WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — June 11, 2020 — My name is Tony Castro and I am a former Democratic candidate for Westchester District Attorney and a former prosecutor. I am writing about the race for Westchester DA.
Mimi Rocah’s political stunt last week in which she demanded that the New York State Attorney General investigate the Mount Vernon Police Department should be closely scrutinized.
Her demand was based on audio tapes from a Mt. Vernon police officer who recorded conversations with his coworkers about stories they had heard about alleged misconduct and brutality in the department.
But Ms. Rocah did not even hear the full tapes. She based her judgement solely on a news story. At best, her press conference demonstrated opportunistic, political expediency from a political candidate. At worst, her hyperbolic statements indicated not only a disregard for facts, but also an indifference to basic principles of prosecutorial ethics. If this is any indication of how she will prosecute cases, then we need to seriously consider if we want her to be the chief law enforcement official in Westchester County.
To bring a criminal case against an individual, whether or not he or she is a police officer, a prosecutor must rely on legally sufficient evidence. Conversations of one officer telling another about a story he heard are hearsay, even if recorded on audio tape. Unless the information can be corroborated with additional evidence or sworn testimony, the tapes alone are not enough to charge anyone with a crime.
DA Scarpino stated that his Office, in conjunction with the FBI, conducted thorough investigations on every claim made in those tapes and those investigations are continuing. As of now, no additional evidence has been uncovered to corroborate the allegations. Whenever the facts warrant it, he does prosecute police misconduct cases and has done so about one dozen times in his first three years as DA. As a former prosecutor who has known DA Scarpino for years, I trust his word.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Arbery at the hands of police have finally created a reckoning on racism, brutality and policing that our country desperately needs. As we rightfully examine our elected officials through the prism of how they will dismantle systemic racism, we must also do the same for their challengers. Ms. Rocah does not get to escape that scrutiny.
A few months ago, during a Democratic committee meeting, I had an opportunity to ask Ms. Rocah how many police brutality cases she handled as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and head of the White Plains division of the United States Attorney’s Office. Her answer struck me because she never directly addressed the question, simply stating that those cases were handled by the NYS Attorney General’s Office. She left the impression that she never handled any police brutality cases and was deflecting the responsibility to the Attorney General.
To be clear, police brutality cases are in fact prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office. They are based on civil rights violations and can carry significant penalties including jail time. During candidate Rocah’s tenure as an AUSA there were at least three major cases involving deaths of civilians in Westchester County. They involved the deaths of off-duty Officer Christopher Ridley (2008), PACE University football player DJ Henry (2010), and retired Marine Kenneth Chamberlain (2011). Why weren’t civil rights violation cases brought by the US Attorney’s Office in any of those incidents?
There are also many other types of police brutality cases that do not necessarily involve the death of civilians and there are an even greater number of cases of police misconduct. In view of that, why did Mimi Rocah refuse to answer the question about how many such cases she prosecuted? The only reasonable answer that can be discerned from her silence is that she has never prosecuted any such case.
It’s critically important that all Democratic voters in Westchester carefully consider their decisions on whom to support for Westchester County District Attorney in the June 23rd Primary. In doing so, I caution them not to be misled by political opportunism and misleading statements from a challenger, but rather to focus on the irrefutable facts and past performance of both candidates as prosecutors. Ms. Rocah appears to never have prosecuted a case of police misconduct or brutality in her career. By contrast, DA Scarpino has prosecuted about one dozen such cases based on the facts and evidence. He has a lengthy and impeccable track record of public service to Westchester County. To me, the choice is clear — DA Scarpino!
Tony Castro, Esq.