Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Google Tool for Crime Fighting, Part I.

I'm not a big fan of police shows on TV. There was a time once when I was mildly devoted to "Homicide" reruns. And I used to like the first half hour of "Law & Order" back when there was only one. And, my husband can tell you about my more recent addiction to "Murder She Wrote." It comes on the Biography Channel four times a day. (In my defense, I only liked Mrs. Fletcher when she was solving murders in Cabot Cove. Her ill-thought move to New York City lost me.) It was tough to give up people like George Clooney, Courtney Cox, Kim Catrell, and Megan Mullally in the 80's with shoulder pads as big as their hair (George's affliction was the mullet cut rather than the size). The people rising to fame were as captivating as those descending. But how many times can you bear to watch Chad Everett, Buddy Hackett, and that Latino guy from "Barney Miller" hamming it up in desperation? My friend Kate has a name for this feeling of utter embarrassment for other people. It's called "vantrum." You heard it here first folks.

Anway, with the help of abject feelings of vantrum, I managed to kick the MSW habit like a champ.

Seeing the Lost Boy being pummeled was nothing like TV. I had never seen violence up close and personal, and I hope to never see it again. I was surprised that I didn't hear the punches or see sweat or blood flying in slow motion. It's just bare knuckles brutal without the special effects.

I thought about the Lost Boy all the time. Sometimes he kept me awake at night. I was ashamed for the police and for my country. This Lost Boy was a hero to me. No matter what he'd done when he arrived in NewYork, whether he was a Nobel Prize winner or a bona fide criminal, he was a hero.

I have the same feelings about people who lived through the American institution of slavery. They were survivors. They survived the horror of the Middle Passage, survived being stripped of their language, religion, and families. The survived the indignity with utmost dignity.

I am a direct beneficiary of the survival of the enslaved African people of the Americas. Among my many feelings about slavery, the strongest is gratitude for those enslaved. I am alive because they suffered. Illogical as it may seem, somehow I have a similar feeling of gratitude toward modern-day survivors of African atrocities. I don't think I could survive as this Lost Boy has. His courage to survive the Sudanese civil war is unfathomable and before my eyes enshrouded him in the calm he exhibited at the hands of two of New York's finest.

So a day or two after I lodged my formal complaint with the Port Authority police, I received a phone call from Internal Affairs. I gave him my story. He asked questions. What hand did the officer use to punch the Lost Boy? Uh, the right hand? I hadn't really paid close attention to that particular detail, being overwhelmed as I was with the fact of the beating. Which cop was shorter and which was taller? Easy. Cop number one was shorter than cop number two. You just never know what details will come in handy. But I pretty much had them down. Lt. I.A. asked if I would be willing to be a witness in a criminal proceeding. Of course I would. He asked if I could identify the cops in photo lineup. I was pretty sure I could. Lt. I.A. told me he'd be in touch. Fan-tastic.

I am an environmental lawyer, completely sheltered from the fast-paced and dynamic world of criminal defense. Fortunately, I have a colleague who is a former police brutality lawyer -- for the record, she defended the victims, not the police. So my colleague took me under the comfort of her wing. She worked tirelessly trying to find out the identity of the Lost Boy's defense lawyer. She inquired among legal aid lawyers who may have done arraignments on the date my Lost Boy would have been arraigned. She talked to private criminal defense lawyers. She explored every avenue, yet with no answers.

The day after I spoke with Lt. I.A., I got a call from an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Lt. I.A. had given her my name. She told me she was about to indict my Lost Boy on charges of felony assault on a police officer. Pregnant pause. She told me she was about to indict my Lost Boy on charges of felony assault on a police officer. I calmly explained to her that she had it wrong. The officer had beaten the suspect. She told me she was only a fourth year ADA., would I be willing to meet in person with her and her supervisor? Suddenly, she had to take another call. I exhaled.

My phone rang again. I didn't answer. It was Lt. I.A. calling to set up an appointment for a photo array. He left a message.

My colleague jumped into action again, trying desperately to find the defense lawyer. I should be talking to the defense with this exculpatory evidence, not the DA. And just what were the police trying to prove with a photo array? I had given them the names of cop number one and cop number two. What more did they need?

I managed to avoid the DA and Lt. I.A. for a day. I did have a paying job I had to do. During that one day, Lt. I.A. dropped by my office. I happened to be out. I felt like I was being stalked.

Still not knowing the identity of the defense lawyer, I took a call from a kindly criminal defense lawyer who wanted to give me some advice. I greedily gobbled it up. He told me to cooperate as best I could with the police and the DA. He asked me if the Lost Boy was still in jail. Still in jail? I hadn't considered that. What if my avoidance was prolonging his incarceration? Do the photo array, he said. Meet with the DA. They would be looking for holes in my story, but so what? I needed to get this guy out of jail.

The lawyer told me to do one important thing when I met with the DA. He told me to prepare an affidavit explaining what I'd seen. In a cover letter, identify it as "Brady material" so that the DA would have to share it with the defense. I had no idea who Brady was or what it meant to supply Brady material. Google had no idea either. But I went with it.

As I was dutifully preparing two original copies of the affidavit -- one for the DA and one for the defense -- the woman with the office next door to me asked what I was doing. I'm fond of her. She keeps chocolate in her office. I told her the Brady story. A disability rights lawyer, she had no idea who Brady was either. But she had one contact in the criminal defense world and offered to use it to try to get to the Lost Boy's defense lawyer. I was grateful for her offer, but as I asked her to use the contact I didn't have much hope. She was as alien as I was to the criminal defense world. It was a hail mary.

I rushed off to the DA's office, Brady material in hand, without an answer yet from the my friend with the chocolate's contact. I hopped into a cab that struggled doggedly through the notorious Manhattan traffic to get downtown to the sprawling concrete complex of government office buildings. Through security I went with my plain brown envelope full of precious Brady material. Up the elevator to the shabby little office that smelled of a Glade aromatherapy candle and burning matches. There was a bathroom sink in the young ADA's office. Hmmm. Next to the sink sat a young woman with reddish hair. The ADA introduced herself and asked if the young woman who was some sort of administrative assistant could sit in on the meeting. She wanted to go to law school. "Of course," I replied. Moments later, I wondered if that was so smart. I hate to seem paranoid, but perhaps the motive here was to use her as a witness to impeach my testimony. Ack!

Anyway, the ADA asked me to tell my story. Oh yeah. My Lost Boy was, indeed, still in jail. But he hadn't been indicted yet. My meeting was supposed to inform the DA's decision on whether to seek an indictment for felony assault on a police officer or a misdemeanor -- probably disorderly conduct. (Do I tell you here or later that cop number one broke his hand on the Lost Boy's face?) As I was settling into my account, my mobile phone rang. It was sort of embarrassing. The ring is a song, "A Nameless Girl." Kate talked me into that song. I've always wanted to change it, but then I figured I wouldn't recognize my own ring. I did change it once to "I Think I Love You" by the Partridge Family. Somehow, that song made me feel vantrum for myself.

I quickly checked the caller ID and noticed it was my office calling. I answered. The disembodied voice simply said, "I know who the defense lawyer is." It was my good friend who keeps me outfitted in M&Ms, the peanut butter variety. I thanked her and went back to my story, discretely folding my Brady material up and stuffing it into my bag. Now I could go directly to the defense with my story.

But first, I had to finish up with the DA.


kate said...

so then what happened? so then what happened?

i need to know, pant, pant, pant.

kowalski said...

what can i say...things like that happen all the time but that u stand up for that man makes me very happy.
Go 4 it, Veronica !

greetings from switzerland