Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Raises Concerns About The Department Of Correction's Failure To Produce Individuals For Court Appearances
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2013

In a series of articles, The New York Times reported on the Department of Correction's failure to produce individuals for court appearances. Steven Banks, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, told the Times that "[w]e are concerned that the Department of Correction has so little ability to maintain its own operations on Rikers Island to the detriment of all our clients who did not have their day in court this week.”

In his regular column in the New York Times, Jim Dwyer described the impact on several Legal Aid clients. Banks told Dwyer that "[t]here are heartbreaking stories of clients who would have been released, who suffered real harm." Based on his interview with Banks, Dwyer reported that "The Legal Aid Society, which represents most indigent people in criminal court, is considering bringing a suit against the City."

Dwyer also reported that an 18-year-old Brooklyn man who was arrested last week for assaulting his sister in a fight was due in court to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and go home. Legal Aid Staff Attorney Lucy Stroup said that "[h]is mother was in court all day waiting." Another man who missed a court date was a 19-year-old from Queens with schizophrenia, who has had about a dozen hospitalizations for his illness, said John Kalinowski, a Legal Aid Staff Attorney. The man would have been released to a hospital.

Jim Dwyer's column in The New York Times and other New York Times articles appear below.




The New York Times
November 21, 2013
Justice Not Served: Inmate Buses Grounded by Correction Officers
By Jim Dwyer

All day Monday, Jose Camillo sat in the criminal courthouse on Staten Island waiting for his 17-year-old son, Joseph, to go before a judge. Late in the day, he heard why Joseph had not appeared: The correction officers had refused to leave Rikers Island with the people who were due in court.

“We heard that there was a union action because the buses were unsafe,” Mr. Camillo said, “that the drivers were proving a point that they didn’t want to risk prisoners’ lives.”

A carpenter for the city and a union member, Mr. Camillo said he believed it would have been a principled reason for the action.

“But it wasn’t about that,” Mr. Camillo said. “It was a ruse.”

In fact, on Monday morning, the correction officers brought the criminal justice system in the city to a near halt.

Why?

Here’s one highly suspicious circumstance.

A man being held on Rikers Island was due in the Bronx courthouse that morning to testify at the trial of two correction officers accused of beating him up and lying about it.

The inmate has yet to get on the witness stand and give the first syllable of testimony.

As it happens, the officers on trial in the Bronx were members of the transportation group at Rikers, the corps of officers who deliver detainees from the city jails to the courthouses.

That morning, their fellow transportation officers reported that not a single bus in the jailhouse fleet of about 60 was working properly. Many of the buses had been bought within the last year or two, and most were no more than five years old. They all have regular maintenance schedules.

After the buses were checked out by mechanics and cleared to go back on the road, the drivers reported still other problems.

The same thing happened on Tuesday morning. The judge hearing evidence at the trial of the correction officers adjourned the case for two weeks. The buses started rolling again.

Mr. Camillo was aghast.

“They were trying to prevent someone from testifying against them,” he said.

It certainly looks that way, although Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Thursday that he was not sure if it had been an effort to intimidate the witness.

He promised to bring disciplinary action against the officers involved in the bus shutdown, and said he would seek a court order against the union representing the correction officers. He blamed its president, Norman Seabrook, for ordering the action. The union leader had denied people their right to a day in court, the mayor said, and squandered public resources for two days.

Mr. Seabrook, the only union leader to support Mr. Bloomberg during his 2001 campaign and a member of the transition committee after that election, did not respond to a request for comment on the angry words from his former ally.

The Legal Aid Society, which represents most indigent people in criminal court, is considering bringing a suit against the city, said Steve Banks, the chief attorney for the organization.

“There are heartbreaking stories of clients who would have been released, who suffered real harm,” Mr. Banks said.

An 18-year-old Brooklyn man who was arrested last week for assaulting his sister in a fight was due in court to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and go home, said Lucy Stroup, a lawyer with Legal Aid. “His mother was in court all day waiting,” she said.

Another man who missed a court date was a 19-year-old from Queens with schizophrenia, who has had about a dozen hospitalizations for his illness, said John Kalinowski, his Legal Aid lawyer. The man would have been released to a hospital.

For Jose Camillo, there was a special anxiety attached to the long wait for his son. Joseph, he said, had developed a serious pill habit a few years ago, began shoplifting and was recently committing burglaries while people were asleep. Mr. Camillo said he had been trying, without success, to get his son into a drug-treatment program. Then Joseph was arrested.

“It’s actually the best thing that could happen to him,” Mr. Camillo said. “He was mandated to go for treatment.”

On his court date, he was to plead guilty to the felonies, and then be driven by his father to a residential treatment program near Albany. If he completed it successfully and stayed sober, his record would be cleaned. Such slots can vanish if they are not claimed. Mr. Camillo fretted that Joseph had lost a chance to reclaim his life.

Late on Tuesday, Joseph got to court, and Mr. Camillo drove his son three hours to the program.

“I hadn’t felt as close to him in a long time,” he said. As for the shutdown of the buses, Mr. Camillo had one word: “Horrific.”




