Correction group wants Brown to handle Rikers Island crimes

By Alex Robinson

Rikers Island may soon be under Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s jurisdiction, but not if he has anything to say about it.

A recently passed bill in Albany would make it so that crimes committed on the island, which is home to the city’s main jail complex, would be prosecuted by Brown instead of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.

The piece of legislation was pushed by the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, which represents corrections officers.

COBA has contended officers have been unfairly prosecuted in many instances in the Bronx.

“The track record of Richard Brown makes me think they would get a fair shake in the Borough of Queens,” said Norman Seabrook, president of COBA.

The association actively lobbied state Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Brooklyn), who signed on to be the bill’s sponsor.

COBA has sought support on both sides of the aisle and put pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get the piece of legislation passed.

Lentol said in an interview the bill was not meant to be a slight against Johnson and that it made sense to prosecute Rikers Island crimes in Queens, as they are already processed at the borough’s precincts. Rikers Island is part of the Bronx, but the entrance to the complex is through Queens.

“Both DAs are excellent DAs and they have a very good record as prosecutors as far as I’m concerned,” Lentol said. “It doesn’t make any difference to me which one handles these cases, but it makes more sense for them to be handled in Queens.”

Lentol said the bill will transfer jurisdiction of crimes that are only committed after the bill is enacted.

Both Brown and Johnson opposed the swap and sent a letter to Cuomo urging him not to sign the bill into law.

“This flawed bill is an unfunded mandate which serves no useful purpose,” they said in the letter. “It is also questionable constitutionality would cause significant disruption and needless litigation in the courts of both Bronx and Queens counties, would impact negatively on cases in all of New York City’s five boroughs and would send a chilling and disturbing message to independently elected prosecutors across the state about their ability to exercise their discretion freely.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.