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30 Seconds or Less: LI Cheer/Kickline Teams

Homecoming football games have provided all kinds of excitement on Long Island this year. But whether the home team is winning or losing, high school cheerleading and kickline teams make sure everyone has a good time. Click on the photos below to watch video snippets of team performances that Newsday.com community journalists Tara Conry and Amy Onorato and contributors Jennifer A. Uihlein, John Friia and Ann Luk shot on their cellphones while covering homecoming celebrations. Homecoming is just the beginning for many of these teams as competition season gets underway. Bookmark this page, as we’ll be adding more videos when the trophies are up for grabs. Do you have photos, video footage or an interesting story to share about LI’s cheer and kickline teams? Email submissions to Josh Stewart at josh.stewart@newsday.com.

Superstorm Sandy: Two years later

Until everyone comes home

Documentary

Until everyone comes home

For the past two years, families whose homes were severely damaged let Newsday document how the storm impacted them. For the storm's second anniversary, they discussed being displaced and rebuilding.

Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz and Newsday / Chris Ware

Latest stories

See complete coverage of LI's recovery after Sandy

NY Rising

New York Rising starts demolishing Sandy-damaged homes

Data

Information on the first 25 projects funded by NY Rising

Infrastructure

$96M mission to protect LI from major storms

Reimbursements

$21.4M in refunds for Sandy-affected owners

LIRR

LIRR still a long way from storm readiness

'Not over'

Rebuilding

'Not over'

Thousands of LIers are still struggling to survive superstorm Sandy

Sandy's victims

Rebuilding

Sandy's victims

10 Long Islanders share their stories

LI & NYC after Sandy

Then & Now

LI & NYC after Sandy

See dramatic images from the aftermath of the storm six months, one year and two years later

PSEG

LI's electric system improved, but untested

Looking ahead

After Sandy: Are we ready for the next big storm?

Rebuilding

Red Cross announces $2M in grants to survivors

Finding a new cause

Rebuilding

Finding a new cause

During Sandy, volunteers emerged as local heroes and their missions continue two years later

Summer after Sandy

Heading into Long Island’s first summer after superstorm Sandy, many Long Islanders were still dealing with the storm’s destruction on a daily basis, and worrying about how they would fare during the island’s busiest season. From homes to businesses, beaches and roads, this series shows some of the dramatic images from the aftermath of the storm and the same locations six months later. Photos on the left show the damage after the storm; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo. Mobile users can tap anywhere on a photo to move the slider.

Use the navigation tools at the top of the page to see then and now photos from one and two years after Sandy.

Oak Island

before

after

Photo credit: News12 Long Island (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

South Bay flooded Oak Island homes during superstorm Sandy. Those not completely destroyed are in the midst of repairs.

Long Beach: West End

before

after

Photo credit: Doug Kuntz (Nov. 2, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

Only about half of the residents in the West End section of Long Beach have returned to their homes since Sandy wiped out the area’s one-level bungalows and the first floors of many two- and three-story homes.

Jones Beach boardwalk

before

after

Photo credit: News12 Long Island (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

Of all of Long Island’s state parks, Jones Beach required the most repairs, with park employees, state agencies and 17 contractors beginning the work within days of the storm.

Freeport’s Nautical Mile

before

after

Photo credits: J. Conrad Williams Jr. (Nov. 1, 2012); Newsday / Danielle Finkelstein (May 14, 2013)

When superstorm Sandy pummeled the Nautical Mile in Freeport, Tropix bar and restaurant was devastated by the storm surge, high winds and a raging fire.

East Massapequa

before

after

Photo credits: Johnny Milano (Nov. 9, 2012); Tara Conry (May 20, 2013)

Many of the East Massapequa homes that sit directly on the Great South Bay are vacant. Storm surges during superstorm Sandy ripped apart walls, shattered windows and washed away parts of the houses.

Smith Point Beach

before

after

Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan (Nov. 16, 2012); Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara (May 9, 2013)

A sense of rejuvenation is washing over visitors after the boardwalk was recently repaired and debris has been cleared. The beach, too, seems to be making a natural comeback.

Lindenhurst: Shore Road

before

after

Photo credit: James Carbone (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 9, 2013)

When the more than 4 feet of water that flooded Shore Road in Lindenhurst receded, the damage left behind was both material and emotional.

Montauk

before

after

Photo credit: Gordon M. Grant (Nov. 19, 2012 and May 9, 2013)

The oceanfront beaches in Montauk lost nearly 75 yards of sand to erosion after superstorm Sandy, leaving shores nearly 2 feet lower than they were before and oceanfront homes and hotels with their foundations exposed.

Ocean Parkway

before

after

Photo credit: Steve Pfost (Nov. 16, 2012 and May 12, 2013)

Ocean Parkway suffered such severe Sandy damage that New York State awarded a $33.2-million contract to three New York-based companies to repair it just a month-and-a-half after the storm hit.

Long Beach boardwalk

before

after

Photo credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara (Nov. 18, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

Long Beach was one of the areas hit hardest by superstorm Sandy, and the most iconic part of the city to fall prey was the boardwalk.

Nikon at Jones Beach Theater

before

after

Photo credit: News12 Long Island (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

More than 4 feet of water flooded the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, damaging its VIP boardwalk, box office, electrical system, orchestra seating and concession supplies.

Center Moriches: Ocean Avenue

before

after

Photo credit: John Roca (Oct. 27, 2012 and May 11, 2013)

Water from Moriches Bay flooded the southernmost part of Ocean Avenue in Center Moriches, bringing 4 feet of water into the streets and many of the homes.

Fire Island

before

after

Photo credit: Ed Betz (Feb. 7, 2013 and May 10, 2013)

Fire Island’s recovery from Sandy has been equal parts resolve and rumination — how to rebuild while coming to terms with man’s limits vs. Mother Nature. But while the discussion goes on, locals are preparing for summer as usual.

Mastic Beach

before

after

Photo credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 9, 2013)

The Village of Mastic Beach saw widespread flooding, downed trees, outages and homes damaged. While much has been cleared, some residents are still struggling to make repairs, while others have left altogether.

Westhampton Beach

before

after

Photo credit: Doug Kuntz (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 14, 2013)

Many of the ground-level homes in Westhampton Beach were flooded by storm surges from Moriches Bay. As summer nears, signs of hope and normality are returning.

