By Thomas McCarthy
NY Corrections historian
Queens Daily Eagle contributor
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office recently issued a press release about the sentencing of a young inmate for his role helping another prisoner viciously slash a Correction Officer’s face. Given the volume of criminal offenses handled by that county prosecutor’s office, spotlighting this particular case meant that the DA had a very particular message she wanted to air, loud and clear.
Having penned hundreds of press releases in more than a dozen years at the Queens DA Office, I appreciate how the Bronx DA’s statement, while disseminated to the general public, was especially aimed at two widely different, yet closely engaged audiences: Rikers inmates and their uniformed custodians.
Bronx DA Darcel D. Clark announced that Darnell Green, 21, was sentenced to nine years in prison by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Ralph Fabrizio, to be served consecutive to a 25-year sentence for manslaughter in a Queens case and a 4-year sentence for Attempted Robbery.
Green pleaded guilty on June 4 to attempted aggravated assault of a police or peace Officer. The attack on Corrections Officer Ray Calderon occurred Nov. 5, 2015, when Green was 19 and his co-defendant, William Whitfield was 18.
The investigation established that Green approached Calderon from behind, put his arms around his neck and squeezed. Then Whitfield approached the officer with a sharp object and sliced the left side of the officer’s face, from his forehead down to his cheek and ear, and also sliced him on the right arm as the officer fought back. Whitfield was sentenced last April 17 to 11 years in prison for the slashing.
“The defendant [Green] held the officer in a chokehold while another inmate [Whitfield] viciously slashed [C.O. Calderon’s] face and arm,” DA Green said. “After the attack, the victim needed 20 stitches on his left cheek and four stitches on his wrist. The incident was a despicable display of violence against an officer who was on the job. The sentence announced today sends a clear message that you will be held responsible for brutality in our jails.”
Her choice of words — and words left unsaid — emphatically conveyed that whomever perpetrates “jail brutality” will be held responsible, that even young inmates won’t get a free pass or wrist slap, and that officers victimized by it will find the full weight of the law on their side.
The prosecutor’s professional credentials and personal background augur well her possessing the will and legal acumen to deliver on that pledge even-handedly. Darcel Denise Clark became the 13th District Attorney for the Bronx Jan.1, 2016, the first woman Bronx DA and the first African-American woman DA in the state.
Prior to that, she served as an Appellate Division, First Department, Associate Justice; a NYS Supreme Court Justice in Bronx County; and a Criminal Court Judge in Bronx and N.Y. Counties. Overall, she served more than 16 years on the bench.
Having earned a law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., Clark began her legal career in 1989 at the Bronx DA’s Office, rose to Supervising ADA in the Narcotics Bureau and later became Deputy Chief of the Criminal Court Bureau. She left in 1999 to don judicial robes. Her husband is a veteran NYPD detective.
Inmate Green fared no better with Queens DA Richard Brown and Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth C. Holder in the case for which he had been detained on Rikers. Green is reported to have turned down an early offer of a 22-year sentence for a plea to Manslaughter in shooting Isaiah (Magic) Lee, 18, at the Charleton Manor Houses, Arverne March 6, 2015. The victim and Green had been feuding over a woman. The defendant, reputedly a member of the Bloods, mortally wounded Lee with shots to the face and chest after the victim opened his apartment door. Green went from Brooklyn to Arverne to settle their rivalry.
Much later, as jury selection for the trial in the Lee slaying was to begin in September 2016, the defendant reportedly attempted to revive the offer of a 22-year sentence for a manslaughter plea. But his timing was poor. It came after his participation in the face-slashing attack on the Rikers officer and after various disruptions in court, holding cells and jail. Now the price he’d have to pay to be allowed to plea down to manslaughter would be a quarter century of his life. Yet, even after agreeing to that deal, Green tried tactics and theatrics that the court viewed as attempts to delay and prolong the process.
Justice Holder, a no-nonsense trial judge, wasn’t buying what he regarded as Green’s ploys and performances to put off being sent to an Upstate prison. Armed with a law degree from the University of Toledo, Holder began his legal career in the mid-1980s by joining the staff of then Queens DA John Santucci, whom I had the honor of serving as office spokesman. The up-and-coming ADA stayed on under DA Brown, eventually becoming chief of the narcotics trial bureau before ascending to the bench, first as Civil Court judge in 2006 and later as State Supreme Court Justice. His more than a decade and half of dealing with drug cases as a prosecutor schooled him well in spotting the dodges and manipulations that defendants attempt in courtrooms or nearby holding cells.
The judge refused to delay sentencing until Green completed a mental health exam on the basis of the defendant’s bizarre behavior in court and in detention.
“I think you’re just trying to pull one over here,” Holder said. “I do not believe it at all. This is just a ruse. The case will continue.”
Eventually, Green — shackled hand and foot, wearing a spit mask attributed to his prior court conduct — formally entered his plea of guilty to manslaughter and heard Justice Holder pronounce the 25-year-sentence.
A few readers may wonder why the Bronx DA prosecutes a case involving the attack of a Rikers officer. Wasn’t it a Queens hospital to which Calderon was rushed? Doesn’t the Island have the Queens zip code 11370 and get its mail from the Long Island City post office? Isn’t Rikers part of Queens Community District 1? Isn’t the Queens 114th Precinct the command that responds in emergencies requiring immediate outside police assistance? Yes, yes, yes and yes. But Rikers is still part of the Bronx as a jurisdictional and political entity.
Before it was purchased by NYC in 1884, the island was part of Queens. But Queens was not yet part of NYC. The city fathers didn’t want to own acreage in Queens — they wanted to make that island part of New York City/New York County, which were effectively one and the same. The state legislature obliged by moving the county boundaries so as to have the island encompassed within NYC
But about 14 years later, the city expanded as Greater New York and included the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx. After some political wrangling, the boundaries were redrawn, this time, to “move” the island into the Bronx. Until the Rikers bridge opened in the mid-1960s, about the only way to get there was by ferry departing from the Bronx mainland. The Rikers bridge was built to connect to Queens because that approach presented less engineering difficulty for its builders and fewer East River navigation problems for ships and boats.
So, if nothing else, the Bronx DA press release serves as a useful reminder: Rikers is not Queens, and slashing an officer is not kids’ stuff.