Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard sent a press released, Thursday, February 18th discussing police misconduct and the announcement of the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to tackle it.
The statement announces the appointment of civil rights attorney William O. Wagstaff esq., as a special prosecutor for further investigations into the alleged wrongdoing in the Narcotics Squad of the Mount Vernon Police Department sparked by the highly publicized audio tapes secretly recorded and provided by MVPD Whistleblower Officer Murashea “Mike” Bovell. Wagstaff was the attorney selected by the mayor to chair her judicial appointment committee, in July 2020 to fill the seat of Judge Adrian Armstrong after his elevation to the New York State Court of Claims of Judge Adrian Armstrong after appointment by Governor Andrew Cuomo and confirmation by the New York State Senate.
“We are excited about the work of the Police Reform Commission and look forward to implementing our CCRB and enhancing the community’s understanding of procedural justice. We continue to take steps toward chartering a new future in policing for Mount Vernon,” Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard says in the statement.
Some residents are questioning why the mayor is appointing a special prosecutor and not call for the District Attorney to investigate. “It begs the question, why does the mayor ask the DA to go after Comptroller Deborah Reynolds but not after those corrupt police officers?” one Mount Vernon resident and city committee Democratic District Leader shared with Black Westchester.
Former Mount Vernon Deputy Clerk and current City Council Candidate Lauren Carter thanks the efforts of the Patterson-Howard Administration for investigating allegations of police corruption and misconduct, but questions the appointment of a special prosecutor to review police investigations.
“While I applaud the effort of the administration, I do not believe the mayor has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to review police investigations,” Ms. Carter shared with Black Westchester. “Officers accused of misconduct should be investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau (IA). Furthermore, any complaints against officers by members of the community should be investigated by a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). Legislation adopted by the city council three years ago must be corrected so the board can be constituted and begin their duties. Any credible evidence of police misconduct reviewed by IA or the CCRB must be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office (DA) for criminal investigation.”
Bovell’s attorney who requested the Honorable Kathie E. Davidson, administrative judge for NY’s 9th Judicial District, to appoint a special district attorney to investigate, also questions the appointment, “It baffles me why she [Mayor SPH] is appointment a special prosecutor. I do not know she has the power to appointment to prosecute criminal cases,” Joseph Murray shares with Black Westchester. Mr. Murray does support the appointment if it for prosecuting administrative charges.
“Perhaps she appointed him to prosecute administrative charges (police misconduct, violating police policy, department procedures, etc.), much like CCRB complaints that I support. But I believe the mayor does not have the power to special prosecutor to prosecute criminal charges that would be up to the District Attorney,” Mr. Murray goes on to say.
“It is at that time that the DA can either investigate allegations or she can appoint a special prosecutor to do so,” Ms. Carter adds. “Only the DA can file criminal charges based on investigations conducted by her office or by a special prosecutor she has appointed.”
On Friday, February 19th, Westchester District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah released a statement regarding the DA’s Office investigation into allegations of misconduct by members of the Mount Vernon Police Department:
“The integrity of our criminal justice system is critical to fairness and to public safety. I took office last month fully cognizant that the Westchester District Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners have a responsibility to the people of Mount Vernon to provide the accountability and transparency they deserve.
“Under direct supervision from me, an expanded and focused team of Assistant District Attorneys is working on public integrity matters. We are examining closely all complaints and allegations of misconduct regarding all officers recorded, mentioned or discussed in the Murashea Bovell recordings — as well as other evidence. The Mount Vernon Police Department is aware that our investigation is ongoing.
“We will work with all local police department internal affairs bureaus as necessary and appropriate. However, we want to be sure that Westchester residents understand that our investigations will always be conducted independently from any department where personnel are under investigation. A local police department’s conclusions about its own internal investigations cannot and do not represent the conclusions of the Westchester District Attorney’s Office.
“We strongly encourage anyone who has information about misconduct by any member of law enforcement to complete our on-line form at https://www.westchesterda.net/contact-us/complaint-form or contact us at email@example.com.”
The audio tapes recorded by Officer Bovell were first introduced by Investigative Reporter George Joseph of the Gothamist/WNYC which alleges misconduct of MVPD Sgt. Sean Fegan and Detective Camilo Antonini who have been accused of several cases of false arrest, planting evidence and illegal strip searches. Commissioner Glen Scott has accused Bovell or going to the press instead of coming to him. But Bovell’s attorney Joseph Murray has publicly stated they went to Commissioner Scott and former District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, who wrote the audio tapes off as hearsay, and was later asked to recuse himself after losing the 2020 Democratic Primary. After months of no results, Murray said he eventually gave George Joseph of the Gothamist the recordings because the MVPD and former DA Scarpino were not investigating the allegations.
MVPD Sgt. Fegan was cleared of all charges of misconduct after a internal review, Officer John Campo who is heard on tapes saying his narcotics unit colleagues framing and assaulting innocent residents and working with favored drug dealers, planted drugs, falsified search warrants, has been suspended pending further investigation and the investigation into Detective Antonini is still ongoing according to the Mayor’s statement (That can be seen in it entirety above).
Dozens of community leaders, residents and a few elected have been calling for the reform of the MVPD, including officials gathering for rallies in the front steps of Mount Vernon City Hall, the latest on Saturday, October 17, 2020.
MVPD Commissioner Glenn Scott disbanded the narcotics unit in March 2020 and in his conversation with Black Westchester he has embraced new approaches to discovery and criminal justice reform.
“Since day one, I’ve been committed to changing the culture and direction of this department,” Commissioner Scott says in the statement. “We have embraced reform, eliminated outdated policies and instituted new procedures that emphasize transparency and accountability. The department has acknowledged the lack of trust expressed by the alleged victims of misconduct and has forwarded the investigation to the Westchester County DA so that it may conduct an independent review.”
In related news, after much pushback from his attorney and others about being skipped over, Officer Murashea “Mike” Bovell will be promoted to Sergeant, Saturday, February 20th at 10am. Stay tuned to BW for coverage of the promotion ceremony!