The New York Times
November 20, 2013
Bus Stoppage Said to Target Rikers Inmate
By RUSS BUETTNER

When an apparent job action by city correction workers stranded dozens of city correction buses at Rikers Island this week, hundreds of inmates failed to make their scheduled court appearances — including one man of particular interest.

The man, Dapree Peterson, was scheduled to testify on Monday at a trial in State Supreme Court in the Bronx against two correction officers who are accused of beating him and trying to cover it up in an official report.

The bus stoppage was attributed to a sudden onset of bus safety issues, but it was widely assumed throughout the city’s criminal justice system that the union representing correction officers was expressing its anger at the prosecution of the two officers, Kevin Gilkes and Louis Pinto Jr.

That Mr. Peterson was among the inmates delayed would seem to strengthen that interpretation.

Mr. Peterson’s absence raised enough concern that officials from the city Department of Investigation, which conducted the inquiry into Officers Gilkes and Pinto, contacted the city Correction Department to ascertain his whereabouts. Once Mr. Peterson was found, the Investigation Department asked that he be placed in enhanced security, which includes video monitoring, according to people briefed on his custody situation.

The trial of the two officers continued on Tuesday with no further witnesses called, but the judge in the case, George R. Villegas, deliberately kept the courtroom open until Mr. Peterson was finally produced Tuesday afternoon, apparently out of concern for Mr. Peterson.

“I was told the judge did not want to adjourn until he saw the witness,” Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney’s office, said.

Mr. Peterson was transferred Tuesday evening to the Manhattan Detention Complex, next to State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, where he is scheduled for an appearance in an unrelated robbery case on Thursday. It is not standard procedure for the Correction Department to move inmates in before the morning of their court dates.

The next time Mr. Peterson appears in court, it will not be through the usual bus routes handled by correction officers. A person briefed on his situation said there was now an alternative plan to transport him.

Given that the bus problem interfered with Mr. Peterson’s scheduled testimony, the Legal Aid Society is investigating the situation, including an allegation by others that a shutdown may have been orchestrated to interfere with the trial, said Steven Banks, the chief attorney for Legal Aid.

“We are concerned that the Department of Correction has so little ability to maintain its own operations on Rikers Island to the detriment of all our clients who did not have their day in court this week,” Mr. Banks said.

The slowdown in delivering inmates to court continued through Tuesday morning, but appeared to return to normal levels on Wednesday, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state court system. “This obviously had an impact on the hundreds of cases,” he added.

The city’s correction commissioner, Dora B. Schriro, declined to say whether it was under investigation as a possible work action.

Norman Seabrook, the head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, also declined to comment.

The trial of Officers Gilkes and Pinto was scheduled to conclude this week, but has now been adjourned until Dec. 5 to allow the judge time to decide on a motion filed by prosecutors seeking to limit the nature of questions defense lawyers can ask Mr. Peterson, Mr. Reed said.

Officers Pinot and Gilkes claimed that on Dec. 3, 2011, Mr. Peterson stepped toward Mr. Gilkes in an aggressive manner, resulting in Mr. Gilkes’s defending himself and both officers’ guiding the inmate to the floor. But a security videotape showed Mr. Gilkes slamming Mr. Peterson into a wall and hitting him as Mr. Pinto watched.

Mr. Gilkes faces a misdemeanor assault charge, and both he and Mr. Pinto face charges of official misconduct and filing false records. The top charges they face carry a maximum prison sentence of four years.

Mr. Peterson was arrested on June 1 and charged along with another man in a knife-point robbery in the Rector Street subway station early that morning. He had been convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge in 2012, according to court records.

Jim Dwyer contributed reporting.




The New York Times
Inmate Buses Sit at Rikers; New York City Courts Stalled
By Russ Buettner
November 18, 2013

Dozens of New York City corrections buses that were supposed to take prisoners to court on Monday never left Rikers Island, grinding many criminal courts in the city to a near halt.

The problem was widely assumed to be a result of anger among correction officers over a trial in the Bronx in which two correction officers face charges that they beat an inmate and falsified records to cover it up.

The slowdown, intentional or not, caused the rescheduling of hundreds of cases and delayed the expected release of some inmates who had been scheduled to appear in court and then leave Rikers Island for treatment programs, said Patricia Bath, a spokeswoman for the Legal Aid Society.

At State Supreme Court in Manhattan, two courtrooms on the 11th floor were scheduled to handle pretrial proceedings on over 100 cases. Court officials informed throngs of lawyers that their clients were not coming.

The only inmates who were delivered were those scheduled for trial, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state court system.

The trial of the two correction officers, Kevin Gilkes and Louis Pinto Jr., began last week. When they were arrested last year, officials said they had said that an inmate had subdued an aggressive inmate, but security video showed them beating the inmate, who did not appear to be resisting.

Norman Seabrook, the head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, and a spokesman for Dora B. Schriro, the city correction commissioner, did not return messages.

A version of this article appears in print on November 19, 2013, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Inmate Buses Sit at Rikers; Courts Stalled.