Freeport neighborhoods

before

after

Photo credit: Howard Schnapp (Oct. 30, 2012 and May 13, 2013)

Most Freeport residents are back in their homes, but many are still repairing the damage from a 9-foot storm surge that crested over nearby Woodcleft Canal.

Lindenhurst: South Wellwood Avenue

before

after

Photo credit: James Carbone (Oct. 29, 2012 and May 9, 2013)

Residents living on South Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst are still trying to restore their homes, which took in roughly 4 feet of water laced with silt, fuel and debris from the Great South Bay.

Center Moriches: Inletview Place

before

after

Photo credit: John Roca (Oct. 30, 2012 an May 11, 2013)

Water from Moriches Bay swept over the small spit of land between Ocean Avenue in Center Moriches and Inletview Place, breaking down boat docks and house walls, and flushing out homes.

One year after Sandy

This interactive project highlights some dramatic images from the aftermath of superstorm Sandy and the recovery efforts one year later. Photos on the left show the damage after the storm; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo.

Use the navigation tools at the top of the page to see then and now photos from two years and six months after Sandy.

Freeport

before

after

Photo credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr./Howard Schnapp (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 7, 2013)

The popular Fiore Bros. Fish Market which had been in business since 1920 on Freeport’s Nautical Mile burnt to the ground after superstorm Sandy. The restaurants and bars on the mile-long stretch that runs along Woodcleft Canal were ravaged by the storm. Most businesses reopened by Memorial Day, but some like Fiore Bros. are still recovering.

Long Beach

before

after

Photo credit: Howard Schnapp (Nov. 1, 2012 and Oct. 7, 2013)

Cars along Long Beach’s Michigan Avenue were submerged by water and sand after superstorm Sandy. Long Beach was among the hardest hit communities on Long Island and continues its efforts to rebuild. FEMA provided the city, its schools and the Long Beach Medical Center more than $39 million in aid.

Lindenhurst

before

after

Photo credit: James Carbone (Oct. 31, 2012 and Oct. 6, 2013)

Homes along Bayview Avenue West in Lindenhurst were pummeled by superstorm Sandy. Another of the harder hit areas on Long Island, the village and its schools received more than $7 million in FEMA aid to assist in the recovery.

Breezy Point

before

after

Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 4, 2013)

The Statue of Blessed Mother once overlooked the charred remains of the smoldering homes on Gotham Walk in Breezy Point. Superstorm Sandy devastated the area damaging or destroying more than 100 homes.

Bayville

before

after

Photo credit: Danielle Finkelstein (Oct. 29, 2012 and Oct. 4, 2013)

Ransom Beach in Bayville was completely submerged by waves as superstorm Sandy walloped the village tucked between the Sound and the waters of Oyster Bay. The storm surge reached 11.06 feet in Bayville.

Ronkonkoma

before

after

Photo credit: Ed Betz (Oct. 31, 2012); James Carbone (Oct. 24, 2013)

A home along West 5th Street in Ronkonkoma damaged by a fallen tree after superstorm Sandy ripped through Long Island had to be completely rebuilt. Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 95,000 structures on Long Island.

Staten Island

before

after

Photo credit: Charles Eckert (Oct. 31, 2012 and Oct. 6, 2013)

Joe and John Toto’s Restaurant and Bar was among the Staten Island businesses that suffered damage after superstorm Sandy. New York City officials have acknowledged that many residents are still waiting for financial aid to rebuild their damaged homes but said the city’s infrastructure has been strengthened.

Island Park

before

after

Photo credit: Howard Schnapp (Nov. 1, 2012 and Oct. 7, 2013)

Superstorm Sandy lifted boats from the water onto the docks along Barnum Island in Island Park. The village received $872,029 in FEMA aid and is seeking $45 million in federal hazard mitigation funds to make drainage improvements and infrastructure repairs.

Manhattan

before

after

Photo credit: Craig Ruttle (Oct. 31, 2012 and April 23, 2013)

Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Transportation Authority vice president and chief maintenance officer, tours the inside of the South Ferry train station in Manhattan. The MTA was forced to shut down train, subway and bus service after superstorm Sandy.

Long Beach boardwalk

before

after

Photo credit: Alejandra Villa / Howard Schnapp (Jan. 15, 2013 and Oct. 7, 2013)

Long Beach was one of the areas hit hardest by superstorm Sandy, and the most iconic part of the city to fall prey was the boardwalk. Officials said the city’s rebuilt boardwalk was “substantially complete” in October with a pricetag of $44.2 million.

Babylon

before

after

Photo credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz / James Carbone (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 6, 2013)

The Sea Breeze Cafe in Babylon Village was completely submerged by superstorm Sandy. Long Islanders received more than $87 million in Small Business Administration business loans for damage suffered by the storm.

Manhattan

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Craig Ruttle (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 8, 2013)

Superstorm Sandy breached the seawalls of the Battery in lower Manhattan, swamped part of the subway system and poured into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (also known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel).

Massapequa

before

after

Photo credit: Johnny Milano (Nov. 6, 2013 and Oct. 9, 2013)

Some homes along Clocks Boulevard in Massapequa destroyed by superstorm Sandy still have not been rebuilt. Long Islanders received more than $725 million in Small Business Administration home loans.

Breezy Point

before

after

Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 4, 2013)

Superstorm Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes in Breezy Point. Sandy inflicted about $33 billion in damage to the state and plunged more than 1 million households into darkness for more than two weeks.

Island Park

before

after

Photo credit: Jack McCoy / Danielle Finkelstein (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 4, 2013)

Superstorm Sandy scattered boats and debris throughout Empire Boulevard in Island Park. The village is seeking $45 million in federal hazard mitigation funds to make village-wide drainage improvements and infrastructure repairs.

Croci maintains lead over Esposito in Newsday/News 12/Siena poll

Republican Tom Croci continues to hold a substantial lead over Democrat Adrienne Esposito in New York’s 3rd Senate District, according to a Newsday/News12/Siena College poll.

Croci, the Islip town supervisor, leads Esposito, a longtime environmental activist, 59 percent to 34 percent among likely voters in the district, which covers parts of Brookhaven and Islip. The survey of 425 likely voters was taken Oct. 20-23 — a week after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his support for Esposito. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

The numbers in the race have hardly budged from a benchmark poll one month earlier. That poll showed Croci ahead 56-29.

“It does seem noteworthy that this race hasn’t closed,” said Don Levy, director of the Siena College poll. “It doesn’t appear she’s succeeded in gaining traction.”

