Paterson vetoed this bill with the following explanation:

• Because there are over 600 law enforcement entities in New York State, this bill could result in several hundred different locally-based "silver alert" programs, assuming that these local jurisdictions were willing to invest the resources necessary to support such a program. By contrast, DCJS (New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services) already runs a statewide alert system for missing children, which allows it to send alerts to as many as 16,000 recipients, including law enforcement entities, media outlets, highway systems, and airline, train and bus terminals. With no additional resources, and within an hour of receiving legislative authority to do so, DCJS could modify
its system to include alerts for missing persons with cognitive impairments.

• The current DCJS Basic Course for Police Officers already includes lessons on persons with disabilities, including materials relating to persons with Alzheimer's disease. There is no need for the State Office for the Aging, at a potential cost of over $2 million annually, to develop a separate curriculum, or to administer a program in which "outside contractors" would provide such training.

• This bill would specifically require training on one particular type of locator technology, the MedicAlert+ system developed by the
Alzheimer's Association. I have been advised that there is other locator technology being used in this State, and it is conceivable that technological advances will lead to the creation of different types of systems in the future. It therefore seems prudent to allow DCJS to use its best judgment.

• Finally, the bill would require the Coordinating Council for Services Related to Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementia, which is co-chaired by DOH and SOFA, to review and make recommendations regarding the best use of locator technology. This legislative authority is unnecessary, because the Council may review that technology at any time without such a mandate. Moreover, this provision also would
mandate each State agency participating in the Council to post on its website information with respect to where to buy the technology, and the costs, benefits and disadvantages of each option.

Using public resources to promote and endorse products sold by profit-making entities could violate Article VII, Section 8 of the State Constitution, which prohibits money of the State to be used "in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking."
The Governor’s explanations above, however, ignore the following facts:

1. Since New York State already has an “Amber Alert” system in place to locate missing children, the State could easily adapt this system to include Alzheimer’s and dementia victims. Therefore, the governor could have negotiated for a drafted amendment to this legislation to do this, rather than vetoing the bill entirely;

2. The “Basic Training for Police Officers” offered by the State Division for Criminal Services is not mandatory. According to Janine Kava, a
spokesperson for the DCJS, “It is up to each police department to set their own training standards”. A review of the DCJS website revealed only one “Basic Training” course that was offered in the State within the last six months, and that was in Utica; a prior course was held in Niagara Falls;

3. Most families with dementia and Alzheimer’s victims turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for help. Consequently, these families use the
Association’s Medic Alert devices to track their loved ones. Any advances in technology could just as easily be adopted by the Alzheimer’s Association and not just DCJS. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association, through its very existence, offers more expertise in determining the selection of appropriate devices to aid victims. The expertise of DCJS centers on law enforcement, not care-giving and medical diseases, rendering their judgment here less effective;

4. The State already uses public resources to “promote and endorse products sold by profit-making entities”: Westchester County’s Department of Seniors promotes the Medic-Alert company’s devices on its website and printed directory.

The Department of Seniors also sponsors “Project Lifesaver”, defined by the County as “A program that helps find missing seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and are prone to wandering.

The initial cost for training and equipment is $54,440; the bracelets are free to the first 100 clients in this pilot program. Additional people who enter the program will pay an initial fee of $385, $300 for the bracelet and $85 for the first year of battery changes. Depending on the senior’s income, that fee would be waived or paid on a sliding-scale basis.” The devices are sold by the Project Lifesaver Foundation, a
non-profit organization.

The County notes that “the Westchester County Office for the Aging was designated by the New York State Office for the Aging as the Area Agency on Aging to serve all persons 60 years of age and older in Westchester”; ergo, State money is already being used by Westchester
County to promote products.

Side note to readers: Westchester County maintains a branch of the DCJS in Valhalla. A review of the offerings of this branch reveal that no
police training courses are to be held there at all in April; only two were offered in March; only one one-day course was offered for the entire month of February; and while two two-day courses were offered in January, one, the major crimes homicide course, was cancelled. Which begs the question, why are we paying tax dollars for a training facility and staff that are not being utilized to their maximum capabilities? Why not consolidate the multiple DCJS training centers in the Hudson Valley into one facility and use the money the State would save to protect our seniors by establishing the “Silver Alert” system?

In contrast to the lack of the “Basic Training” course for police officers which allegedly contains instructions on how to handle Alzheimer’s victims which could not be verified by the Guardian by press time, the DCJS routinely offers throughout the State a week-long course on “Crisis Intervention” on the specialized skills police officers need to “interact with individuals who are mentally ill or emotionally disturbed
in ways that are safe, appropriate, and effective.

