Tag Archive | "Jail"

Bronx lawyers tired of listening to ‘sex tapes’, New York Post

Bronx lawyers for a group of accused drug-running gangbangers are complaining about having to sift through hundreds of hours of recorded jail conversations in which their clients brag about their sex lives, The New York Post reports.

One defense attorney asked out of the case but the judge rejected his request.

The attorneys were obliged to listen to 5,575 phone calls to see if there was anything relevant to their clients’ defense after prosecutors handed them over.

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Bronx Hate Crimes: Free but not free

Two of the four teens cleared of charges in the October anti-gay crime spoke to the BronxInk.

Brian Cepeda and Steven Caraballo found refuge inside their apartment building after being released from jail. Photo by Irasema Romero

Brian Cepeda and Steven Caraballo found refuge inside their apartment building after being released from jail. Photo by Irasema Romero

The two Morris Heights teenagers had been free from jail for two days, cleared of all charges against them in a brutal, anti-gay attack in early October against three Bronx men. The city had released Brian Cepeda, 16, and Steven Caraballo, 17, along with two others for lack of evidence.

Still, they flanked opposite walls of the second-floor hallway inside a Morris Heights apartment, reluctant to leave the refuge of their building that October 28 afternoon.

More than two weeks earlier on October 9, the two had stood accused along with seven other Bronx young men of such a heinous crime, the police called them “predators,” part of a “wolf pack,” a gang called the Latin King Goonies. Prosecutors charged all of them with robbery, gang assault and unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, which carried stiffer penalties.

The world outside still felt hostile to the boys. They were free but not free.

“Outside we are in danger,” Cepeda said. “People outside think we were the ones who did those things, but it truly wasn’t us.”

The teens knew their lives would be forever altered, still subject to the suspicions of those who didn’t believe in their innocence, and to possible threats from rival gangs who may believe they were part of the Goonies gang. Caraballo said they want a chance to live a “normal life” by clearing their names.

“I would like to tell them to put up a public notice that we are innocent,” Cepeda said in Spanish, referring to the New York Police Department. “On the streets, people think we are involved with that gang.”

Caraballo, originally from Puerto Rico, said that before he was arrested from his home he had not heard about the neighborhood gang.

“I don’t go around asking, ‘What gang are you with?’” added Cepeda, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic two and a half years ago.

Caraballo’s lawyer said the only way to clear their names would be if the police commissioner and mayor issued a public apology.

“The assistant district attorney evaluated all of the evidence, and as she said, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with those horrible crimes,” said defense attorney Paul Horowitz. “She did the right thing by releasing him.”

Police claimed that on the early morning of Sunday, October 3, a 17-year-old boy was beaten and sodomized with a wooden stick in an apartment at 1910 Osborne Place. Later that night, another 17-year-old boy was also beaten and forced to participate in brutalizing a 30-year-old man. The two teens were targeted by the gang for allegedly having sexual relations with the 30-year-old who was known in the neighborhood to be gay. The older man was lured to the apartment at about 8:30 p.m. for what he believed would be a party.

Caraballo and Cepeda told the Bronx Ink.org they were invited to the party as well that Sunday. When they arrived at Osborne Place around 8 p.m., several men pushed them into a separate room along with Denis Peitars, 17 and Bryan Almonte, 16 – all four were the youngest men at the party, all four were eventually cleared of charges.

The boys knew some of the men from other neighborhood parties, but according to Cepeda, the two groups were never really friends. He said they heard men outside the room talking about what they were going to do to the victims, but didn’t think they were serious.

“They put us in there, and they didn’t tell us anything of what was happening,” said Caraballo, claiming that they were also victims. “I thought it was all just joking around.”

Caraballo said all four boys were let out of the room by the older men at around 9:30 p.m. and told to go home.

At a later interview in Caraballo’s apartment, his mother, Mary Kramer, said the gang’s alleged ringleader held a gun to her son’s head and forced him to hit one of the 17-year-olds. According to court documents, Caraballo hit the young man in the face with a closed fist.

“How the hell are they going to say Steven Caraballo is a monster?” said Kramer, who added that the police said her son was being taken in only for questioning on the day he was arrested.  “What about the others?”

Cepeda said he believed they were arrested because people in the neighborhood saw them go into the house for what they thought was a party. Caraballo said the teens couldn’t do anything to stop the assaults once they left.

Kramer said her son did not see the sexual acts committed against the two men who were sodomized.

