En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Youth & School Programs
Type: Media Coverage

Charges Dropped for 22 Arrested on Way to Wake

When the
police were criticized last spring for arresting 32 young people in Bushwick, Brooklyn, who were on their way to a wake for a friend
who had been killed, they said the youths had been threatening public safety —
blocking traffic, climbing on cars, wearing T-shirts and flashing signs in
homage to their friend’s status as a gang leader.

Now,
however, prosecutors and the police are pressing charges against fewer than a
third of them.

A
prosecutor, Deanna M. Rodriguez, said on Monday that charges were dropped in 10
of the cases because the police officers who were the prosecution’s only
witnesses were not able to link the defendants to unlawful assembly, a
misdemeanor charge.

"There was
no witness who can say, ‘I observed Person X, who was in the group, engaging in
stopping traffic and other conduct which was tumultuous,’ " said Ms. Rodriguez,
the chief of the gang bureau in the Brooklyn
district attorney’s office. "They could not apply any specific act as to 10 of
those defendants."

The
charges against those 10 youths were dropped during pretrial preparations this
month, Ms. Rodriguez said.

Six other
youths were issued summonses that were dismissed in August, said a lawyer who
represented them. And six juveniles were immediately released after being
arrested.

The 10
other people arrested still face trials, Ms. Rodriguez said.

After the
arrests on May 21, many residents and parents of the mourners who had witnessed
the procession said it had not been unruly. They said the police had unfairly
rounded up the youths because they were mostly black or Hispanic.

Speaking
of the dropped charges, Ronald L. Kuby, a civil rights lawyer, said, "It would
have been better if it had been done months ago." Mr. Kuby, whose client, Zezza
Anderson, had his case dismissed on Jan. 11, added, "Unfortunately, District
Attorney Hynes vilified these young men and women in public, publicly repeated
false allegations against them, and then quietly slunk away from the case." He
was referring to Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn
district attorney.

"If the
police receive information that a funeral procession is going to be attacked,
you don’t arrest the mourners," Mr. Kuby said, adding, " They would never treat
white youth on the Upper East Side in such a
fashion."

The youths
were arrested after a large group gathered in Putnam
Park in Bushwick to walk together to
the subway to attend a wake in Coney Island
for Donnell McFarland, 18, who had been shot the week before. The police
described Mr. McFarland as the leader of the Pretty Boy Family, a subdivision
of the Bloods gang, and said they had been warned by community leaders that Mr.
McFarland’s rivals had threatened to shoot anyone wearing a T-shirt
memorializing him.

Less than
a block into their journey, the group was surrounded by officers in cars and on
foot. The police said that the group had taken over Putnam Avenue, stopping traffic, blocking
the sidewalk and hopping onto parked cars. Many witnesses, including some who
did not know the teenagers, contradicted the police’s account.

Ms.
Rodriguez said that while many members of the group undoubtedly committed
unlawful assembly — defined as joining with a group "for the purpose of
engaging or preparing to engage with them in tumultuous and violent conduct
likely to cause public alarm" — sorting out who did what proved challenging.
She said that because the situation unfolded so quickly, no police video was
made.

"You may
believe there was probable cause to arrest somebody," she said, "but when you
look at the evidence you have, you may not have enough evidence to prove guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt."

Oona Chatterjee, the co-executive
director of Make the Road New York
, a community rights group in
Bushwick, said the dismissals showed that the authorities, including Police
Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, had rushed to judgment.

"It’s
astounding to me that the Brooklyn D.A. and Ray Kelly would come out publicly
and condemn these kids and assume that they had a case when they obviously
didn’t," she said. "I think that young people in our city merit more respect
than that."