This Week in Allegedly: Covid-19 in Court and Casanova's Racketeering Indictment

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There’s a lot to cover in New York City’s crime and courts news this week. For The Allegedly List, we’ve got updates on Covid-19’s deep, ongoing impact on New York City’s courts and details on the latest high-profile gang bust. For The Allegedly Original, we’ve got the first installment of Sean Piccoli’s interviews with 2021 mayoral candidates on criminal justice. 

We know you’ll enjoy this week’s edition, so start reading—and subscribe! 

The Allegedly List

  • New data on Covid-19’s impact on city courthouses puts the pandemic’s impact on criminal justice into sharp relief: There have been just nine completed criminal jury trials in New York City courts since the Covid-19 pandemic struck this spring. In 2019, there were approximately 800 criminal trials in New York City’s state and federal courthouses.  Via The New York Times

  • New York City’s federal courts were hit with new Covid-19 restrictions this week, reversing gradual re-openings. Brooklyn Federal Court Chief Judge Roslyn Mauskopf shuttered the building to all in-person proceedings on Thursday because of coronavirus’ resurgence—one week after closing this courthouse to most other matters. On Nov. 30, Manhattan Federal Court Chief Judge Colleen McMahon announced that in-person proceedings would be suspended from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15. Via New York Daily News

  • Manhattan’s top judge for criminal matters and a high-ranking court officer tested positive for coronavirus, a report revealed Monday. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben and New York State Court Officer Lt. Robert Gelormino both tested positive Friday. “If you were in the court building of 100 Centre Street, you [may] want to seek a Covid test,” an email sent to attorneys who handle cases in Manhattan court reportedly said. Via New York Daily News

  • The rapper Casanova was charged in a racketeering indictment that involved his alleged participation in the Untouchable Gorilla Stone Nation Gang, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday. Casanova, real name Caswell Senior, pleaded not guilty on Thursday. During his virtual court appearance from the White Plains, New York federal courthouse, Senior told a judge: “I took a shot of Henny...before I turned myself in, I took a little swig.” Via Vulture

  • Six people were charged Wednesday with operating a “birth tourism” ring on Long Island, which had allegedly offered pregnant women in Turkey a deceptive way to have their babies in the U.S., so these children would be American citizens. In this operation, which was advertised on Facebook, each woman would pay from $7,500 to $10,000. They’d come to the U.S. with tourist visas and, upon arrival, get medical care and housing at a “birth house,” the Eastern District of New York alleged. Via The New York Times.

  • A new report on the NYPD’s use of body-worn cameras suggests this technology could help limit the type of B.S. stops that have long prompted claims of racism and harassment against city cops. Officers who wore these cameras reported nearly 40% more stops than officers who didn’t wear them. This suggests that these devices could pressure cops who wear them to more accurately report stop-and-frisks they conduct. Via The New York Times

  • Gigi Jordan, the millionaire pharma exec who was found guilty of killing her 8-year-old son with autism, might be freed from prison after her conviction was overturned. On Wednesday, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Manhattan prosecutors’ arguments that Jordan should remain in lockup while they appealed the federal decision that vacated her conviction. Jordan’s bail hearing will soon take place in Manhattan Federal Court. Via New York Post

  • Manhattan federal prosecutors on Wednesday sued the town of Airmont—for the third time in three decades—over alleged anti-Semitic zoning laws. The regulations were forged to keep Orthodox Jewish residents from holding religious services in their homes, or starting private schools. Two earlier court judgements stopped similarly anti-Semitic laws, according to the lawsuit. Via New York Post

  • A Bronx shootout left a fugitive dead and at least two U.S. Marshals injured early Friday. At about 5:30 a.m., Andre Sterling allegedly shot these agents while they were trying to apprehend him on weapons and assault charges. Their injuries are non-life threatening. Via New York Daily News

The Allegedly Original

New York City’s Mayoral Hopefuls on Policing

By Sean Piccoli

One thing is certain in the wide-open contest for New York mayor: Bill de Blasio’s successor will have to do something about the police. The next mayor will decide not only who serves as commissioner, but what kind of police force the city will have as it looks to recover from everything 2020 has thrown at it.

After a bystander in Minneapolis filmed the dying breaths of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, being arrested on Memorial Day, New Yorkers joined in national protests over racist policies in policing. During these protests, calls to downgrade or defund municipal police departments, and end racist practices, grew. 

A spring and summer of sometimes chaotic street protests led to fresh allegations of excessive force—wielded in this case by the New York Police Department against demonstrators. The funding cuts to the NYPD that followed were a product of both the public blowback against the department and the hole opened up in the city’s budget by economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

With elections coming in 2021, and some categories of violent crime rising in New York to levels not seen since the 1990s, Allegedly is asking candidates for mayor to put themselves on the record, in detail, about policing and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

As we did in October with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and declared candidates for that office, Allegedly reached out to ten people who are running for mayor—all as Democrats in Democrat-dominated New York—with a request: Answer two questions in a live interview, with five minutes allotted for each question.

The questions were:

  1. With policing as a major focus in 2020 of protests, policy, budgeting and elections, please explain in detail why you accept or reject the idea—spurred in part by calls to defund the police—that law enforcement in New York City needs rethinking. 

  2. Please provide concrete examples of what you would do as mayor to break the cycle of arrest, jail and prosecution that overwhelmingly falls on people of color and the economically disadvantaged in New York.

Of the ten declared candidates we contacted, four completed the interview. Their answers and policy ideas are presented below in reverse alphabetical order. 