To see raw data, click here.

Who would you vote for today between Adrienne Esposito and Tom Croci?

In contrast, there was noticeable movement among district residents’ views on the gubernatorial race. The October survey found Cuomo, a Democrat, leading Republican challenger Rob Astorino 44 percent to 41 percent — down from 13-point difference just a month earlier.

Levy noted that Cuomo “lost traction in the district, even among Democrats,” since the September poll, a trend that may or may not affect the Senate race. In September, 78 percent of Democrats said they favored Cuomo, 10 percent Astorino and 4 percent Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins. In October, that shifted to Cuomo, 67 percent, Astorino, 15 and Hawkins, 13.

Esposito and Croci are vying to replace Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is leaving the State Senate to run for Congress against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

On the bright side for Esposito, her name recognition has almost doubled since September. On the down side, her negative ratings grew faster than her positive. About 28 percent of district residents surveyed now say they view her favorably while 38 percent said unfavorable.

How likely would you say you are to vote for Adrienne Esposito or Tom Croci?

“She is better known, but not in a way that enhances her electability,” Levy said.

Meanwhile, Croci was viewed favorably by 59 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 24 percent. He even gained a split among registered Democrats, 39-39.

Croci also fared much better than Esposito at gaining independent support. Among independent and third-party voters, he leads 58-34.

“He is really cleaning up with independents,” Levy said of Croci. “She needed to flip that around and she hasn’t.”

Regardless of your support, which candidate do you think has waged the more negative campaign?

Croci enjoys strong core support from his party’s base. Eighty-eight percent of Republicans said they back Croci, while 61 percent of Democrats favor Esposito.

The district is 35 percent Democratic and 31 percent Republican. But Republicans historically have voted in larger numbers than Democrats in the district, according to Siena.

Despite the big lead, Croci spokeswoman Christine Geed said only: “This election is too important to take anything for granted. The results that count are next week on Election Day. Until 9 p.m. on November 4th we are going to continue running an aggressive campaign about Tom Croci being the only candidate who can create jobs and improve the quality of life for the families of Long Island.”

Esposito’s campaign manager highlighted her increased visibility and tried to link Croci to a toxic dumping scandal in Islip that occurred while he was town supervisor but when he was in Afghanistan on naval duty.

“Tom Croci has spent over half a million dollars lying about Adrienne’s record and the truth is she has gone up in the polls,” said Esposito spokesman Michael Fricchione. “Croci is relying on shady New York City special interest money and money from illegal toxic dumpers, which has flooded the airwaves with his lies. At the end of the day, Adrienne Esposito is the only candidate in this race who is out there fighting for hard-working, middle- class families . . . “

As Election Day draws near, survey respondents contacted by Newsday indicated they were voting along party lines.

Kevin Keeley, a school teacher who lives in Islip, said he supports Esposito because he wants Democrats to control the state Senate.

“They typically lean more the direction I lean toward,” Keeley said. Noting his family received helpful social assistance when he was growing up, he added: “They lean more toward social programs. I like the idea of supporting them.”

Similarly, Leigh Ross, a flight attendant who lives in Ronkonkoma, said she supports Croci because he’s Republican.

“I’m very conservative, so I lean more toward the conservative,” she said. “I feel like he’s a better candidate.”

