NY1 And WABC Focus On The Legal Aid Society's Concerns About The Destruction Of Evidence In NYPD Warehouse Due To The Hurricane

Both NY1 and WABC carried reports on The Legal Aid Society's concerns about the destruction of evidence in two New York Police Department warehouses due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, Steven Banks, was interviewed on both stations and said that the destruction of the evidence would likely lead to wrongful convictions because New Yorkers accused of crimes, often improperly, will be unable to defend themselves without the lost evidence. Banks added that the situation is made worse by New York's antiquated discovery law in criminal proceedings pursuant to which New Yorkers are denied vitally important information about their pending criminal cases, such as what the evidence is.

News at Eleven
NY1 (IND) New York
January 2nd, 2013 11 PM

Cheryl Wills, Anchor: The effects of Sandy are being felt in courtrooms across the city. As we told you back in November, the storm damaged facilities where police store evidence in criminal cases, and now our Dean Meminger has an update on the problem.

Dean Meminger, Reporter: The damage to the NYPD’s evidence warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn is very evident. The flood waters from Hurricane Sandy hit that warehouse and another in Greenpoint very hard, damaging or destroying a lot of what was stored at the sites. District attorney’s offices and defense lawyers are concerned about crucial evidence, like weapons and drugs, not being available for trial.

Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society: The police department has said that six cases are affected, but the Legal Aid Society handles, in any given year, 213,000 individual cases in all five boroughs. So, these six cases are clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

Dean Meminger: Legal Aid says it has handled one case so far where a jury convicted a client of robbery and assault even though jurors never had a chance to see some of the physical evidence.

Steven Banks: There was evidence involving a jacket and boots. We think that the evidence should have been produced, and the government should not have been permitted to provide simply a report, and we’re appealing that ruling.

Dean Meminger: The Brooklyn DA’s office says “We will continue to notify defense attorneys as soon as we learn that vouchered evidence has been stored in one of the two damaged facilities.” New York 1 has learned that a rape case in Manhattan and an attempted murder trial in the Bronx could be impacted by unavailable evidence that was stored at the warehouses.

Trying to place sandbags at the gates and doors? Well, that was no protection against all of the water that came crashing into this NYPD facility.

Steven Banks: Obviously, the events of the hurricane and the immediate aftermath have been challenging for all government agencies and for all New Yorkers. But at this point, it’s incumbent upon the government to make a full accounting of which cases are affected by the loss of evidence.

Dean Meminger: The Legal Aid Society says it is worried people could be wrongfully convicted because of missing evidence. The police department says it is meeting with prosecutors about the issue. In Brooklyn, Dean Meminger, New York 1.

Eyewitness News at 5
WABC (ABC) New York
January 2nd, 2013 5-6 PM

Sade Baderinwa, Co-Anchor: New this half hour: super-storm Sandy having an unexpected impact on pending court cases.

Diana Williams, Co-Anchor: Specially stored DNA information, guns, cars, all held as evidence, were destroyed by Sandy’s rising waters—the evidence housed in two large NYPD warehouses, and unprotected against the surge. Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jim Hoffer is here with more on what it all means. Jim?

Jim Hoffer, Reporter: It could mean criminal cases tossed out, and some say, even wrongful convictions. The NYPD isn’t saying much about the extent of the damage to evidence, but when you see the location of one of these warehouses, you wonder: what were they thinking?

Surrounded by water, this NYPD evidence warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn had no chance of escaping the super-storm. What little preparation was taken to protect the facility proved no match for Sandy’s surge. Same for this evidence warehouse in Greenpoint. Reportedly, thousands of barrels of stored DNA evidence, as well as guns and drugs, at both facilities came in contact with sewage-contaminated flood waters.

David Schwartz, Former BK Prosecutor: From a societal standpoint, this is highly problematic.

Jim Hoffer: Former Brooklyn prosecutor David Schwartz says the impact could be tremendous.

David Schwartz: You will have a significant number of cases where that evidence will have an effect on the trial.

Jim Hoffer: Already, it’s reported the courts are feeling the impact, with police testifying that evidence in some cases was inaccessible. Some attorneys for the poor fear the damage will result in wrongful convictions.

Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society: New Yorkers are often accused of crimes wrongfully, and they’re entitled to have an opportunity to prove their defense. And if the evidence has been lost, they can’t.

Jim Hoffer: The Brooklyn’s District Attorney’s office would not say whether the NYPD has briefed them on the damage, but in a statement to Eyewitness News, a spokesman said, “We will continue to notify defense attorneys as soon as we learn that vouchered evidence has been stored in one of the two damaged facilities and will continue to examine the issue on a case by case basis.” Meanwhile, the impact of the damaged evidence could be felt in the courts for years.

David Schwartz: There could be motions being brought after conviction, later on, that says that that lost evidence would have exonerated the criminal defendant, and therefore, the entire case should be dismissed. So, you’ll be seeing these motions for years to come.

Jim Hoffer: Just minutes ago, the NYPD confirmed that there has been six instances so far where the court was told that evidence for a pending case existed but was unavailable because of the two sites closed because of contamination. Deputy Commissioner Paul Brown telling us in a statement that a lot of the evidence has already been tested for DNA, and those samples are preserved by the medical examiner. However, Brown states, “It is unknown how much evidence will end up being lost entirely, but it is expected,” he says, “to be considerable.” Sade?

Sade Baderinwa: What a story—we’ll be sure to follow this one.

However, Brown states, “It is unknown how much evidence will end up being lost entirely, but it is expected,” he says, “to be considerable.” Sade?

Sade Baderinwa: What a story—we’ll be sure to follow this one.