Thursday, April 23, 2009

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
Conduct.”

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
presence?”

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.”

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