Questions on Rice’s early prosecution cases

The Kings County district attorney’s prosecution of Antowine Butts for double homicide imploded and ended in an acquittal in 2000, but not before Butts spent two years in a Rikers Island jail cell. After the case unraveled, Butts alleged that he was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct in a civil rights lawsuit that was settled with New York City. Among those named in that suit: Kathleen Rice, the architect of the case against Butts.
Rice is now one of the most visible law enforcement officials in the state. She followed her rookie tenure as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn from 1992 to 1999 with more than five years as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia before becoming Nassau County’s district attorney in 2006. A Democrat who has touted herself as a progressive prosecutor “both tough and smart on crime,” Rice holds a 10-point edge over Bruce Blakeman, her opponent in the November race for the 4th District U.S. congressional seat, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll. ​ Despite that high profile, Rice has largely escaped attention — including during the current campaign — for starting her career in an office in which prosecutors are alleged to have put some innocent people behind bars with coerced confessions, bogus witness statements, coached lineup identifications and other tactics. Brooklyn prosecutors have moved to vacate the convictions of nine people in the past year due to flawed case-making, and about 100 convictions won during the 24-year tenure of former Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes remain under review by the new district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson. Rice and the former Brooklyn assistant district attorneys whom she recruited to Nassau County have not been publicly tied to the cases under review, and a spokesperson for the Kings County district attorney’s office declined to reveal the names of the prosecutors involved with the cases. Eric Phillips, a spokesman for Rice’s campaign, wrote in response to questions that Rice has “made efforts to discern” whether she, or any member of her staff who worked in the Brooklyn office, is associated with the cases under review. Rice has “yet to hear of any connections,” Phillips wrote. Besides ending in an acquittal, the failed prosecution of Butts — whose only previous criminal conviction was from hopping a subway turnstile — bears many similarities to the cases being vacated. Rice, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this story. In response to a general overview a reporter emailed to Rice’s spokespeople last week, Phillips sent an emailed statement Friday that read, in part: “Summarizing an award-winning, 22-year career by handpicking and focusing solely on a few unproven smears while omitting discussion of the thousands of cases that counter this slant is a disservice to the public. Adding the DA’s voice to that questionable reporting process would only enhance the credibility of a story that we believe is deeply misleading to readers.” The full statement is available here. To be sure, in a career marked by high-profile triumphs, the vast majority of Rice’s cases show no public evidence of misconduct. However, Rice has downplayed the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct that have emerged on occasion, or her spokespeople cast the criticism as motivated by politics. During her successful run for district attorney nine years ago, Rice said of the Butts case: “Disgruntled defendants sue the DA’s office all the time. Having only one case against me puts me in the baseball Hall of Fame as far as I’m concerned.” A Newsday examination of Rice’s career found at least five instances, including the troubled Butts case, in which Rice was accused of intentional misconduct or of committing a procedural error serious enough to put her case in jeopardy. At least two convictions Rice helped secure have been overturned for those reasons, and at least three sitting or retired judges have rebuked Rice over her handling of a case. A fourth judge sanctioned her in another case. The examination of Rice’s record involved documents never before made public, including the contents of her Brooklyn personnel file — which had been reported as lost — and statistics concerning the dispositions of cases she tried there. Newsday also obtained previously unavailable transcripts of depositions from Butts’ civil suit, including Rice’s and that of the drug-using alleged eyewitness upon whom the case relied. The transcripts show that despite publicly maintaining for years that she was positive Butts gunned down two men in a Brooklyn bodega in 1997, Rice acknowledged uncertainty about the case during her deposition. She conceded that statements from the two key witnesses “didn’t make sense” and “seemed a little strange” and that she argued against pursuing the death penalty for Butts on the chance that he could have been innocent. Still, Phillips wrote in the emailed statement that Rice “believes wholeheartedly that she and her prosecutor colleagues had the right man.”
“Disgruntled defendants sue the DA’s office all the time. Having only one case against me puts me in the baseball Hall of Fame as far as I’m concerned.” –Kathleen Rice, nine years ago
Records and depositions reveal that Rice and detectives locked in on Butts and discounted information pointing to another man who matched the shooter’s profile. Butts’ suit alleged that Rice and detectives coerced witnesses into testifying against him, and one of the witnesses claimed under oath that he was ignored when he protested that the wrong man was being targeted. Rice and the detectives denied the witnesses’ allegations during the civil suit. Experts who reviewed details of several of Rice’s cases at Newsday’s request differed on their assessments of her conduct as a prosecutor. Eugene O’Donnell, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor who was once colleagues with Rice in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office but did not work closely with her, said that Rice’s prosecutorial issues reflected “the typical job of the DA.” “There are glaring gaps in the cases, the victims have issues, the witnesses have issues,” O’Donnell said. “It’s baggage city. But you still have to bring the bad guys to justice.” Peter Davis, a professor at Long Island’s Touro Law Center, where Rice was once his student, said the records show she avoided consequences despite failing to disclose favorable information to the defense, which is known as the Brady requirement due to the landmark Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland. “It seems one pattern is the pattern of Rice suppressing Brady material,” Davis said. “And the second pattern is this pattern of judges not holding Rice accountable.” Pace Law School Professor Bennett L. Gershman, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and an expert on prosecutorial conduct, said that Rice’s errors stood out. “There are many, many prosecutors out there who have been prosecutors for this long who aren’t saddled with these kinds of problems,” Gershman said. Troubled cases The failed Butts prosecution bears many similarities to the cases currently under review in Brooklyn. There was an absence of physical evidence, an eyewitness who was an admitted crack user, accusations of coercion by authorities, and the involvement of now-retired NYPD homicide Det. Louis Scarcella, who has been the focus the Brooklyn district attorney’s false-conviction probe. Seventy convictions Scarcella helped secure are among the cases under review. During a September court hearing concerning a convicted murderer who claims Scarcella set him up, the former detective noted that it was the prosecutors who oversaw every arrest he made. “During my tenure as a detective in Brooklyn, which was about 19 years, we did not make the arrest,” Scarcella said. “We had to bring it to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and they authorized the arrest. We did not.” Scarcella declined to comment for this story. He and his longtime partner, Stephen Chmil, were the first detectives at the scene of a double homicide in a Brooklyn bodega on Dec. 30, 1997. Scarcella and Chmil were integral to the case, interviewing witnesses, arranging photo lineups and ultimately arresting Butts, police records show. When Rice first arrived at the bodega, the store’s owner and a teenage employee were still lying behind the counter and in an aisle where they had been shot. “You are there to make sure that things are done correctly,” Rice said of her role during a 2005 deposition. The investigation found its key witness two days later when police arrested Martin Mitchell for allegedly ringing in 1998 by firing a pistol out of an apartment window. Cops found guns, ammunition, a silencer, a police-issued bulletproof vest and scanner, handcuffs and a gas mask in the apartment. Hoping to trade information for favorable treatment, an “intoxicated” Mitchell, according to a detective’s later deposition, tapped his hands on an interrogation room table and said: “I have something big.” Mitchell said, according to a statement taped by Rice, that three men had been involved in the bodega shooting, including a man known as “Black” from Tapscott Street. He said he witnessed the group plan to rob the bodega and was across the street from the Brownsville shop when the murders occurred. Mitchell denied being in on the crime but acknowledged accepting money and crack to keep quiet.
“There are glaring gaps in the cases, the victims have issues, the witnesses have issues. It’s baggage city. But you still have to bring the bad guys to justice.” — Eugene O’Donnell, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor

