Operation Safe Surrender Offers Second Chances; Legal Aid's Brooklyn Criminal Lawyers Provide Representation
FRIDAY, APRIL 06, 2012
Brooklyn District Attorney Joseph Hynes poses with Legal Aid volunteers during Safe Surrender Program. From left Legal Aid Paralegal Aurea Gonzalez; a Brooklyn ADA; Bridget Holloman, Support Staff, and Cory Mescon, attorney.

The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Staff in Brooklyn turned out in full force today to offer hundreds of New Yorkers a second chance by getting summonses and warrants dismissed as part of Operation Safe Surrender, a community project involving the Kings County District Attorney's Office, The Legal Aid Society, the New York State Office of Court Administration, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church and other churches in Bedford Stuyvescant.

Lawyers, paralegals, investigators, administrative and support staff and technical support staff from the Brooklyn Criminal Office are planning to work both today and Saturday at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church where a courtroom has been set.

Appearing on Road to City Hall, NY!, last night, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said that "the goal, eventually, is to get folks to understand you can go down to court and get the same kind of quick resolution of these summonses as you can by going to Mount Pisgah. But it’s important to know all of the people who are involved: the Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti; Barry Kamins is the Administrative Judge for Brooklyn; my chief assistant meets with Reverend Youngblood on a regular basis—Amy Feinstein; Dawn Ryan from the Legal Aid Society. So, we have so many people who are involved to try and get this thing up to a successful level. And we’re very, very optimistic; as Reverend Youngblood mentions, each time we do it, it gets better and better."



Road to City Hall
NY1 (IND) New York
April 5th, 2012 7-8 PM

Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. My next guests are here to talk about a scenario that is repeated hundreds of times every week on the streets of New York City: police officers stop somebody, often a young man, and realize he has an outstanding warrant due to an unpaid ticket or summons. Now, by law, the officer is then required to arrest that person and send them into the often confusing maze of the criminal justice system. But many people don’t know that this can be easily avoided, and tomorrow and Saturday, people will be able to do just that. Here now to talk more about this program—this special opportunity—are Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and the Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood from Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. I almost said East New York, where you used to run a church.

Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood: That’s right.

Errol Louis: Thank you both for joining us. Good to see you.

Charles Hynes, Brooklyn DA: Thanks for having us.

Errol Louis: This is called Operation Safe Surrender. How does it work?

Charles Hynes: Very simply, we have a court set up in the church, this year, as you mentioned, this time in Mount Pisgah. This is the fourth time we’ve had it. A judge is in the court; we have court officers, we have court clerks. There’s representation available through The Legal Aid Society, or the Brooklyn Defender Services, or the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. There’s Assistant DAs. And, the cases are brought in. these are arrest warrants for the low-level C summonses. And, so you know, there’s 250,000 at any one time, in Brooklyn.

Errol Louis: Mmm.

Charles Hynes: People who have arrest warrants out for them. And so—

Errol Louis: But I have to say, that’s an extraordinary number. Quarter of a million people.

Charles Hynes: It’s an astounding number. And so, you know, it’s—when Reverend Youngblood first came to me with the idea, I thought it was sensational, to have an opportunity to do something about taking the worry away from a citizen who can’t drive a car or can’t, you know, risk being stopped by a cop, but worst of all, not being able to get a decent job when there’s fingerprinting required. So, it’s been nothing but good so far, and you know, this is our fourth opportunity. We’ve had 945 people whose arrest warrants have been set aside. Reverend Youngblood and I are very, very hopeful that tomorrow and Saturday, we can reach 1,000 people. And our goal, eventually, is to get folks to understand you can go down to court and get the same kind of quick resolution of these summonses as you can by going to Mount Pisgah. But it’s important to know all of the people who are involved: the Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti; Barry Kamins is the Administrative Judge for Brooklyn; my chief assistant meets with Reverend Youngblood on a regular basis—Amy Feinstein; Dawn Ryan from the Legal Aid Society. So, we have so many people who are involved to try and get this thing up to a successful level. And we’re very, very optimistic; as Reverend Youngblood mentions, each time we do it, it gets better and better.

Errol Louis: What made you decide to do this?

Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood: Well, the DA and I, I think, have wanted to work with each other for a while. He is not the normal DA. He has a tendency to be sensitive to the citizenry. You know, definitely, he carries out the law. But through the years, we’ve done a few things together, and the DA is not always seen as the friendly person for the community. And I heard about this; one of my friends in Memphis, Tennessee was doing this, and I said, let me look at it. I looked at it, and upon looking at it, I then brought it to the DA, and he said, “Let’s run with it.” And the rest is history.

