Tag Archives: Erie County Holding Center

Hassan Tuesday: What Was & Wasn’t Important

26 Jan

Yesterday, the Hassan jury watched surveillance video showing Muzzammil Hassan murdering his wife.  And I use that word specifically – he was laying in wait, in the dark, and he surprised his unarmed wife and brutally murdered her.

Most media are all over the whole “Mo Hassan is going to call the judge as a witness!” story, but there’s no there there.  Hassan isn’t going to call the judge, and the judge isn’t going to “testify” as a witness.  There’s no fact relevant to the murder of Aasiya Hassan that the judge has first-hand knowledge of – he is the impartial judge presiding over a trial. That wasn’t important, except to show that Hassan is a crazy person.  (And I don’t mean “crazy” as in he’s not competent to stand trial; I mean he’s a controlling, narcissistic psychopath).

The two big revelations that came out yesterday were that Hassan made a sort of life-to-do list as he sat at the Orchard Park police station after confessing there to the killing.  One police witness was used largely to just authenticate the surveillance video for evidentiary purposes, yet Hassan cross-examined him as if he was somehow critical to his defense.  Hassan would ask wildly objectionable questions that did little more than introduce inadmissible evidence in front of the jury. ADA Colleen Curtin Gable objected repeatedly to what she called Hassan’s “backdoor hearsay upon backdoor hearsay”.  Questions such as, “did you know that Aasiya killed her brother” – an irrelevant, untrue, wild accusation asked of a cop in the presence of a jury is so patently improper that a lawyer who tried to pull such a stunt might likely be sanctioned – especially after 40+ improper, similar questions had been posed.

One officer testified that in performing their search of Aasiya’s minivan they found an M&T envelope containing forty-nine $100 bills.  You may recall that last week, Hassan’s eldest son, Michael, testified that as the kids waited nervously for Aasiya to run in to Bridges – where she met her death – Mo Hassan drove up in his Benz out of nowhere and handed him an envelope filled with cash.  Later that day, a Wal*Mart employee from Hamburg testified that Hassan had purchased and tested the knives he used to murder his wife just hours before, with a $100 bill.

So, Hassan made a $5,000 withdrawal from M&T, used $100 to buy the murder weapons, and gave the rest to his kids.  Hey, I just murdered your mom.  Here’s $4,900.  Have a nice day!  That connection hasn’t yet been made in court unless the prosecution calls the M&T teller who handled the transaction, otherwise it’ll likely be argued in summation.

Earlier in the day, Hassan demanded that the prosecution turn over psychological profiles of him drawn up by a state’s expert.  DA Gable argued that the material in no way helped Hassan’s case, but the judge ordered the discovery to go forward.  The focus seems to be on evidence that the kids saw Aasiya Zubair strike Mo Hassan – but only on those occasions when he sat on her in order to subdue her or to cause a spontaneous abortion.

In speaking with local attorney Roy Mura via Twitter yesterday, he inquired into Hassan’s demeanor in court – after all, people who are true battered spouses who murder their abusers are usually quite remorseful.  Hassan?  His massive ego and inflated sense of self-importance and worth would never let him mourn another.  He is cocky in court – the smartest guy in the room, he imagines.  He is proud of his act, and he’s proud of what he’s doing to this trial – making a mockery of the process, running his own defense, further maligning his victim’s reputation – the abuse continues.

As he waited to be transferred to the Erie County Holding Center the night of the murder, he asked the police to go to the hotel where he had been staying to retrieve his C-PAP anti-sleep-apnea machine.  He said he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night without it.

After murdering his wife in cold blood because she had the nerve to try and escape his control and that evil, abusive relationship, he was worried that his snoring would interrupt his slumber.

(Material gathered through personal observation and via the #Hassan thread on Twitter).

Erie County Jails, The Saga Continues

18 May

After a two year long debate about the rash of suicides at the Erie County jails, the lawsuits from the federal government, multiple escapes, a rapist being let free on accident, the failure to follow basic guidelines for prisoner safety and treatment, the willful mismanagement of the organization by an unaccountable and incompetent Sheriff and the legal shenanigans of the Erie County Attorney, the Erie County Legislature is ready to tackle the problem.

With a citizen’s advisory panel.  Well, dueling proposals for a citizen’s advisory panel.

The first proposal was sponsored by Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Christina Bove and co-sponsored by Legislators Kozub, Miller-Williams, Dixon, Mills and Kennedy.  It is Local Law 4-1 (2010), here’s a summary:

It is the intent of the Legislature to establish the Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board (the “Advisory Board” or the “Board”) for the purpose of reviewing the corrections facilities programs and services to offer suggestions and advice for the improvement of such programs; and further to allow an additional forum for public comment with regards to matters at the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.

An Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board shall be created consisting of nine (9) members.