In later civil depositions, Rice and two detectives suggested that Mitchell’s account struck them as at least partially not credible. Detectives said they suspected that Mitchell was involved in the murders. “We were looking at it that he could have been and probably was part of it,” Det. Robert Schulman said in his deposition. “Of course, the way he was saying it, I mean it sounds like the guy was a lookout,” Det. Stephen Hunter said. In her own deposition, Rice said that Mitchell’s statements were “never shown to be untrue” and that relying on him as a witness had to “be seen in the prism of prosecuting cases in Brooklyn.” “My experience in Brooklyn in a neighborhood like this, you had to deal with witnesses not as credible as you like,” Rice said. Two days later, Rice recorded the interview of another alleged eyewitness to the shooting, a 15-year-old girl who said she saw a masked man nicknamed “Black” fight with the bodega owner before the shots rang out. The girl said she, her boyfriend and her dog followed the three shooters, who discussed the murders within earshot and handled weapons and a wad of cash. ​ Butts’ attorney in both his criminal defense and later civil suit, Bruce A. Barket, said in a recent interview that the girl’s story suggested “she could see through a wall and a mask to identify a person she had never met before.” It was Scarcella who then steered the investigation toward Butts, another detective recalled during a sworn deposition, following a canvass of bodega owners, one of whom said he knew of a neighborhood man nicknamed “Black” who was in a group that robbed bodegas. Police then identified that man as Butts. In the civil suit, Barket alleged that the 15-year-old girl was threatened with her adult boyfriend’s prosecution for statutory rape if she didn’t implicate Butts. The girl was not deposed during the civil suit. Rice and the detectives denied that they coerced her statement. Mitchell would make similar allegations. He later claimed that after he told detectives that Butts was not the right man, he was told to implicate him anyway or face gun charges. “They just kept pushing the issue,” Mitchell said in a 2004 jailhouse deposition while serving an unrelated prison stint. “Tell me if I didn’t agree, they was gonna nail me with the case.” Mitchell included Rice among those who coerced him into implicating Butts. Mitchell recalled her as an aggressive prosecutor who intimidated him with “several threats” of prison time if he lied or didn’t cooperate. Rice and the detectives denied Mitchell’s allegations. A case crumbles A grand jury indicted Butts and charged him with multiple counts of first-degree murder. Though two other men were arrested, they were not charged. Less than two months later, a judge dismissed the charges against Butts on the grounds that the evidence presented to the grand jury was insufficient. However, Rice filed an appeal and the charges were ultimately reinstated. By the time Butts was tried in 2000, Rice had moved on to prosecute federal cases in Philadelphia. The case she helped put together in Brooklyn quickly fell apart. Transcripts of the trial have been sealed, but according to a New York Times account, Mitchell undermined his testimony by admitting that he was high on drugs and drunk within a day of the shooting. When asked what time the crime occurred, Mitchell reportedly replied, “I can’t remember people. How am I going to remember time?” Hynes acknowledged in a letter to The New York Times that flawed witness testimony doomed the case. “The jury acquitted Mr. Butts because two eyewitnesses contradicted their earlier statements to police and prosecutors when they testified at trial,” Hynes wrote. In pursuing Butts, the investigation cleared a known drug dealer nicknamed “Black” from Tapscott Street, records and depositions show. The murders have not been solved. O’Donnell, the John Jay professor and former Brooklyn prosecutor, said that focusing on a primary suspect, even if it means ignoring different leads, is normal. “Sounds like a typical investigation, but it also sounds like something you should be concerned with,” O’Donnell said. “Law enforcement investigators are not looking to create doubt. You don’t set out to say, ‘Let’s weaken our case.’ ” Pace Law Professor Gershman said the evidence against Butts was “very weak.” “It hinges on witness statements which the prosecutor admitted didn’t make sense and were strange,” Gershman said. “What the heck are you prosecuting this case for?” Rice maintained in her deposition that building a case isn’t as tidy as it’s portrayed in the movies. “The fact is, sometimes you have to deal with the evidence that you are given,” Rice said. “It’s not like going to central casting and say, ‘This person is a witness, get me the bloody gun.’ ” Butts accused New York City, the district attorney’s office and several individuals, including Rice, of violating his civil rights in a federal lawsuit filed in 2001. The suit was ultimately settled in 2007 with the city paying Butts $220,000. “Everything I lost I cannot get none of that back, nothing,” Butts said in his own deposition, adding that prosecutors persisted with the case against him despite realizing he was innocent. “Once they point the finger they have to stick with it.” State records show Butts has not been convicted of any crime since he was acquitted for the bodega murders. In a 2010 report by City & State, a media organization that covers New York government and politics, Rice said she was certain Butts was guilty. “From the very beginning, I knew we had the right guy. There was no question in my mind at all,” she said. “Sometimes that happens — sometimes guilty people get acquitted.” In her 2005 deposition, Rice said she “was convinced we had the right person” but whether she could prove it was “a different question.” However, she also said the witnesses’ credibility problems had influenced her to recommend that Hynes not pursue capital punishment. “God forbid there is a mistake, there is no going back from that. You have to be very careful in that process,” said Rice. “I knew it was a difficult case, as most of my cases were.” A driven prosecutor Hynes hired Rice in 1992 at a $30,000 assistant district attorney’s salary. Rice, who was 26 at the time, was a Touro Law Center graduate who had interned at the Manhattan Legal Aid Society and worked as a clerk at a law firm. She had also interned for Nassau County District Attorney Denis E. Dillon, whom she would oust in an election more than a decade later. “Growing up the seventh of ten children, I was strongly encouraged to keep the needs and feelings of others in mind,” Rice wrote in a cover letter for the Brooklyn prosecutor’s job. Personnel records show that in an office with hundreds of other assistant district attorneys, she rose from general criminal court duty to prosecuting sex crimes and, ultimately, homicides. Her new workplace was the deadliest borough in a city reeling from the crack epidemic and record murder rates. Rice prosecuted 295 felony charges through 1999, according to statistics Newsday obtained via a public records request. Rice’s acquittal rate at trial for those felony charges was just over 30 percent, slightly higher than the average of her Brooklyn peers during that era, which was 26.4 percent. (Nine of Rice’s cases ended in unclear dispositions, according to numbers provided by the Kings County district attorney’s office. If every one of the nine cases ended in a trial conviction, Rice’s acquittal number would improve to roughly 25 percent.) A more detailed breakdown of the office’s statistics, such as by individual prosecutor or by case type, was not available. Phillips, Rice’s spokesman, said using the statistics to compare Rice with her Brooklyn colleagues is not valid. “Kathleen was appointed a federal prosecutor by the US Attorney because she tried the toughest cases in the most elite bureau against the most violent New Yorkers in the city’s most violent era. And she won. Comparing her trial stats on these cases to those of prosecutors going after bad-check writers is not only naive but intentionally misleading,” Phillips wrote in an email. When asked to provide evidence in support of his statement, Phillips provided none. Court case files from convictions Rice secured during the era show she pushed for a sentence of 25 years to life for Jose Gutierrez, who engaged in a shootout that killed an innocent bystander, and branded him a “cowardly punk” who “personifies the senseless stupidity of random violence that plagues our city.” Gutierrez’s attorney in the shootout case, Joseph Ostrowsky, accused Rice of a “litany of prosecutorial misconduct and recklessness,” including withholding from the defense grand jury testimony from three witnesses in the case. One of those witnesses said on the stand that he saw Gutierrez immediately prior to the shooting, testimony for which the defense was not prepared. Both the trial judge and an appeals court agreed that Rice delayed disclosure of the testimony, according to court records. The higher court declined to overturn the conviction, ruling that Rice had been “properly sanctioned” by allowing the defense further cross-examination of three witnesses. Interest of justice Disposition statistics show that one of Rice’s cases in Brooklyn was dismissed in the interest of justice, a circumstance where the judge has determined that pursuing the prosecution would be unjust. No information about the case is publicly available. Under New York State law, cases ending in dismissal or acquittal are automatically sealed from public view. Like every prosecutor, Rice’s successes — the guilty pleas and verdicts — are preserved in court files, while the failures are mostly closed to public scrutiny.
In a recent interview with Newsday, former Kings County Supreme Court Justice Amy Herz Juviler said she once dismissed one of Rice’s cases in the interest of justice. Juviler, who retired in December 1992, had no records to corroborate her recollection of the case, and it is unclear whether Juviler’s case is the same one indicated in Rice’s disposition statistics. Juviler said it was a rape case and that Rice withheld information that the alleged victim was wanted on felony charges. “No jury would have convicted him with felonies hanging over her head,” Juviler said of the victim. “She’s not a credible witness.” Juviler wrote a 2010 email widely circulated during Rice’s failed bid for New York attorney general that criticized Rice for unethical trial tactics. Rice “regularly introduced perjurious statements” and pursued misdemeanor convictions for innocent defendants even after felony cases had fallen apart, Juviler wrote. Phillips called the allegations “politically motivated” at the time and said Rice could not remember the case Juviler referenced. In the emailed statement sent Friday, the campaign spokesman wrote that Juviler “has a long history of coming out of the woodwork when Kathleen’s in the news. Readers should wonder why she won’t tell us the name of this case or why she didn’t take action against Kathleen at the time of this alleged incident.”
