Monday, March 4, 2013

Roosevelt Island Residents Present Complaints Of RIOC Public Safety Department Brutality Allegations At Board Of Directors Meeting - NY State Inspector General, RIOC Board and Outside Auditor Will Investigate

Interesting article in today's NY Times of relevance to current Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Public Safety controversy:

... The New York City Police Department has embarked on a novel approach to deter juvenile robbers, essentially staging interventions and force-feeding outreach in an effort to stem a tide of robberies by dissuading those most likely to commit them.

Officers not only make repeated drop-ins at homes and schools, but they also drive up to the teenagers in the streets, shouting out friendly hellos, in front of their friends. The force’s Intelligence Division also deciphers each teenager’s street name and gang affiliation. Detectives compile a binder on each teenager that includes photos from Facebook and arrest photos of the teenager’s associates, not unlike the flow charts generated by law enforcement officials to track organized crime.

The idea, in part, is to isolate these teenagers from the peers with whom they commit crimes — to make them radioactive....
Click here for the entire NY Times article.

Is this a good idea? Is it needed on Roosevelt Island?

Can such a policy of juvenile intervention be implemented here on Roosevelt Island by NYPD or the RIOC Public Safety Department either in its present configuration or revamped under new management as demanded by the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Public Safety Committee (The next monthly meeting of the RIRA Common Council is this Wednesday, March 6)?

The latest news on Roosevelt Island Public Safety issues is that RIOC Public Safety Sergeant Ingrid Veras resigned last week as confirmed by a RIOC Press Spokesperson. This morning, I asked RIOC Acting President Don Lewis and Public Safety Director Keith Guerra:
I am following up from my inquiry on Friday asking if it is true that Public Safety Department {Sergerant) Veras resigned last week.

Is that true?

Does RIOC have any comment on the matter? 
RIOC's Press Spokesperson replied:
We can confirm that that is true.
During Public Session of February 28 RIOC Board Of Directors Meeting, Roosevelt Island residents presented written complaints and gave oral testimony of Public Safety brutality allegations. Among the speakers were RIRA Public Safety Chairperson Erin Feely-Nahem who provided this written text of her remarks:
Good Evening,

My name is Erin Feely-Nahem. The Public Safety Committee has authorized me to speak to you on their behalf to express our concerns and to make clear our central demands.

In light of the growing crisis of the Public Safety Department, which if not resolved will become the crisis of RIOC, we are asking that RIOC and the RIOC Board, which has the authority and power to do so,to terminate Director Keith Guerra, Deputy Director Rene Bryan, and Captain Estella Saurez.

We further request that action be taken against a number of Officers who are the PSD's foot soldiers and practitioners, whose names continue to come up, in relation to the pattern of abuse, misconduct, harassment and brutality, which has been demonstrated over the past 4 years by the PSD. We are sure that a full investigation into the officers under Guerra's command, including but not be limited to: Officer Ralph Torrens, Sergeant Raul Hernandez, and Sergeant Ingrid Veras will find them involved.

We have complied and continue to gather dozens of documented accounts of such behavior, at the hands of your Public Safety Department, under the leadership of the present regime.

As residents, our patience is wearing thin. As the RIRA PSC, whose obligation to our constituents includes listening, investigating and speaking out against misconduct within the PSD, we can no longer continue to wait for action, we are beyond rushing to judgment, our patience is gone.

For over four years, the Public Safety Committee has explored and discussed issues presented to this committee with Director Guerra, with little or no changes seen in the policing tactics that his department uses. He has ignored our suggestions, and manipulated situations and reports, insuring that his Officer's side of the account is the only "accepted" side. He has refused to see the obvious patterns where the "targeting" of certain youth is reflected in an officers arrest jacket, praising the Officer's abusive harassment of these youth, by labeling them "proactive" and promoting them, despite the communities concerns.

The case of Anthony Jones has been a catalyst for a growing movement on this Island, of individuals who are now willing to come forward, as demonstrated by our magnificent rally on February 16, 2013. People are no longer afraid, atomized or content to passively accept their fate, as written by the PSD, instead they are uniting in the search for justice.