The Advisory Board shall have seven voting members appointed as follows, one each by the Chair of the Erie County Legislature, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Erie County Executive, Chief Judge of the Buffalo City Court and Senior County Judge for Erie County. The Advisory Board will also have two Non-Voting Members. The Advisory Board shall also have two ex-officio non-voting members appointed by the Erie County Attorney and Erie County Sheriff.

The Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board functions in an advisory capacity to the Erie County Legislature as well as to the Sheriff and the Administration of Erie County. They may undertake functions and activities intended to provide advice and suggestions to improve programs and functions, allow public comment, make formal recommendations to the County Legislature and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on programs and services, recommend funding for the Correctional Facilities in Erie County and receive complaints from the public and refer such complaints to the proper official in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for investigation and report back to the Advisory Board.

The second proposal was sponsored by Majority Leader Maria Whyte and co-sponsored by Legislators Grant, Mazur, Kozub, Loughran and Marinelli.  Here’s a summary:

RESOLVED, that the Erie County Legislature, per authority granted to it by County Charter, Section 2305, “to better fulfill the purposes responsibilities and goals of each department of the county,” create a Citizens’ Advisory Board for the Holding Center and Correctional Facility; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Citizens’ Advisory Board shall consist of 15 members, with one member designated by each of the following: the County Executive, the County Legislature (by a nominating petition containing the signatures of a simple majority of Legislators), the County Sheriff, Teamster’s Local 264 (union that represents Sheriff’s deputies), CSEA (union that represents corrections’ officers and janitorial staff), Network of Religious Communities, Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition, Prisoners are People Too, Coalition for Economic Justice, Legal Aid Bureau, Erie County Medical Society, National Alliance on Mental Illness, University at Buffalo Law School Human Rights Center, NAACP, and Hispanics United of Buffalo.

The debate during a public hearing yesterday was robust and demonstrated (yet again) the fault lines across the Erie County Democratic Party.

[HTML1]

Aside from the size and makeup of the committees, they are essentially serving the same purposes as outlined by state law.  This isn’t an issue of funding, or expense or any of the common objections, it’s about which voices are feeding back into the system.  Under Bove’s proposed law, the board will essentially consist of the typical politicized voices found in county government, friends and patronage hangers-on (even though it’s unpaid).  Whyte’s proposal reaches further into the community to align a more diverse array of voices, including those who work on behalf of prisoners and their families.

However, is an advisory panel even necessary? Legislator Ray Walter doesn’t think so, “Considering the State Commission of Correction already has oversight of the county’s correctional facilities, it seems redundant to me.” His opinion was shared by Legislator Hardwick, “I don’t favor either of the competing proposals at this time. I’d prefer to wait for the federal and state governments to complete their investigations before we move on the creation of another advisory board.”

It’s clear that the problems in Erie County Correctional Facilities currently exceed the capabilities of the Erie County Sheriff, but enacting an oversight authority which lacks subpoena power might not be the best step.   Isn’t the legislature technically the “advisory panel” for oversight of the correctional facilities?

If they are, the desire to establish an unpaid advisory board is a tacit admission from the legislature that the problems exceed their grasp. If all factions of the majority agree that an advisory panel is necessary to manage the correctional facilities, should we not focus on building a panel which includes experts on the subject matter as well as the community writ large? Isn’t it pointless to staff the panel with politically connected friends and party apparatchiks?

Legislator Whyte, “The Advisory Board which we have called for would allow mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and other human rights organizations to make recommendations to lawmakers regarding jail practices and policies. Currently, other Legislators have introduced a disappointing Local Law also calling for an Advisory Board. Both the composition of this Board and its oversight powers are problematic and, in my opinion, are like a fox guarding the chicken coop. This Local Law (proposed by Legislator Bove) is NOT meaningful reform.

There will be a public hearing on the local law in the Erie County Legislature chambers (Old County Hall, 92 Franklin Street, 4th Floor) today at 5PM.

The Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition will be holding a public forum in the Erie County Legislature Conference Room (Old County Hall, 92 Franklin Street, 4th Floor) at 3:30PM prior to the public hearing.

Erie County Jails

6 Mar

In an interview with Matt Spina of The Buffalo News a few weeks back, Erie County Executive Chris Collins said, “I believe in recognizing the importance of promoting personal accountability and personal responsibility”

Evidently, this statement only applies to the poor, the unemployed and those who dare cast a shadow upon the path of his royal highness of Clarence as he enters the Rath Building each day.  It certainly does not seem to apply to his Sheriff, his County Attorney nor does it seem to apply to him.

We’re going on nearly two years of disturbing problems in our Erie County jails, specifically at the Erie County Holding Center.  With three suicides in four months, and past reports of prisoners being beaten, raped, denied basic medical care and medication, escapes, poor security, mismanagement, and the denial of basic hygienic products, the county prisons are a sordid embarrassment.

