June 7, 2023
BW News

DA Mimi Rocah Seeks To Vacate Convictions & Charges For 27 Individuals in 2017 Mount Vernon Undercover Narcotics Operation

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Black Westchester along with journalist George Joseph released a series of stories on widespread corruption, brutality and other misconduct in the Mount Vernon Police Department. Joseph first broke this story in the Gothamist/WNYC, February 18, 2021. Today, Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah delivers on campaign promises to investigate allegations revealed in the secretly recorded Mount Vernon police tapes, obtained exclusively by Gothamist/WNYC, recorded from 2017 to 2020 by Murashea Bovell, a 12-year veteran of the department who has been blowing the whistle on misconduct for years. The same tapes her predecessor refused to investigate.

On Wednesday, May 10th, DA Rocah announced that she will seek to vacate the convictions and charges of 27 individuals for their alleged drug sales to a Westchester County Police – Department of Public Safety undercover officer during a 2017 narcotics operation conducted by the Mount Vernon Police DepartmentThe District Attorney cited a pattern of inconsistencies, errors and disclosure issues uncovered by the Conviction Review Unit she established early in her term (report available below). DA Rocah also announced the conclusion of her criminal investigation into the MVPD Narcotics Division that was prompted by allegations of wrongdoing made by a former MVPD officer and heard on secret recordings. 

Cru Vacat Urs Report by BLACK WESTCHESTER MAGAZINE on Scribd

“In light of the allegations made on the secretly-recorded conversations  among various Mount Vernon police officers, as well as complaints from the public received by the District Attorney’s Office, my Conviction Review Unit conducted an exhaustive examination into certain Mount Vernon police narcotics prosecutions, DA Rocah shared. “The Conviction Review Unit’s review uncovered inconsistencies, reliability concerns, and significant disclosure issues that leave me unable to stand by the prosecutions connected to the MVPD’s 2017 undercover narcotics operation. As a result, I will seek to vacate these convictions and dismiss the charges. Though rare, wrongful convictions erode community trust and the public’s faith in the criminal justice system.” 

Thirty-two individuals were initially charged in the 2017 narcotics operation. Five people had their cases dismissed prior to the CRU’s review: three due to significant issues with the evidence, and two due to the individuals completing diversion programs. Of the remaining 27, 26 of which were resolved by pleas, 11 involved felony charges and will be brought before Judge George E. Fufidio in Westchester County Court; 16 involved misdemeanor charges and will be handled in Mount Vernon City Court. Among the cases stemming from the operation, 16 individuals served sentences from up to one year in jail or up to one-and-a half to four years in state prison. Another 10 received non-custodial sentences such as conditional discharges or probation, or their cases were covered by another case. One matter is still open. None are currently incarcerated. Defense counsel have been notified of the CRU’s findings. 

DA Rocah’s separate criminal investigation into the MVPD Narcotics Division, prompted by the secret recordings, uncovered conduct and practices that led the District Attorney to request that the Department of Justice conduct a civil rights “pattern or practice” investigation, which it initiated in 2021. However, the recordings themselves are not admissible in court to prove the crimes discussed on them and could not alone support criminal charges. Although MVPD leadership offered and provided assistance with our investigation, without cooperation of certain Narcotics Division officers and civilians who would be key witnesses, charges could not be brought due to legally insufficient evidence to overcome the high burden of proof in criminal cases of beyond a reasonable doubt (you can view the Criminal Investigation into the Mount Vernon Police Department’s Narcotics Division report below).

DA Rocah’s criminal investigation into the MVPD Narcotics Division by BLACK WESTCHESTER MAGAZINE on Scribd

“I understand that people may be confused and possibly even disappointed by the lack of criminal charges after hearing the secretly-recorded conversations among certain Mount Vernon police officers. We could not rely on the allegations contained on the recordings as evidence in a court of law. Additionally, our criminal investigation was hampered by significant hurdles, such as recantations by an officer who was heard on the recordings alleging corruption, and lack of cooperation by some law enforcement and key witnesses,” DA Roach said. “As a result of this investigation, and the findings by my Conviction Review Unit, I am proud of the subsequent actions we have taken to help restore even a measure of public faith in our justice system.”  

As a result to the combines coverage of Black Westchester and George Joseph and the secret Bovell Tapes, the Justice Department launch an investigation into the patterns and practices of the Mount Vernon Police Department. Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division held a press conference 1pm Friday, December 3 at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, located at 1 St. Andrew’s Plaza to announce the civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Mount Vernon and the Mount Vernon Police Department,

Black Westchester and the Gothamist have extensively covered many of the case the DOJ referred to in their press conference, but the coverage fell on deaf ears of the former District Attorney. Unlike her predecessor, Anthony Scarpino, who appeared to turn a blind eye, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah commended DOJ for opening this investigation. Rocah looked into what Scarpino ignored and found enough to refer practices of the MVPD to the DOJ in addition to creating a Conviction Review Unit conducted to perform an exhaustive examination.

Our extensive coverage also consisted of several radio shows, BW Power Hour – MVPD Secret Tapes, PBP Radio – Episode 275 – MVPD Whistleblower Lawyer, Joseph Murray Response to Gov. Cuomo, PBP Radio – Episode 241 MVPD Officer Bovell, Atty Joseph Murray, and Sonia Wiggins Pruitt of The NBPA, and The Black Westchester Power Hour – The DOJ Investigation of The MVPD, Black Westchester Power Hour – The MVPD Tapes Pt. 3 with guests Investigative Reporter George Joseph of the (Gothamist.com/ WNYC) Dr. Damon Brown and Attorney Peter Davis discussing Joseph article, The Mount Vernon Police Tapes Part Three – Secretly Recorded Calls, Officers Allege Beatings In Custody & Illegal Strip Searches/

Karen A. Newirth, former director of the Exoneration Project‘s Mass Exoneration Initiative also appeared on the Black Westchester Power Hour, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, to talk the wrongfully incarcerated, what the Exoneration Project does. We interviewed one of the individuals whose case Newirth is representing who was allegedly falsely arrested, by the same officer mentioned several times on the Bovell Tapes. The mount Vernon resident evidentially had his case was dismissed and he sued the city. Another case that was dismissed before the CRU report was New Rochelle’s Henderson Clarke.

“What that [assistant district attorney] just proved is no matter what, you’re guilty until proven innocent, and they will cover it and you basically gotta fight for your freedom,” Clarke said at the time. 

DA Rocah explained in her report, why her office was not able to bring charges against the police officers involved in the false arrest and corruption revealed on the tapes due to lack of cooperation with officers (The MVPD was cooperative but the actual officers were not) and other recanting what was said on the tapes, but the MVPD has had the tapes as well and we have to ask, have these officers been disciplined by the department? Are they still with the MVPD? If they haven’t been disciplined, why not?

We may have to wait on the results of the ongoing DOJ investigation.

Stay Tuned to Black Westchester for much more on this developing story. Keep clicking back on this story as it will be updated frequently!

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