Two, Kathryn Garcia and Scott Stringer, said through spokespersons that they plan to participate at some point. Four more—Eric Adams, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley—have either not responded through their spokespersons to our invitation and follow-up inquiries, or have not committed to being interviewed. 

Allegedly is continuing to reach out to mayoral candidates and will publish these interviews in upcoming editions. We’ll also vary the questions slightly, so no one gains an advantage if they weren’t interviewed in the first round.

Loree Sutton

“Cops need communities as much as communities need cops, which is why I have adamantly opposed the movement to, quote, ‘defund policing.’ I dismiss it and reject it out of hand, and always will.”

Plans for change: 

  • Reassess CompStat, the data program NYPD uses to identify, analyze and combat crime, and create a mayor-led Public Safety Coordination Council that expands the CompStat model to eight city agencies with the greatest responsibility for public safety and quality of life: police, fire, transportation, corrections, emergency management, education, parks and sanitation. “This would be a body that would take CompStat to a whole new level and apply it in a holistic way to the overarching topic and imperative of public safety.” 

  • Change the culture of New York prosecutors’ offices to emphasize “restorative justice”—not just courtroom wins and prison sentences, but the successful diversion of cases away from trial and into alternate programs including drug courts, mental health courts, veterans treatment courts, and community courts. “I think the fulcrum here really lies not on the shoulders of the police—where so often the blame is situated—but it really lies on the shoulders of prosecutors.”

  • Place more public funding and private-sector investment “upstream”—into education, housing, public health, career training, and community and family programs that help to decrease the likelihood of a person coming into contact with the criminal justice system. “I think it’s time where we can imagine what I would call a ‘city covenant’ that pledges to make the investments in all of those social determinants of health.”

  • Re-invest in the NYPD while re-evaluating its practices across the board, from recruitment to discipline to street patrols. “We’re moving from sort of a patrol car-and-arrest model of policing to really a problem-solving model, which teaches our officers to make critical judgements, to analyze things and to be able to apply judgement and to know that they’ve got top cover from their department, because these are the ways that they’ve been taught to think and to respond, instead of to react.”

Carlos Mechaca

“I have been the strongest voice on the City Council to defund the police, and I will continue to be that voice because I’m really connected to what communities are asking us to do, which is to rethink what we understand to be a city budget and the purpose of a city budget, which is to support the quality of life of every New Yorker. And I think that the defund movement is about a lot of different things. It’s about reallocating resources from a bloated agency and bringing them back to communities in need." 

Plans for change: 

  • Demilitarize the NYPD. “The very nature of the militarized force causes, I think, this reaction that is incredibly human and right: We need to be suspicious of a force that has military grade weaponry in a city, in an urban center.”

  • Shut down the Vice Squad and other specialized NYPD units. “Their only purpose is for surveillance.”

  • Re-assert civilian control over the NYPD and give the City Council joint responsibility with the mayor to hire and fire police commissioners. “The mayor has lost control of this department.”

Zach Iscol

“When it comes to policing, we tend to think of this as just a police issue and just a police reform issue. But I think that there are so many other things that the city could be doing to reduce crime… And instead we’re offered this false choice, and this sort of politically driven conversation that I don’t think is helpful, because it doesn’t think big enough about the resources that are available in this town— that could be applied if we cared more about the real outcomes than the political outcomes to really solve these problems.”

Plans for change:

  • Search out and adopt the most cost-effective models for intervention and assistance to people in need—such as the Missouri-based Veterans Community Project—to help homeless and traumatized New Yorkers get off the streets and into supportive housing. “If we wanted to reimagine public housing so it wasn’t just a place to park people, but it was actually a great place to raise a family and grow up in, we have the resources to do that in this town if we want to.”

  • Increase investment in community-level anti-violence programs—such as Brownsville In Violence Out (BIVO)—that provide counseling and support to at-risk youths by connecting them with credible, respected adults in their neighborhoods who have themselves lived through violence and found a path forward. “They know who the kids are who are at risk of getting into gangs. They know who’s at risk of using drugs, whose parents are struggling. They know who’s carrying guns. But we haven’t armed those communities with the things that they need to address the violence.”

  • Reinvest in shared community spaces—such as neighborhood boxing gyms— that promote healthy activity, mentorship and life learning for young people in communities hardest hit by violence and trauma. “Especially in some of the neighborhoods and communities most affected by gun violence, you see that in a lot of these communities the only people from the city that are showing up are police officers. Where’s all the other city services that could be out in these communities?”

Shaun Donovan

“What we haven’t had is a mayor who really champions scaling up community-based solutions in terms of violence prevention. There are many, many organizations around the city that are doing good work with former gang members and others to reduce gun violence, to take guns off the street, to deal with the underlying trauma that so many young men in particular of color have been subject to. All of those things are things we have models for here and around the country, models that I’ve worked with. But we haven’t had a mayor who’s willing to, first, build the investment.”

Plans for change:

  • Do not use police officers to patrol inside schools and limit their use on emergency calls for people experiencing mental health crises. “We’re asking the police to do too many things at this point, and particularly putting them in situations that put them at conflict with communities rather than in partnership.”

  • Finish the work of closing the New York City jail complex on Rikers Island. “We also need to reorient that system. Parole, all the evidence shows, can make some difference in the first few months but after that, if anything, increases recidivism rather than decreases it.”

  • Embrace programs that are proven to reduce the likelihood that someone coming out of the criminal justice system will reoffend and land back inside. “When I was housing commissioner in New York City, I took—with much criticism— some of our Section 8 vouchers and gave them to folks coming out of Rikers. And people responded, ‘Oh, they’re the undeserving poor. We have other people in line.’ The results we saw were remarkable. Ninety-five percent of those folks after a year were still stably housed.”