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Updated: October 8, 2018

PBA Head Says Parole System Needs Fixing

Freeing Cop-Killers


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Hits ‘outrageous parole decisions.’
HERMAN BELL: Cop-killer’s release struck a nerve.
GOVERNOR CUOMO: Gets heat for board decisions.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch continued his war against Cuomo-administration parole policies Oct. 1 in testimony before the State Senate Crime Victims Committee.

Mr. Lynch criticized decisions by the Parole Board to release killers of law-enforcement officials: Herman Bell, one of the Black Liberation Army gunmen who ambushed and murdered Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones in 1971; Robert Hayes, who killed Officer Sidney Thompson in 1973 as he attempted to arrest a friend of Mr. Hayes for fare evasion; and Jose Diaz, who sprayed a bodega with bullets trying to hit a rival drug dealer and wound up killing Bronx prosecutor Sean Healey in 1990.

Sal Desarno, who was on parole when he killed Officer Cecil Sledge at a traffic stop in 1980, is currently up for parole. So is Eddie Matos, who pushed Officer Anthony Dwyer off a roof when the officer was pursuing him for burglarizing a McDonald’s restaurant in 1989. And so is Anthony Bottom, one of the other men who killed Officers Piagentini and Jones.

“Bell’s release sent a clear message to New Yorkers that there is no crime too vicious or criminal too depraved to win a favorable release decision,” Mr. Lynch testified. “These outrageous parole decisions have made it abundantly clear that the parole system is broken and the current parole guidelines are fundamentally flawed,” he added.

The PBA vigorously fought the release of Mr. Bell, who pleaded guilty in the killing of a third officer in San Francisco. The union stated that cop-killers should never be paroled.

Politics of Parole

There was a definite political undercurrent to the hearings. The State Senate, and thus the committee, are controlled by Republicans, who sought to point out changes Governor Cuomo has made in the system for granting paroles. They also wanted to underscore his decision to remove the prohibition on parolees voting.

The Cuomo administration had its representatives submit statements rather than testify directly, which would have subjected them to questions from committee members. A spokesman for the Governor said the hearings were aimed at raising fears of crime among voters before November’s elections, in which he is seeking a third term.

Almost all of the board’s 12 current commissioners were appointed by Mr. Cuomo. Seven additional spots for commissionerships were vacant as of last week. It is the parole commissioners who decide, in groups of three, whether applicants are released from prison.

Mr. Lynch criticized a change in the law in 2011 that required parole boards to consider the possibility of an inmate re-offending if he is paroled, subtracting emphasis from the severity of the crime and the message a release would send the community.

Allowing Challenges

He called for a new law allowing crime victims or their survivors to appeal Parole Board decisions. A court challenge by Officer Piagentini’s widow, Diane, was rejected an Albany judge who ruled that she did not have standing to sue.

In April, under prodding from primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, Mr. Cuomo issued an executive order allowing the state’s 36,000 parolees to vote. The move was criticized by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan as “horrific.” He said Mr. Cuomo was wrong to bypass the Legislature.

“Rather than worrying about the voting rights of parolees, Governor Cuomo should be focused on addressing the failure of a parole system that could set free a remorseless, three-time cop-killer like Herman Bell,” Mr. Lynch said at the time.