The Bronx district attorney’s office declined to comment on details of Caraballo’s release because the case is still pending against the other seven men involved. Two more Bronx men were arrested after the initial arrests on Oct. 9. “After a thorough investigation, there was not sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Theresa Gottlieb, Assistant District Attorney.

Now, Caraballo and Cepeda want nothing more than to return to their lives without being linked to such crimes, or becoming part of a gang war.

“I know my mom will die if something happens to me,” said Cepeda.

His mom, Ada, said she lost 12 pounds in the three weeks her son was in jail. When The Bronx Ink visited Cepeda’s son for a follow up interview on Saturday, Oct. 30, she did not want to rehash the past month, nor did she want her son to say anymore. Holding the door halfway open a little after 1 p.m., she said Brian was sleeping.

Cepeda was now traumatized, she said, adding that she wanted to take him to a psychologist because no one should have to go to jail if they are innocent.

Caraballo and Cepeda do have a small support group in their neighborhood.

On Oct. 28, five residents climbing up and down the stairs in their Morris Heights apartment welcomed them back.

The aunt of another suspect who was recently released stopped to hug both men.

“Sometimes things you don’t want happen,” said Rosa Hernandez, Bryan Almonte’s aunt. She advised the boys to rely on God to move forward.

“This is the first and last time,” Cepeda confidently assured her.

The 10th grader at Bronx International High School was supposed to return to school the next Monday. His mother, who works as a hotel housekeeper, said Cepeda needs to regain his routine for the sake of his 12-year-old sister, who does not know her brother was in jail.

Even after returning to school, finding common ground with other students will be difficult for Cepeda. He said his true friends are in the Dominican Republic.

Before joining his mother in the Bronx, he lived with his father who works as a tailor in Santo Domingo. Although Cepeda visited him last summer, his father’s advice resonates after his experience in a small jail cell eating “bread and sugar.”

“I shouldn’t forget that in education there is a future for everyone,” Cepeda said of his father’s words, and added he now understands.

He has learned key life lessons from this experience, he said leaning on the wall with his hands down in front of him.

“A friend is one that makes you cry, not one that makes you laugh,” Cepeda said reflecting on his choice of friends. “Because there are friends that make you laugh for bad reasons, and there are friends that make you cry because they tell you the truth.”

On that Thursday afternoon, Caraballo, the quieter one of the two, agreed with Cepeda that good friends are hard to find.

He too has choices to make about his future. His father, Jose Caraballo, said some have advised him to take his 17-year-old son out of New York City, because “he said this is an ugly case.”

“We’ve got to see how the situation is going to go,” said Caraballo’s mother about the outcome of the charges held against the seven other men. “If they get out most likely I’m going to send him somewhere else. I’m not going to have him here with them.”

Caraballo said he is waiting for things to clear before sending his son back to complete a GED program. His son wants to become a motorcycle mechanic, something he dabbled in before he and the rest of his family joined his father in the Bronx.

“I know a lot, but I want to continue learning more,” Caraballo said that Thursday afternoon of his plans to go to trade school after completing the GED program.

Caraballo said he has until February to get a job and an apartment. That is because his 15-year-old girlfriend, Genesis, is six months pregnant and expecting a boy.  The “G” tattooed between his thumb and index finger is for her. Caraballo wants to make sure he gives his son the life his own parents wanted for him. His family moved from Caguas, Puerto Rico in search of more opportunities, and now his father is the superintendent of the gated building where he lives.

Caraballo said he knows his parents were right about not going out too much. One party turned out to be one too many.

Additional reporting by Amara Grautski.

Posted in Crime, Hate Crimes, Northwest Bronx, Special ReportsComments (1)

Who Wants a Jail?

By Alex Berg

The new jail is proposed for the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain center, a jail on a barge.  By Alex Berg

The new jail is proposed for the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain center, a jail on a barge. By Alex Berg

From the second Lisa Ortega discovered a proposal for a new jail in her Hunts Point neighborhood three years ago she has been fighting it. Now that Bloomberg has appointed a new corrections’ commissioner, she is eager to find out what’s next.

But information about the status of the proposal has become even more difficult to obtain since September.

“It’s not going away. It’s not going to disappear,” said Ortega. “Whenever there is no news that means that things are brewing behind closed doors.”

The new jail was proposed for Halleck Street in the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain Center, an 800-bed men’s jail on a barge adjacent to the New Fulton Fish Market. It would have 1,200 beds and cost $650 million, said Jaime Stein, an Environmental Policy Analyst at Sustainable South Bronx.