“There are many, many prosecutors out there who have been prosecutors for this long who aren’t saddled with these kinds of problems.” — Pace Law professor Bennett L. Gershman
Sex-abuse case Other allegations against Rice appear in an appellate decision involving NYC Emergency Medical Services lieutenant Carlos Ramos, who was convicted in 1995 of sexually abusing a 10-year-old. Ramos’ attorney accused prosecutors of misconduct, stating in the appeal that the prosecution, led by Rice, had withheld information concerning the dates of the alleged attacks. Given those dates, Ramos would have produced records showing he was at work at the time he was accused of abusing the boy, according to the appeal. Kings County Supreme Court Justice John M. Leventhal agreed that prosecutors’ actions “severely interfered with defendant’s ability to adequately prepare a defense and amounted to a denial of due process.” Citing “fundamental fairness and due process,” Leventhal ordered a new trial for Ramos. State records show the charges against Ramos were dismissed in 1997. Leventhal declined to address the accusation of prosecutorial misconduct, saying that “a further hearing would be necessary” to determine whether Rice or two fellow prosecutors had purposefully withheld evidence. Rice defended her handling of the Ramos case during the civil deposition in the Butts lawsuit. Rice said she could not have disclosed the date of alleged abuse because she didn’t learn it until the boy took the stand. In her experience with sex crimes, she said, there was a “difficulty to get children to remember specific dates,” so prosecutors would often charge that the abuse occurred in a general time period. Pace Law Professor Gershman said a prosecutor is responsible for getting such information and then ensuring that it has been turned over to the defense. “She’s preparing a case for trial that could result in a person spending much of the rest of his life in jail and yet she doesn’t ascertain the dates that the abuse occurred?” Gershman said. Less than three years after Rice left Brooklyn to work as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, she again faced accusations that she had withheld key information during a trial. A federal appeals court overturned Rice’s conviction of Alfonzo Coward, a felon sentenced to 68 months in prison after he was caught with a pistol in his car, because Rice had failed to reveal why Coward was pulled over in the first place. Rice’s colleagues defended her in court by saying she was “relatively inexperienced.” Two judges rejected that explanation. “We note that the prosecutor’s ‘inexperience’ did not prevent the government from selecting her to handle the obligations of a criminal trial and, indeed, she secured Coward’s conviction,” ruled U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “Nothing suggests that the government in Coward’s case ‘overlooked’ a ‘detail’ by ‘inadvertence.’ This case is not one in which the misinterpretation can be justified because the law was ambiguous or changing.” In a separate ruling, Judge Stewart Dalzell of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania called the defense of Rice’s inexperience a “bald excuse” and a “very odd premise.” He added “the Government seems to suggest that the Fourth Amendment … does not (somehow) apply in Brooklyn as it does in federal district court in Philadelphia, and therefore Ms. Rice could not have been expected to be familiar with controlling law.” Two years after Rice’s handling of the case led to Coward’s early release from prison, Coward was arrested on charges of marrying and having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Those charges were later withdrawn. Rice downplayed the Coward error in an interview with Newsday in 2010. “It was one case in an 18-year career,” she said. Remaking DA’s office “It will be a real prosecutor’s office again,” Rice declared at her victory celebration in November 2005 after seizing the Nassau County district attorney’s office from 31-year incumbent Dillon. She remade the office in part by firing veteran prosecutors and replacing them with former Brooklyn colleagues groomed by Hynes. Rice hired Teresa Corrigan, a Kings County prosecutor for 16 years, to become a bureau chief. Corrigan, now a Nassau County Court judge, wrote in her resignation to Hynes that “it is with great pride that I will be taking everything I have gained from this office and applying it to the problems facing Nassau County.” Former Kings County Assistant District Attorneys Meg Reiss, Sheryl Anania and Mitchell Benson were also given top prosecutorial jobs in Rice’s administration. And Albert Teichman, who was Hynes’ longtime chief assistant district attorney, was hired for the same No. 2 spot in Nassau. Teichman, in his own resignation letter, called Hynes’ administration “one of the finest prosecution offices in the nation.” How Hynes operated his office has become an issue of intense interest due to the ongoing search for wrongful convictions. This past August, the city agreed to pay $10 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Jabbar Collins, whose homicide conviction was tossed amid allegations that prosecutors had threatened and coerced witnesses in his case. Two Eastern District of New York judges, Dora Irizarry and Frederick Block, called prosecutors’ actions in the Collins case “shameful” and “horrific” and criticized Hynes for turning a blind eye to misconduct. Thompson defeated Hynes in an election last year and took over the Brooklyn office in January. Hynes may face criminal charges after a New York City investigation found that he used law enforcement money for campaign expenses. Barket, who represented Butts and another man freed early from a prison sentence following allegations that a Brooklyn prosecutor withheld information during his murder trial, said that Rice’s tutelage under Hynes is especially meaningful when it comes to her handling of Brady material. “She was brought up in an office where violating Brady was a trial tactic,” said Barket, who previously worked as an assistant district attorney for Rice’s predecessor, Dillon. “[Hynes] clearly ran an office that condoned misconduct by his trial assistants. I think she was raised by Hynes and taught a system by Hynes.” Phillips wrote in the emailed statement that Barket is Rice’s “sworn political enemy.” In Nassau County, state statistics show a marked shift in case dispositions in the years under Rice’s stewardship. In the eight years before Rice took office, just over 21 percent of completed trials stemming from felony arrests resulted in acquittal. During Rice’s tenure, that same figure jumped to 30 percent. Suffolk County’s corresponding acquittal percentage has stayed mostly steady over both time periods, rising only from 26.1 percent to 26.6 percent. A spokesman for the Nassau County district attorney’s office, Shams Tarek, called those numbers “false” in a statement to Newsday and instead provided figures which excluded initial felony charges tried as misdemeanors. Those numbers still showed an acquittal rise during the Rice era, from 17.6% to 24.2%. Experts interviewed by Newsday said that the jump in acquittals was troubling and deserved scrutiny. “It could mean you’re trying difficult cases,” Pace Law Professor Gershman said. “Maybe these people aren’t as experienced or competent as they should be. Maybe there is lousy supervision in the office.” John Jay professor O’Donnell said reviewing trial statistics “is an opportunity to assess whether there is a sufficient cadre of skilled trial prosecutors in the office. It is absolutely inarguable that you would like to have the highest conviction rate possible in cases that you bring to trial, and a defendant having a one in three chance of winning a case is a concern.” Brady rules Rice, who was president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York until July, has bristled at the accusation that her own prosecutors do not adhere to the law. In August 2012, she fired back after top defense attorney Marvin Schechter penned an editorial in the New York Law Journal accusing local district attorneys of coaching their assistants to hide information favorable to the defense — a clear Brady violation. Rice’s written response called Schechter’s argument “offensive and inaccurate” and said that some Brady violations are human error. “I would have told him what I would do with a prosecutor who willfully and intentionally commits a Brady violation: I would fire him or her on the spot,” Rice wrote. The month following Rice’s vow, a judge removed one of her assistant district attorneys, Martin Meaney, from trying a homicide case because he failed to disclose that a security guard near a murder scene did not identify the defendant in a photo array. “It seems that that Brady violation, unfortunately, does put your credibility into issue before a trial,” Judge Alan L. Honorof told Meaney in the case of Jovany Henrius, who is charged with killing two men in the Woodbury home of his cousin, former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Touro professor Davis, after reviewing transcripts from the case at Newsday’s request, said the violation seemed clear to him. “This is a very obvious piece of evidence,” Davis said. “Even a layperson could see this.” Meaney, who at the time had been a Nassau County prosecutor for 24 years, had little defense. “With regard to the Brady violation, Judge, I don’t have much to say,” Meaney said in court. “I know the law in the area says that Brady has to be turned over in sufficient time for defense counsel to make use of it.” Judge Honorof, remarking that he and Meaney “have served together in the district attorney’s office,” said he had no choice but to believe his former colleague. “I have known him that long and have that high of a regard for his honesty and integrity,” Honorof said. “So if he tells me something, I’m going to believe him.” Following the remarks, Henrius’ attorney, Michael DerGarabedian, appealed to have Honorof removed from the case due to his relationship with Meaney. Though the appeal failed, Honorof voluntarily recused himself last March to “avoid any conflict or appearance of impropriety.” Tarek, the spokesman for the Nassau district attorney’s office, wrote in a statement to Newsday that Meaney had not been disciplined because he’d been exonerated by an in-house investigation. “We respectfully disagreed with the judge’s finding that this was Brady material and a thorough investigation found there was no willful wrongdoing on the prosecutor’s part,” Tarek said. To read the original comments on this story, click here to view the thread in Disqus. With Matt Clark and Adam Playford CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Kathleen Rice’s status with the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.