The Department of Justice has taken the remarkable step of suing Erie County for access to our mini-Guantanamo Bay in order to investigate these issues after being stonewalled by the County Executive, County Attorney and Sheriff during the past year.  Collins has attempted to turn this into a federalism issue, saying that the DOJ lacks jurisdiction in our local jails.  Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green claims that if the DOJ are allowed to enter the facilities they will begin a “fishing expedition” that will most likely result in Erie County being forced to provide medical care for inmates that far outweighs the benefits that the county employees themselves receive, which is a strawman.

Since December, five inmates have attempted suicide with three ultimately taking their own life.

The DOJ contends in their court filing that the “suicide rate at the Erie County Holding Center is almost five times the national average for local jails”.  Green contends the DOJ is using flawed methodology, a claim the DOJ dismisses.

If this County Executive demanded the same level of personal accountability of his staff as he does the working poor of Erie County, he would demand a wide ranging investigation into the problems in our jails, demand the resignation of  Green and force Sheriff Tim Howard to open his doors to experts and investigators.

Instead, we get dismissive references to coddling criminals and inferences that the Department of Justice has some sort of hidden agenda and is a creeping entity of a monolithic federal government.

“I would have to ask the general public, who do you trust more, the federal government, the state government or your local government?” Tim Howard said. “And I think most people I talk to say they have most trust in their local government.”

What has this Sheriff done to earn the trust of the local populace?  Did he earn our trust by ignoring recommendations to secure his facilities which led to Ralph “Bucky” Phillips’ escape from an Erie County jail? After his escape, Phillips shot three state troopers, ultimately killing State Trooper Joseph Longobardo. The Phillips manhunt also cost the state millions of dollars.  In a state investigation following Phillips’ escape, it was found that the Sheriff “willfully operated the Alden Correctional Facility in an unsafe manner”.

Did Sheriff Howard earn our trust when a clerk in the Sheriff’s office mistakenly released rapist Rasheed Milton only to have him rape again while he was on the loose?

Did he earn our trust in 2007 when Robert Henchen died of pneumonia caused by starvation and dehydration while in Erie County custody?

This is a matter of public safety and of our community integrity.  Will we let these abuses continue or will we have the courage to demand action?

People are dying on your watch, Mr. Collins.  It’s time to stand up and be accountable. Or is accountability just for the less fortunate?

RIP, Buffalo FAILsign

5 Feb

For years, visitors to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center have been welcomed to our fair city by this non-working embarrassment of a civic marquee.

Yesterday, during the third Erie County Legislature session of the year, a bond resolution was passed which included funding for continued renovations at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.  Part of those proposed renovations?  The replacement of FAILsign with a shiny new marquee to be placed on the front of the convention center.  The line item totaled $1MM and work will begin this year.  We may see this replacement marquee sometime this year.

Aside from the FAILsign, the only controversial item in the bond resolution was the $3MM requested to plan the demolition of 120/134 West Eagle Street, the current home of the Erie County Board of Elections.  County Executive Chris Collins requested the monies in order to begin the process of expanding the current holding center.

The project is the first phase of a multi-phased design and construction project to rehabilitate and expand or construct a new jail facility.  This phase will fund, but not be limited to, the design for demolition of 120/134 West Eagle Street buildings, design and construction documents for an expanded or new building and any necessary environmental reviews associated with the project.

The idea was first proposed back in 1998 and several issues with either building a new facility or expanding the current one using the properties on Eagle Street were noted in this Buffalo News story.

Architect E.B. Green designed the 64-year-old original section of the Erie County Holding Center, and this may present a problem to the planners trying to choose a site for a 400-bed expansion.

“Both buildings are considered contributing structures to the Joseph Ellicott Historical District,” said architect Joseph J. Lenihan of Kideney Architects, who is supervising the site study. “Obviously, a building by E.B. Green is more significant than one that isn’t.”

The Republican minority wanted this item included in the consolidated bond resolution, while the Democrats wanted it taken out for further study and to be financed separately.   Before the start of session, negotiations were frantic as votes for the consolidated bond resolution were being whipped.

Prior to the vote on the bond resolution, the legislature adjourned for a ten minute recess (which turned into a near two hour recess) to negotiate in the  backroom about the jail funding line item.  There are other issues at play on future spending which influenced and informed the negotiations, but most of the discussions focused on the jail funding.

Ultimately, the Republicans voted against the amendment to remove the line item from the combined resolution, followed by a unanimous vote in favor of adopting the consolidated resolution.

As an additional note, Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams started session late, let the recess go on too long, and seems to not have a handle on parliamentary procedures which leads to a deterioration of decorum.  Seriously, Yakety Sax should be the soundtrack of this legislature as they attempt to make motions or tally votes.  It’s painful to watch, hopefully she gets better at this whole legislating thing.

Overall, a typical day at the Erie County Legislature.  Some high school drama, some personal bickering, some backroom negotiating and some incremental governance.