“We’re the poorest congressional district,” Ortega, the head of Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities, said. “We’re lacking in so many things that it’s actually ridiculous to put in a jail.”

The proposal for the jail is currently undergoing an environmental review to assess the impact a new jail would have on the surrounding area. The assessment will result in a document for the Department of Corrections and will pre-empt a public hearing about the jail. However, the time frame for the environmental review, and subsequent hearing, is unknown, said Craig Chin, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings and Construction. The Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment.

This is worrisome for Ortega, who espouses the maxim “No jails here. Not nowhere,” and was once incarcerated herself. Her organization is part of Community in Unity, a coalition of organizations opposed to building the new jail, including the Bronx Defenders, Critical Resistance, Sustainable South Bronx and about 15 others. Since 2006, Community in Unity has resisted the construction of the jail through meetings and rallies, and continues to meet every month.

However, the coalition has been unable to meet with the new corrections commissioner, Dora Schriro, who replaced former commissioner Martin Horn in September. Though the coalition has met with Horn in the past, Schriro has refused to meet with them, Ortega said.

Today Ortega said she believes that the proposal, which was initially for a 2,000 bed-jail on privately owned land in Oak Point, is moving forward behind closed doors and that Schriro may be meeting with Bronx politicians.

“I think this is bullshit. The community doesn’t know,” she said.

In the past, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Hunts Point councilwoman, and Jose Serrano, 16th District Representative, have vehemently opposed a jail in Hunts Point, which is also home to the Bridges Juvenile Center. A spokesperson from Senator Jose Serrano’s office said she had not heard about the jail proposal. Last summer YourNabe.com reported Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. opposed the jail when he was an assemblyman. Now borough president, he could not be reached for comment.

Stein said she was concerned a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a process that publicizes plans for the city’s land, would be approved over the holidays. The procedure calls for public hearings and many advocacy organizations would not have a presence due to the holidays.

“They know that we’re keeping our ear to the ground. You sort of hear that they try to do these things,” Stein said.

Community in Unity opposes placing the jail in Hunts Point because it will not effectively confront the cause of crime and perpetuates a cycle of incarceration. The money could be better spent on other needs in the South Bronx, like childcare centers, housing and job training programs, Ortega said.

“Our ideology is just this: we don’t really believe that jails are productive,” Ortega said. “The Bronx is heavy in people who are recovering. Jail just doesn’t cut it. I’m a recovering addict, 19 years sober. The system didn’t do anything.”

The proposed site in the jail barge’s parking lot was originally swampland, which may not be suitable for a building. The lot is currently blocked in with fences and barbed wire, in the shadow of the impending light-blue barge and surrounded by empty lots, auto shops and industrial plants.

There is already two detention facilities in Hunts Point. By Alex Berg

There is already two detention facilities in Hunts Point. By Alex Berg

“We need a better use for the land and there are so many good uses you could put waterfront property to,” John Robert, Community Board 2 district manager, said.

Those in favor of the jail have said it will generate jobs and think that the Bronx should provide a jail for its own inmates who account for 22 percent of Rikers inmates while the population of the Bronx accounts for only 15 percent of New York City, Robert said.

The proposal, which has evolved over the last three years, was initially part of a plan conceived by Horn to construct jails in every borough to shorten the commute to jail for families and lawyers, and for inmates going to and from borough courts. The new jail would also replace some units at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail with less than favorable conditions.

Community in Unity first learned about the initial Oak Point proposal in 2006. Over the next two years, the coalition staged protests, rallies and meetings to fight the proposal and in 2008 the original proposal was withdrawn.

In a 2008 statement to the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, Horn said that a new proposal was downsized at the behest of Bronx elected officials and community members. In the statement, he said that Corrections would additionally consider removing the jail barge altogether.

Ortega said she is concerned Community in Unity will not be able to repeat this success because the new land is city property.

Instead of building new facilities altogether, some organizations believe Rikers should be rehabbed and transportation to get to and around the island should be boosted, said Maggie Williams, who worked at the Bronx Defenders Voter Enfranchisement program.

“Instead you would invest into busses that would go from the boroughs to Rikers. Busses on Rikers do not come frequently,” Williams said. “The conditions on Rikers are abysmal. We need new structures.”

Still for Ortega, jails don’t solve anything.

“We’re saying ‘look there’s a lot of things we want,’” she said. “Give us due process and we can have a community meeting to figure it out.”

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