Sandy Stories

Long Islanders recount their struggles during and after Sandy in these exclusive interviews with News 12 Long Island. Click the camera icon in each story to see videos and photos.

Fighting Floods and Fires

Anthony D'Esposito

Fighting Floods and Fires

Chief Anthony D'Esposito of the Island Park Fire Department takes us back to the night of Superstorm Sandy when his department went beyond the call of duty to protect its community.

News 12 Long Island

Rooftop Rescuers

Mayor Bill Biondi, First Assistant Chief Carlo Grover

Rooftop Rescuers

Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge blasted The village of Mastic Beach, forcing residents and their pets to their rooftops awaiting help. Two of the rescuers on the front line tell their stories of that night.

News 12 Long Island

Still Not Home

David & Judy Lande

Still Not Home

On the night Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island, the Lande Family of Oceanside evacuated their home and met rushing flood waters at their front door. They struggled to make their way across the street, carrying what little they could salvage above their heads.

News 12 Long Island

Sandy Baby

Margarita & James Udall

Sandy Baby

Margarita and James Udall were looking forward to the end of October 2012 as Margarita was due to give birth to their first child. As her contractions and Superstorm Sandy’s landfall drew closer, they knew this delivery would be special.

News 12 Long Island

Serious Surge

Gabrielle Fehling

Serious Surge

Gabrielle Fehling and her husband Mike own “Empire Kayaks” located on Barnum Island in Island Park. They have been through what they thought was every type of storm possible, and secured their stock of boats and kayaks to evacuate. Gabrielle wasn’t prepared for what she would find when she returned, but that didn’t stop her from coming back better and stronger.

News 12 Long Island

Empty Lot

Michelle Mittleman

Empty Lot

The property on which Michelle Mittleman’s former home stood is a vacant lot in a neighborhood littered with condemned homes. Despite having full flood coverage, her insurance company denied her claim.

News 12 Long Island

Answering The Call

James Salazar, Anthony Bocchimuzzo

Answering The Call

Police 911 Operators, Anthony Bocchimuzzo & James Salazar, are used to emergencies. But when Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island, no matter how fast they worked the numbers of callers in peril kept growing.

News 12 Long Island

Sunshine Behind The Storm

Stacy and Ralph Anselmo

Sunshine Behind The Storm

Stacy and Ralph Anselmo always knew they would get married in Long Beach. When their waterfront dream home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and rebuilding stalled in bureaucracy, they had an idea.

News 12 Long Island

Nowhere To Turn

Deborah Kirnon

Nowhere To Turn

After Superstorm Sandy left Long Island crippled, Deborah Kirnon used her position as Director of Parish Outreach at St. Anne's church in Brentwood to help thousands of Long Island’s neediest.

News 12 Long Island

Taking A Chance

Anthony Eramo

Taking A Chance

Anthony Eramo of Long Beach rode out Superstorm Sandy with his children in their home. What he saw when his family walked outside after the storm passed has him regretting the decision not to evacuate to this day.