Course topics include indicators of emotionally disturbed behavior, mental health issues that have special significance for juveniles and the elderly, key provisions of State Mental Hygiene Law, suicide, Kendra’s Law, actions that officers should take or avoid, selected types of mental illness, and the impact that certain types of medication can have on a person’s behavior.

There will be opportunities to practice or critique carefully constructed role plays, and students will return with a toolbox of resources that can help agencies take better advantage of community resources”. This training is available, at no charge, to police officers, parole officers, correction officers, and others who interact with people in crisis and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system only. But if DCJS can manage to offer such a comprehensive course on issues with the emotionally and mentally ill, why can’t they also offer specialized training for the proper handling of dementia victims?

The New York Legislature noticed this lack of training and attempted to address it with the Omnibus Act. Governor Paterson vetoed this legislation alleging that the DCJS State agency already handles this specialized training of police officers. But both recent incidents and the acknowledgement from DCJS that this training, if indeed offered, is “not mandatory”, indicates a lack of protection for our elderly neighbors from the very government departments obligated to protect them.

It therefore falls upon local residents, like the Yonkers cab driver, to look out for and protect possible dementia victims wandering in our neighborhoods. The Alzheimer’s Association offer guidelines and protective services for these victims. Michelle Muir noted that, “If you
encounter someone showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, he or she may seem disoriented or confused. Because Alzheimer’s disease affects the part of the brain where memory is stored, the person may be unable to answer your questions” and offered some quick tips for helping a person with dementia during a crisis:

When you encounter a person with dementia:

• Identify yourself and explain why you’ve approached the person;

• Maintain good eye contact;

• Speak slowly and calmly; loudness can convey anger; do not assume the person is hearing-impaired;

• Use short, simple words;

• Ask “yes” and “no” questions;

• Ask one question at a time, allowing plenty of time for response;

• Maintain a calm environment;

• Instead of speaking, try non-verbal communication.

Muir also noted that, as in the Yonkers incident, family members often are not aware that their loved ones are at risk for wandering. Wandering can be dangerous, even life threatening, for the person,” Muir cautioned. “The stress can weigh heavily on caregivers and family”.
She advised that “People with dementia who wander often have a purpose or goal in mind. They may be searching for something that is lost or trying to fulfill a former job responsibility,” and offered the information available from the Alzheimer’s Association on what to look for to determine if your family member is at risk for wandering and the possible causes and prevention techniques for wandering problems:

A person may be at risk for wandering if he or she:

• Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual;

• Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work;

• Tries or wants to “go home” even when at home;

• Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements;

• Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room;

• Checks the whereabouts of familiar people;

• Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done;

• Appears lost in a new or changed environment.

Wandering can be caused by several factors, including:

• Medication side effects;

• Stress;

• Confusion related to time;

• Restlessness;

• Agitation;

• Anxiety;

• Inability to recognize familiar people, places and objects;

• Fear arising from the misinterpretation of sights and sounds;

• Desire to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work or looking after a child.

Tips to reduce wandering:

• Encourage movement and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness;

• Ensure all basic needs are met, i.e. toileting, nutrition, thirst;

• Involve the person in daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner;

• Place color-matching cloth over doorknobs to camouflage;

• Redirect pacing or restless behavior;

• Place a mirror near doorways. A reflection of their own face can stop them from exiting;

• Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. Tips to protect a loved one from wandering and getting lost:

• Enroll the person in MedicAlert + Safe Return;

• Inform your neighbors and local emergency responders of the person’s condition and keep a list of their names and telephone numbers;

• Keep your home safe and secure by installing deadbolt or slide-bolt locks on exterior doors and limiting access to potentially dangerous areas;

• Never lock the person with dementia in a home without supervision;

• Be aware the person may not only wander by foot but also by car or public transportation.

The Westchester Chapter of the Red Cross also provides services for dementia victims and elderly residents. Abigail Adams, Director of
Communications, spoke of several programs the agency has to assist family members in looking out for their loved ones. “We provide an ‘Early Watch’ alert,” Adams noted.

Local seniors can register with the post office and a special label is placed inside their mailbox, not visible to anyone else. If their mail is not
picked up regularly, the postal carrier will notify the Red Cross who, in turn, will contact specified family members. “We also provide weekly “check in” calls to local house-bound seniors as part of their “Call to Care” program”, Adams noted.

A dedicated group of volunteers of all ages helps run these critical programs and services for the local Red Cross Chapter. Anyone interested in these programs can contact the Red Cross directly at 914-946-6500.

For families who have loved ones suffering from dementia, or suspect that their loved ones may be in peril, can contact both the Westchester
County Department of Seniors at 914-813-6400 or the Westchester Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at 914-253-6860.

About Me