New York City’s crime and courts news this week featured developments in sexual misconduct cases involving high-profile men, such as Cuba Gooding Jr. and R. Kelly—and claims of gender-based discrimination among NYPD leadership. We’ll have more on those cases in The Allegedly List. For The Allegedly Original, Andrew Denney looks at courthouse concessions amid the COVID-19 pandemic—and what potential closures mean for people at court.
The Allegedly List
Lori Pollock, who had worked as the New York Police Department’s “first female chief of crime control strategies,” filed a Manhattan federal court lawsuit Monday alleging extensive gender discrimination—claiming NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea demoted her in front of other high-ranking officials on Dec. 9. Pollock, who quit last week, claimed in the suit that she was “forced to retire her police career because of her gender rather than continue to endure no opportunity for advancement and the loss of her staff, authority and management responsibilities.” Via New York Times, New York Daily News
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is tasked with probing police misconduct, such as allegations of excessive force, will have to axe staff because of a $726,000 budget cut—4 percent of its $20 million budget. In June, the board had 203 staffers, which was already lower than the 236 employees mandated by The City Charter. Via New York Daily News
Three men were arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to “harass, intimidate, threaten or corruptly influence” accusers in R. Kelly’s Brooklyn federal court sex trafficking case. One of the men arrested, Michael Williams, is charged with setting fire to a vehicle outside an accuser’s home this June; a witness said they “saw an individual fleeing from the scene of the fire, whose arm appeared to be lit on fire,” per court papers. Via Vulture
A judge decided Thursday that Cuba Gooding Jr. can’t use an accuser’s purported breast size-related self-consciousness to undermine her allegations in the Manhattan groping case against him. Peter Toumbekis, one of Gooding’s defense lawyers, told Judge Curtis Farber “yes” when asked whether he thought this alleged insecurity could affect her perception of events. Via Vulture
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice ShawnDya Simpson was “forced into early retirement” after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and a probe of alleged disconcerting behavior in the courtroom. The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct learned that Simpson, 54, had the memory disorder after investigating claims that “her demeanor toward litigants, lawyers, and others had become erratic and at times intemperate.” Via New York Post
An Upstate federal judge on Tuesday threw out the lawsuit filed by an Arizona woman who claimed that New York’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from COVID 19-heavy states represented an “invasion” of the “fundamental right to travel.” She also claimed that this requirement wrongly took away her “last chance to see the sights of New York City with [her friends],” which she said “was and continues to be very upsetting.” Via New York Post
Winston Ortiz, 18, died Wednesday after being “stabbed in the chest, doused with a flammable liquid and then set on fire” in an apartment building near his family’s Bronx home—“while he was still alive.” Police allege that his 14-year-old ex-girlfriend’s brother, Adones Betances, killed him after they argued about the couple’s age difference. Via New York Times and New York Post
Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein’s accusers are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to enact the Adult Survivors Act, which would give adult victims an opportunity to pursue legal action against alleged perpetrators far after the statute of limitations. The act is akin to the Child Victims Act, which was green-lit last August—and spurred numerous civil claims against child sex abusers. Via New York Daily News
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who is presently conducting an expansive probe of Donald Trump’s business, could theoretically “secretly secure an indictment and even an arrest warrant” against the President, experts said. This maneuver could help Vance’s office overcome legal deadlines—pausing prosecutions for months or potentially years, until Trump is out; Vance’s office “declined to comment on the possibility of a secret indictment.” Via Law 360
A Brooklyn federal jail inmate who died May 19 hanged himself, city officials said. Relatives of Kenneth Houck, who was held on child porn possession charges, previously said that the Bureau of Prisons didn’t tell them he was hospitalized and claimed to have learned this from an organ donation official; one relative called his death “suspicious.” Via New York Daily News
The Allegedly Original
A Small Concession
By Andrew Denney
For years, Jemaine Mack has held his own court at the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
“You have a headache? Here’s a Tylenol,” says Mack, who has long manned the first-floor concession at the federal courthouse here. “A judge yelled at you? Here’s an aspirin.”
Mack’s shop sells the kinds of essentials and sundries that defendants, plaintiffs, lawyers, potential jurors, and journalists might need in a pinch—cold Poland Spring waters, hot coffees, and York Peppermint Patties, while chatting about the Mets or sharing garden-variety gossip. During the four-month trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the coke kingpin’s wife would often drop by for java.
“The most notorious drug dealer in the world—and his wife is in here having coffee,” Mack says. “Martin Shkreli is down here, slapping high fives with us.”
But Mack’s days at the Cadman Plaza courthouse may be coming to an end. On a normal day, Mack would have $300 in his till by noon. On a recent Wednesday, there was about $30 by that same point. His shelves are barren compared to before the pandemic.
Mack and his son—who are both visually impaired and operate the concession through New York State’s program to help blind people establish small businesses—have seen a substantial decline in sales because of COVID-19. The pandemic has spurred slowdowns in the city’s state and federal courthouses—and prompted a shift to remote proceedings. While in-person proceedings are gradually resuming, they are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. The foot traffic that courthouse concessions and cafes rely upon just isn’t there.
Mack’s son, who holds the license for their concession, recently told his father that he would need to be laid off for a while, until business picks up. The state agency that runs this program did not immediately provide comment on how many concessions were operating under this program. City officials deferred comment about courthouse concessions and cafes to state officials, who didn’t comment.
The Courthouse Cafe, two floors above Mack’s shop, appears to have shuttered, with no apparent plans to reopen soon.
At Manhattan criminal court on 100 Centre Street, arguably one of the busiest courthouses in the world, Ray’s Candy Stand was closed. A court officer said there wasn’t any word on whether it would re-open. (The proprietor, Ray Lonergan, could not immediately be reached for comment.) The downstairs cafe, a stalwart for quick sandwiches and caffeinated beverages, was locked, with a paper sign on the door: “SORRY 8/31/2020 OPEN AGAIN ON DATE.”
The cafes at the 500 Pearl St. and 40 Foley St. Manhattan federal court buildings stood quiet during a recent visit; several courthouse staffers said their reopening dates were unclear. The downstairs concession stand at 500 was open, but operating with limited hours, they said.
For many courthouse regulars, these concessions and eateries provided solace amid their often grim business.
“Almost nothing good happens in 100 Centre Street, so it’s nice to see someone smiling and handing you a regular coffee every morning,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Ron Kuby, who noted that he hasn’t set foot in a courthouse since March.
Kuby recalled that one of his favorite photos is him with his mentor, William Kunstler, scarfing down hot dogs and sipping Diet Cokes in a courthouse cafe.
“We’ve lost a lot of New York over the past few months. Some of it, it was good to see it gone: all the rich people, the incredibly heavy traffic and the big names,” Kuby said. “But losing things like local businesses, that’s tragic for everyone, for the vendors, for the customers. It hacks away at an important piece of familiarity.”