We come to you tonight because as the RIOC Board you are in a position to meet our central demand, the removal of the present Leadership of the Public Safety Department, starting with Keith Guerra.

As far as we are concerned, we are beyond debating this question. We respectfully present you with our concerns, supported by the RIRA Resolution, unanimously passed in February's session, and we expect you to act accordingly.

We are concerned with long term reforms; technological advances like the body cameras and the placement of cameras within the PSD offices are all good, passage of the Kellner bill is necessary for oversight in the future, but for us these solutions do not address the heart of the problem. The question that needs to be addressed is when will the RIOC Board take the necessary steps required to end this problem? Until when are we expected to ignore the abusive treatment of resident's, allowing this abhorrent treatment to flourish under the leadership of the PSD and your watch? Director Guerra must GO! Until that happens we will continue in our non-violent, legal campaign, tirelessly, gathering force, and reaching out beyond you, to our elected Officials on state and Federal levels. You have the power to act. We beseech you to do so now.
and here is the video of her testimony.



Another resident testifying before the RIOC Board was Jenna Steuber. The written text of her statement is below
My name is Jenna Stueber. I have been a resident here on Roosevelt island for 22 years now.

I left the last committee meeting held on Monday February 25th of 2013 feeling as though the R.I.O.C Board members believed residents had not properly filed their complaints nor did the residents present proper evidence that would justify them firing Guerra. Margie Smith stated "how could we (meaning the people) just expect them to fire Guerra. As if to imply that those actions would not be fair of them. What is not fair is how residents on Roosevelt Island have been intimidated, bullied and physically beaten by the Public Safety Department.

What I found to be even more absurd to hear at the meeting was discussion of wasting more money, and having cameras installed on PSD officers glasses. With all technology there are malfunctions, these cameras would have the same chance of "conveniently" not working when there is an arrest being made, much like the cameras in the main lobby of the PSD office.

My main point that I would like to address is this... my father Neal Stueber, was told the day after being arrested by PSD that he had to either resign or would be fired from his R.I.O.C position. Why were either of these options brought to my father? The incident did not occur while he was working. When my father questioned why he was being asked to resign or be fired, the response given to him was "well you know." No! we don't know, and we are still waiting on someone to give us a half way decent and intelligent response. Some years back a mini bus driver got into a physical altercation with a passenger, while working. Was he given the option to resign or be fired? No! he was removed from working on the mini bus and placed to work for the grounds crew for R.I.O.C. Why wasn't this an option for my father? Why wasn't my father's side of the incident ever heard by R.I.O.C? And why it is that the R.I.O.C board was under the impression that my father "voluntarily" resigned?

Why is the option for Guerra to resign or be fired not being brought up by the board? Why should residents have to endure anymore time with Guerra or these PSD officers? As Erin stated at the last meeting, if you won't remove Guerra for anything else, at least consider his incompetence as Chief of the PSD Department. After my incident with Sgt. Ingrid Veras, Guerra claimed in the Main Street Wire that she was such a great and noble officer because of all the experience and excellent training she had. What Guerra neglected to tell the public (which was only brought to life because of some investigating done by Frank Farance), was that since working for PSD Veras has been suspended 11 times, 3 of those times without pay. Why is it that under Guerra's knowledge of all this, Veras and officers much like her are still on the job and still patrolling this island?

Members of the board try to imagine having to see your parent slammed to the floor and dragged away, or having your child beaten to near death, by people you consider to be "peace officers", try to imagine that!"
and here is video of her testimony.



More video testimony from Roosevelt Island residents at the February 28 RIOC Board meeting here



and here.



In response to a "what's next" question from a resident in the audience, RIOC Director Margie Smith said that the allegations presented to the RIOC Board will be forwarded to the NY State Inspector General for review.

Acting RIOC President Don Lewis also reported that an independent outside firm will be doing an audit of the Public Safety Department (here's the RFP for audit firm) and RIOC Director Michael Shinozaki said that the Directors will review all of the cases as well.

