Few backing Blackburne
June 18, 2004
In a town traditionally skeptical of the police, it is remarkable how little support State Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne enjoys since police officials criticized her for allowing a robbery suspect to escape from her courtroom as a detective came to arrest him.
Yesterday, a week after police first complained about Blackburne, a small group of her supporters appeared outside the Queens courthouse.
One of them, Steven Silverblatt, a legal aide supervisor, summed up Blackburne's dilemma.
"Since 9/11 judges are so intimidated they are afraid to do anything adverse to law enforcement," he said.
Blackburne, he said, "tries to restrain law enforcement."
Others held up signs showing the bloodied and broken nose of a black woman whose name no one professed to know. In fact, the woman's name is Alvina Toombs of Hempstead, and her case, which Blackburne heard in 1998, epitomizes why so many in law enforcement are furious at her.
Toombs had been charged with attempted assault, harassment and public consumption of alcohol. Blackburne found her not guilty and wrote that although Toombs had bitten the white officer who arrested her, "causing him substantial pain," her actions were "more than justified" because of the officer's "brutality."
Toombs, wrote Blackburne, "found herself with her hands cuffed behind her back in the rear seat of a police car with an armed police officer in the front seat and an armed police officer seated next to her who had put on black leather gloves in the middle of July and proceeded to slap her in the face several times. In a desperate effort to stop this attack she took the only action she could and bit his [the officer's] thumb."
Police officials maintained to Newsday that wearing gloves is standard practice during arrests to protect against slashings, AIDS and hepatitis.
But Blackburne ruled that Toombs' nose was broken after she was "pulled from the car and forced face down onto the concrete."
Toombs then filed a $62-million suit against the city. The city settled for $400,000.
The full monty. Here's the full, or at least the fuller, story on Det. Donald DeRienzo, son of the newly appointed deputy commissioner for public administration, and his on-duty caper last year.
According to the disposition of charges obtained by Newsday, on May 8, 2003, while assigned to Midtown South precinct, DeRienzo:
"Consumed alcoholic beverages in three different licensed premises between the hours of 2030 and 0030 while on duty without a legitimate reason."
Left his precinct without proper approval to go to Hogs and Heffers, a bar in the Sixth Precinct.
Allowed a civilian - his girlfriend, according to a department source - to ride in his radio car while on patrol.
Was involved in an accident in a department vehicle in front of 137 W. 45th St. at 2:25 a.m., which was not reported. [By failing to notify a superior, no one could claim he was drunk, the department source said.]
DeRienzo was suspended and docked 21 days' pay and all benefits during that time. He also forfeited 24 vacation days.
Spooked? So what was Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen doing last month, speeding up the West Side Highway, lights and sirens blazing when Mayor Michael Bloomberg spotted the car and reported the incident to the police? Police spokesman Paul Browne said Cohen's speeding was authorized, but Browne declined to provide specifics. So here are some possibilities.
l. Cohen was meeting secretly with Homeland Security head Tom Ridge and former NYPD head of Counterterrorism Frank Libuti.
2. He wanted to be first with his resume to send to President George W. Bush to apply to succeed George Tenet as head of the CIA.
3. He thought he was being followed by FBI Assistant Director Pasquale D'Amuro.
4. He had received word of a sighting of Osama bin Laden at a hot dog stand outside the 178th Street and Broadway subway station.
© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.