Op-ed: District Attorney Richard A. Brown delivers year-end message to the residents of Queens County

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Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown – who begins his twenty-third year as Queens County’s chief law enforcement officer in 2014 – delivered the following year-end message to the residents of Queens County in which he noted that Queens County was again among the City’s leaders in crime reduction in 2013.

District Attorney Brown said, “During the more than two decades that I have had the honor and privilege of serving as district attorney of Queens County, my office has steadfastly committed itself to ensuring a safe environment for those who live and work in Queens County. Through our law-enforcement initiatives and the utilization of an array of cutting-edge interventions and prevention programs, we have made tremendous progress in accomplishing that goal which, in turn, has contributed greatly to New York City’s historic decline in serious and violent crime. Over the last twenty years, overall crime in Queens is down by 77.7 percent, murders have fallen 78.1 percent, robberies are down 76.3 percent, burglaries are down 78.9 percent and felony assaults are down 40.9 percent.  As Mayor Bloomberg noted earlier this week during his visit to Queens, the drop in crime has made ‘Queens a safer place to live, work and visit than ever before.’”

District Attorney Brown added, “We continue to be, I believe, among the best and busiest prosecutor’s offices in the country.  Last year our office handled more than 70,000 arrest cases – cases running the gamut from quality of life offenses to serious violent felonies.  And, by any standard, we handled those cases efficiently and judiciously.  We have a presence in all of the diverse communities of our county in seeking to prevent crime and in helping to turn young lives around.  In sum, we continue to have the respect of our law enforcement colleagues and the confidence of the people of Queens County.”

District Attorney Brown continued, “In pursuing the office’s core mission to increase public safety and reduce crime in 2013, we have vigorously pursued hate crime cases against those individuals who chose their victims based on religion, sexuality, the color of their skin and other factors.  We have aggressively gone after illegal cigarette traffickers, organized trademark counterfeiting rings and legitimate businesses and franchises that annually cheat the government out of millions of dollars of much needed State and City revenue. On a local level, we have focused our attention on homeowners who impact on the quality of life of their neighbors by illegally sub-dividing their private residences into multiple dwellings that potentially can put the lives of tenants and first-responders at grave risk. We continue to do our part in protecting our younger residents by going after on-line child pornographers, as well as sex traffickers and sexual predators who attempt to meet underage children on-line for sexual relations.”

District Attorney Brown added, “The Queens County District Attorney’s Office has long been recognized as a nationwide leader in the number of court-authorized wiretaps that we handle. Our Special Prosecutions Division runs a host of crime prevention, school-based and community outreach programs and staff members attend our precinct council and community board meetings.  We have dedicated Child Advocacy and Family Justice Centers – and a Domestic Violence Bureau that maintains the highest domestic violence conviction rate and the lowest dismissal rate in the City and which takes more pre-indictment pleas than the rest of the City combined. We statistically maintain the  best arrest to arraignment time in the City and because of our assertive bail jumping program – in which defendants are indicted if they fail to appear in court for their felony cases – we have the lowest failure-to-appear in court rate  in the city.”

District Attorney Brown said that among the office’s successful prosecutions in 2013 were:

• People v. Urban Fermin and Darius Lowery.  Fermin and Lowery were convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer during a one-hour crime spree in which they shot at a marked police vehicle attempting to stop them after they stole a car, burglarized a house and robbed a woman on the street at gunpoint.  Fermin was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison and Lowery was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

• People v. Simon A. Watts.  Watts, a former Springfield Gardens public school teacher, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sexually abusing five of his students – four females and one male who ranged between eight and ten in age. The incidents all took place at the school – many during class time.

• People v. Hikeem L. Green and Darcell Marshall.  Green and his girlfriend, Marshall, were sentenced to up to 12 years and up to three years in prison, respectively, following their guilty pleas to sex trafficking in connection with the prostitution of two young women – a 19-year-old upstate runaway and a 20-year-old from New York City – against their will.

• People v. Natasha Munchkin Marks.  Marks was sentenced to a term of one to three years in prison for jumping bail shortly after pleading guilty in March 2007 under New York State’s hate crime statute to stealing an 85-year-Howard Beach man’s life savings by falsely claiming to need the money to pay medical bills and to help start up a business and for investments.  The bail jumping prison sentence is to be served consecutive to the two to six years in prison she was sentenced to in absentia in May 2007 on the larceny charges.

In addition, District Attorney Brown said his Investigations Division conducted “many significant long term investigations over the past year into criminal enterprises throughout Queens County. Particularly telling is our auto theft numbers.  Since 1991, my first year as district attorney, the rate of auto thefts in Queens has plunged more than 90 percent.  This record-setting drop in crime was accomplished, in part, by focusing our attention on organized car theft rings and by curbing the illegal scrapping of stolen cars. In 2013, we continued to put pressure on the drug dealers and gangs hawking their illicit wares at the city’s housing developments and elsewhere by taking part in major anti-drug initiatives with the New York City Police Department.”

District Attorney Brown added, “New York City’s two major airports are located in Queens County and are often the first point of contact for tourists. As tourism is one of New York’s most revenue-producing industries, it is vitally important to our economic health that we provide a safe and welcoming environment at our airports. In carrying out that responsibility, we earlier in the year took down a group of contract baggage handlers who were charged with stealing thousands of dollars worth of luggage items from arriving and departing flights at John F. Kennedy Airport when they were supposed to be loading or unloading the luggage. We also continue to prosecute unregulated taxis and unscrupulous drivers at the airports who unlawfully solicit fares and charge exorbitant rates to drive passengers the shortest of distances.”

In addition to his office’s many investigations during 2013, District Attorney Brown noted that this past September his office co-hosted the New York City Abusive Head Trauma/Shaken Baby Syndrome Conference, a biennial event presented in partnership with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York.  The conference was attended by more than 300 doctors, medical examiners, prosecutors, detectives, nurses and defense attorneys. Among the topics discussed at the conference were the challenges in diagnosing Shaken Baby Syndrome as opposed to accidental trauma and the inherent difficulties in investigating and prosecuting such cases.

Also in June and September, the office hosted two open public forums at the Campus Magnet High School in Cambria Height that focused on the so-called “Don’t Snitch” street code.  “The purpose of the initiative is to combat the destructive ‘Don’t Snitch’ street message that has hindered the pursuit of justice for violent crimes committed in Queens communities,” said District Attorney Brown.  “The forums provided an overview of the Don’t Snitch street code and gave residents of Queens County a platform for safe, open discussion on the topic and an opportunity to ask questions.”

District Attorney Brown noted with pride on behalf of his office Mayor Bloomberg’s comments from last summer.  “In a tenure of more than twenty years, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has made his office, I think it’s fair to say, one of the most widely respected prosecutor’s offices in the nation.”

District Attorney Brown concluded his message by wishing all a happy and healthy New Year and by saying, “The reason why I have so much enjoyed my tenure as District Attorney over these many years, why it is that I’ve found those years to be so rewarding, and why I look forward to continuing to serve as the District Attorney of this county for many years to come, is the successes that we have enjoyed in lowering the level of violence in our County and improving the quality of life of the people of our great county and because of the dedication and professionalism of those with whom we work. I am optimistic that by continuing the very successful strategies that we have employed over the years we, together with our law enforcement colleagues, can make Queens County even safer in 2014.”

 

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