Errol Louis: What has been the reaction from your congregation?

Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood: The congregation is excited; the volunteer numbers are over one hundred, sometimes even two hundred. And, you know, they’re working, they’re excited about it; some of them discovered that they had warrants they didn’t know they had, so they’re really excited about it.

Errol Louis: Now, this is not a unique form of amnesty, right? I mean, people have to come in and adjudicate whatever it was, whether it was, you know, small amounts of marijuana or whatever.

Charles Hynes: Absolutely. But the fear factor is gone. As Reverend Youngblood points out, the first day is a little slower than the second day. You know, by the time it comes to the second day, the word has gone out that you can do this, and you can do it right now. Look, I know you’d rather spend time with Noah on the weekend, but you want to see something sensational? You ought to come down tomorrow or Saturday. It’s extraordinary to see. Bring Noah!

Errol Louis: I’ll show my wife this invitation rather than explain to her why I’m going to take my son down to court on his spring break day. But when you’re trying to do this, how does this fit into the larger picture of public safety in the neighborhood?

Charles Hynes: It’s all about public safety. If you deny someone hope by making it difficult for them to get a decent job, some will turn to criminal activity—it’s inevitable. And this, I believe, has a very, very, strong, positive effect for recidivism reduction. And, you know, all of the programs we have have as the goal, public safety, achieved, not through warehouses of despair, but through reoffending rates being reduced.

Errol Louis: Mhmm. Very good.




The New York Post
DA & clergy unite to toss petty offenses
By Josh Saul
April 7, 2012

All is forgiven!

Hundreds of small-time offenders waited in the wooden pews of a Bedford-Stuyvesant church on Good Friday to have their petty crimes dismissed under a “Safe Surrender” program run by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.

“You got to be a fool not to come here,” said Lenny McKnight, 43, after the judge dismissed his summons for drinking Colt .45 in public.

“In court you got to pay a fine, but here you don’t pay nothing.”

The program — a joint effort between local clergy and the Brooklyn DA — invited minor offenders to Mount Pisgah Baptist Church for a speedy appearance before a judge. Crimes ranged from public urination to riding a bike on the sidewalk to open-container violations.

More than 200 people had their warrants cleared yesterday, said a DA spokesman.

Eric Anderson, 49, was ticketed for barbecuing with his family in Prospect Park last summer, but had the summons dismissed yesterday.

“I felt good. Now I don’t have nothing hanging over my head,” he said.

The inspiration for “Safe Surrender” came from Mount Pisgah’s Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, who pitched the idea to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in 2010.

“We have 250,000 people in Brooklyn alone who are burdened with these C summonses,” Youngblood said. “Since Jesus was about forgiveness and setting the captives free, the church has a responsibility to unburden the people.”

Youngblood raised the money to make “Safe Surrender” a reality, including wages for the court officers and stenographers.

The DA’s Office sent out 2,500 invitation letters to people with outstanding C summonses and warrants.

The invitees met briefly with attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, then stood before Judge Evelyn LaPorte, who is capable of dismissing several summonses a minute.

While some offenders got through the whole process in just 30 minutes, it was not an amnesty program — offenders could still receive a fine or community service.

“People are more comfortable going to a church than going to court,” said Hynes, who noted that people with an arrest warrant can’t apply for jobs that require fingerprinting. “If someone is unable to get a substantial job, some will turn to criminal activity. In a real sense, this is a public-safety initiative.”

“Safe Surrender” will continue today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the church on Tompkins Avenue.

Case study #1
‘Knife’ sentence cut down to size

Darrell Spencer, a 42-year-old carpenter from Queens, was walking back to his Bed-Stuy work site last month when a cop spotted the boxcutter on his tool belt and wrote him a ticket for having a knife in public view.

“My co-workers were making fun of me,” said Spencer.

Spencer missed his scheduled court date, but showed up early to have his ticket dismissed at “Safe Surrender” yesterday.

“I saved $100 and it was in the neighborhood,” Spencer said. “I’m going to recommend it to a whole lot of people as soon as I leave here.”

Case study #2
Ticket to ride is dismissed

When a drunken hipster threw up on Geoffrey Santiago on the L train last summer, his only thought was to get away from the stench.

“It was so strong, it took over the whole car,” said Santiago, 25.

But when Santiago walked between two moving cars, an undercover cop ticketed him.

Santiago skipped his desk appearance — he couldn’t pay the $75 — and worried about the summons for a year before a judge at “Safe Surrender” dismissed it yesterday.

“This is beneficial, 100 percent,” said the unemployed Hooters chef. “You don’t have to go through the system. It’s bada-bing, bada-boom.”