A Roosevelt Island resident summarized the thoughts of many in the audience when she remarked:
... there are no complaints here about crime on Roosevelt Island right now. It is just astounding that we are spending hours every week speaking about the behavior of our public safety when none of us have any complaints about crime so what is the issue... the issue is the crime and situation that is being created by Public Safety... 
Here's video of that discussion.



Following the meeting, I asked RIOC Chairperson (and DHCR Commissioner) Darryl Towns to comment on the allegations directed at the Public Safety Department and strongly encouraged him to present any rebuttal to the allegations as I have done with the RIOC Directors, Acting President Don Lewis and Public Safety Department Director Keith Guerra. The response has been the same. No comment on anything involving Public Safety due to the pending litigation.

In regard to the resignation by Sergeant Veras, I have dealt with her several times while covering Roosevelt Island news events and found her to be courteous and professional. I have personally not encountered her in situations similar to those described by residents above.

NYC Council Candidate Ben Kallos, who is seeking to represent Roosevelt Island in the next election, submitted this proposal for a Public Safety Review Board.
Dear Members of RIOC Operations Committee,

In response to repeated allegations of misconduct on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Public Safety Department, and a recent incident in which misconduct was alleged, we sent a letter to the Inspector General calling for an investigation of the Public Safety Department’s behavior. Waiting for results is no longer an option. Roosevelt Island residents demand that fair treatment be made available immediately.

We wish to contribute to your discussion of new policies for the Public Safety Department by proposing the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) under RIOC as a special
committee or a task force. The proposed board would be comprised of both elected Island
residents, residents nominated from the RIOC Board and the sitting RIRA President.

A summary of the duties of the CCRB, excerpted from our full proposal, follows:

(b) Powers and Duties of the Board
  1. The Board shall have the power to receive, investigate, hear, make findings and recommend action against Public Safety Officers.
  2. Any Board action shall be upon complaints against Public Safety Officers that allege misconduct involving excessive use of force, abuse of authority, or use of offensive language, including, but not limited to, comments relating to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
  3. The findings and recommendations of the board shall be submitted to the RIOC Board and the RIOC Board Operations Committee Chair. No finding or recommendation shall be based solely upon an unsworn complaint or statement, nor shall prior unsubstantiated, unfounded or withdrawn complaints be the basis for any such findings or recommendations. It is the responsibility of the RIOC Board to work with the Roosevelt Island Civilian Complaint Board and the Public Safety Department Director to resolve such complaints.
  4. (4) The board shall issue to the RIOC Board a monthly report which describes its activities and summarizes its actions.
  5. (5) The board shall have the responsibility of informing the public about the board and its duties, and shall develop a method of informing the public regarding the provisions of its chapter.
We also call for RIOC to provide free and fair mediation to Roosevelt Island residents in a manner such as the NYC CCRB provides. Because it treats incidents after the fact, mediation alone is not enough, but it can prevent pain and unjust treatment from continuing.

In closing, we ask the RIOC Operations Committee to assess the viability of creating a committee or task force to address Public Safety Department misconduct, and we offer our help toward this end in any way it may be needed. We will submit in paper our full proposal outlining the responsibilities and limits of the proposed CCRB.
Assembly Member Micah Kellner, who is also running for the same NYC Council Seat as Mr. Kallos has reintroduced his bill seeking a Civilian Review Board for NY State Police Officers including the RIOC Public Safety Department.

Whatever the results of the various investigations, it is clear that RIOC needs better communications and outreach between the Public Safety Department and members of the community.

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CheshireKitty said...

It is now more than two weeks since RIOC Director Margie Smith said that the allegations presented to the RIOC Board will be forwarded to the NY State Inspector General for review, and over two months since the beating of Anthony Jones by PSD. Why is it taking so long for the NYS Inspector General to review these cases and make a decision if it will investigate them, or the PSD? Is the IG waiting for anger to die down and time to erase memories?