I learned that Lamont Pride was charged with the murder of New York City Police Officer Peter J. Figoski when a call came in from a reporter. She first explained that she got my name from a friend, a reporter for whom I provided background in the past, and would explain the aspects of the legal system that enabled her to not appear completely ignorant when writing a story.
Would I be willing to do the same for her? The implication wasn’t clear at first, but became clear very quickly. She gave me a quick and dirty run down of the facts, that a judge in Brooklyn cut the shooter loose even though he had a open warrant from North Carolina for aggravated assault. “Isn’t this wrong,” she asked? “What’s the procedure?”
I explained, as best I could given the limited information, that it was up to the prosecution to ascertain what exactly that meant, aggravated assault, and whether North Carolina authorities wanted him badly enough to come get him. The reporter was completely dissatisfied with my response.
“It was aggravated assault,” she insisted. “AAAAAGGGRAAVVVAAAATED.” I conceded that it certainly sounded very scary, but crimes generally do. What it actually mean, however, was another story. If it was murder, we would all get it. Murder is clear. Aggravated assault, not so much. “It could have been a fight while wearing a glove, for example,” I explained. I told her that I wasn’t a North Carolina lawyer and hadn’t researched the statute, so I couldn’t begin to tell her what aggravated assault meant. Just because it sounded scary didn’t mean if was consequential.
“On the other hand,” I added, “it could be very serious. I just don’t know. You really need to speak with a North Carolina lawyer.” But her assumption, that there was some heinous wrong hiding within the aggravated assault, was undermined by the fact that Pride had been free in North Carolina following the charge, so if North Carolina let him out, why should New York take the charge more seriously than they did down south?
She wasn’t done with me, however. Her new line of inquiry questioned my statement that it was up to the prosecution to determine whether the nice folks from North Carolina wanted to execute the warrant. “Don’t they have to,” she insisted? Why no, they don’t. Warrants can happen for tons of stuff, some very important and some trivial. It’s a matter of allocation of scarce resources. Is this warrant, this defendant, important enough to send a couple of cops to New York, fly them up, pick up the defendant, and bring him back to North Carolina to face the music? It’s their call whether to hop on a plane or say “never mind.”
“Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry,” she asked? I tried to put it in perspective for her, that maybe a thousand people (a number I pulled out of thin air) go through the New York City court system with out of state warrants. Over a ten year period, maybe one of them, after release, will do something terrible and make everyone cry foul over the release. Do you keep 10,000 presumptively innocent people in jail for fear that one will commit a crime?
She wasn’t pleased with me at all. She wanted me to tell her that someone screwed up, completely blew it and the result was a dead cop. That makes for a headline, someone to blame. Here, it was hard to find someone in the system to carry the load. Sure, the defendant, Lamont Pride, the alleged shooter of a cop, was to blame, but that’s run of the mill. She wanted a better villain, the cops or the court, and I couldn’t oblige.
The New York Times says that the Brooklyn judge who freed the defendant on a minor drug charge on his own recognizance (to out of towners, this means without bail), was told that the North Carolina warrant was for a shooting. It seems they’ve chosen Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Evelyn Laporte as the fall guy for having released Pride ROR. They’ve chosen poorly.
After the fact, information comes out, but everybody forgets that judges can’t make decisions based on after-acquired info. The media is particularly unhelpful in this regard, fudging the details of who knew what when, and even publishing articles that contradict their earlier articles. The Times knew better than to blame Judge Laporte.
And the rats scurry to cover their tracks.
The Greensboro police have told varying stories this week about their efforts to hunt for Mr. Pride. None of them showed much urgency. Perhaps the response would have been different if Mr. Maberson had been shot somewhere more vital than his foot.
But the New York cops had been down this road with Lamont Pride and North Carolina cops before.
The day after his arrest in New York, the police in North Carolina issued a warrant for his arrest. It went into a national database maintained by the F.B.I., with a warning that he was armed with his handgun, and included the following notation:
“Extradite in North Carolina only.”
The warrant was North Carolina’s business, and they didn’t want him. What was New York, anyone in New York, supposed to do? Neither the cops, nor the prosecutor, nor especially the judge, can make North Carolina come get him, and without their interest, the warrant is just a piece of paper.
In early November, when the police raided an apartment in Brooklyn, Mr. Pride was among three people arrested on drug charges. He was not the target of the raid, and when the police prepared his arrest record for the court, a stamp appeared prominently on the cover: “No hit.”
That is, there was no hit on a warrant that could be acted on — the authorities in North Carolina had already stated that they did not want to bring him back to face charges for the shooting of Mr. Maberson unless he was arrested in their state.
Looking just a bit past the warrant problem, the prosecutor still made a pitch for bail at arraignment.
Here’s the irony: Had Judge Laporte set bail at $2,500, the world would have screeched that she was a horrible judge for having set such low bail. Shouldn’t bail for shooters be in the millions, maybe billions of dollars? Shouldn’t potential cop killers get no bail at all?
During the arraignment of Mr. Pride and the others in the drug case, the Criminal Court judge, Evelyn Laporte, was told about the warrant for his arrest in North Carolina. The Brooklyn prosecutors asked for $2,500 bail, which is a high amount for the kinds of charges that he faced in the drug raid. The transcript of the hearing shows that the judge, concerned primarily with the welfare of two children living in the apartment, released him without bail.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is one of the fortunate folks who could still make bail if it was set in the billions, had harsh words about guns in the hands of criminals. In the midst of his harangue, he snuck in the line that Judge Laporte could have made one phone call, just one, and found out that Lamont Pride was a shooter.
Except that’s not how the system works. And even if it was, it wouldn’t have mattered. North Caroline didn’t consider a guy who may have shot another guy in the foot a big deal, enough of a reason to hop on a plane and come get him. There’s no one in New York to blame, except Lamont Pride, for the death of Police Officer Peter J. Figoski. That’s just how it is.