News 12 Long Island

Two years after Sandy: NYC recovers

 

This interactive project highlights dramatic images from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and how those same sites look two years later. Photos on the left show damage directly after the storm; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo. Mobile users, the original photo will be stacked on top of the current photo.

Breezy Point, Gotham Walk

then

after

Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 15, 2014)

First destroyed by fire, then demolished, the Gotham Walk section of Breezy Point has largely been rebuilt.

Manhattan, One New York Plaza

before

after

Photo credits: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images (Oct. 30, 2012) / Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Water flooded the entrance to The Plaza Shops at One New York Plaza during Sandy.

Staten Island, Kissam Avenue

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Paul J. Richards (Nov. 6, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

A house on Kissam Avenue that had its first floor washed away by the storm was torn down.

Breezy Point, Jamaica Walk

before

after

Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

Some of the Jamaica Walk houses that caught fire during Sandy have been demolished and others rebuilt.

Manhattan, Fulton Street

before

after

Photo credits: Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary (Oct. 30, 2012) / Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Water flooded the South Street Seaport, causing extensive damage and knocking out power to many of the businesses.

Manhattan, Avenue C

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Christos Pathiakis (Oct. 29, 2013); and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Clear streets today show no signs of the submerged cars on Ave. C and 7th St. after Sandy.

Staten Island, Father Capodanno Boulevard

before

after

Photo credit: Charles Eckert (Oct. 31, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 27, 2014)

Joe & John Toto’s Restaurant and Bar was severely damaged by Sandy.

Manhattan, South William Street

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda (Oct. 31, 2012) and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Submerged cars were trapped at the entrance to a flooded underpass on South William Street, near Broad Street.

Breezy Point, Ocean Avenue

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda (Oct. 30, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

Many of the Ocean Avenue houses that burned down during Sandy have been rebuilt.

Rockaway, Neponsit

before

after

Photo credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt (Oct. 31, 2012) and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 16, 2014)

Rebuilding has begun in the Neponsit area of Rockaway.

Two years after Sandy

 

This interactive project highlights Long Island’s recovery process after superstorm Sandy. Photos on the left show sites that were dramatically altered by the storm and how they looked one year later; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo. Mobile users, the original image will appear stacked on top of the current image.

Use the navigation tools at the top of the page to see then and now photos from one year and six months after Sandy.

Seaford

before

after

Photo credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger (Aug. 8, 2013 and Oct. 21, 2014)

A house on Narraganset Avenue that was raised in 2013 is shown a year later.

Freeport, Nautical Mile

before

after

Photo credit: Danielle Finkelstein (May 14, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014)

Heading into the first summer after Sandy, outdoor nightclub Tropix on the Mile was scrambling to open before Memorial Day. It is since back in business.

Babylon

before

after

Photo credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas (Aug. 29, 2013 and Oct. 23, 2014)

Last year, the Albert family was living in a trailer and had just raised its house on Araca Road eight feet above the flood plain. They are now living back at home and hoping to have a stairway installed in the near future.

Breezy Point, Gotham Walk

before

after

Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 4, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014)

First destroyed by fire, then demolished, the Gotham Walk section of Breezy Point has largely been rebuilt.

Center Moriches

before

after

Photo credit: John Roca (May 11, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014)

When water from Moriches Bay surged over the area of land between Ocean Avenue and Inletview Place, it swept away entire walls of bay-facing houses. Some are not yet rebuilt.

Freeport

before

after

Photo credit: Howard Schnapp and Alejandra Villa (Oct. 7, 2013 and Oct. 3, 2014)

Anthony Fiore, owner of Fiore Fish Market, is still waiting for a NY Rising award to rebuild the business.

Mastic Beach, Riviera Drive

before

after

Photo credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas (Oct. 15, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014)

A newly built, elevated home on Riviera Drive replaces a home that was damaged by the storm. A year ago, many houses in the area were still empty and in disrepair.

DWI deals dropped under Rice

Just a few months after becoming Nassau County’s district attorney, Kathleen Rice announced a policy change that would help define her tenure. Rice said she was appalled that DWI defendants testing at twice the legal blood alcohol limit of .08 routinely had their arrests reduced to infractions — the equivalent of a traffic ticket that doesn’t result in a criminal record.
That practice would end, Rice pledged. On her watch, she said, drivers with a blood alcohol content of .13 or more would no longer be able to plead their case down to an infraction. That policy change and other aggressive moves to combat driving while intoxicated have helped propel Rice, a Democrat, to what a poll last week found to be a 10-point lead over Republican Bruce Blakeman in November’s race for a seat in Congress representing the 4th District. But her statements to crack down on DWI were more than just fodder for campaign ads and stump speeches, according to a Newsday computer analysis of New York Unified Court System data.
Source: New York State Office of Court Administration; Graphic by Matt Clark
When comparing the eight years before Rice took office to the eight years after, through 2013, Newsday’s analysis showed the plea deals Rice opposed plummeted, as she had pledged. Before Rice took office, roughly 3,400 of 6,800 defendants with at least a .13 blood alcohol content pleaded their DWI cases down to infractions. Under Rice, only 260 defendants did so, even though her office handled about 2,500 more cases than were handled during her predecessor’s final eight years. “It is probably the issue I am most well-known for, and I’m going to keep being vocal about it,” Rice said in a recent interview. “We were allowing the worst of the worst drunk drivers to get a slap on the wrist.”

Changes across LI

Newsday’s analysis found that Rice’s policy shift was followed by a similar change in Suffolk County. Plea bargains there dropped from 2,700 in the eight years before Rice took office in Nassau County to 580 in the eight years after. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who has held that position since 2001, did not return a request for comment. Another set of data obtained by Newsday — from the STOP-DWI Association, a state alcohol and highway safety program — ranks counties annually based on the percentage of DWI defendants convicted on the top charge they faced. STOP-DWI data show that Nassau County went from 28th among the state’s 62 counties in 2005 to fourth in 2013 and first among the 21 counties with at least 500 convictions. Rice’s effort hasn’t been without its critics, and the policies have also failed to coincide with a significant reduction in alcohol-related crashes, a review of state accident statistics shows. But Rice has earned praise from those who believe DWI is a crime that warrants a strong punishment. Rich Mallow, New York State executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he was guardedly optimistic when Rice took up the issue of drunken driving during her 2005 campaign for district attorney. When told of Newsday’s findings, Mallow said Rice deserves credit for following through on her pledge. “When you have a DA that comes out and supports her word, that’s a wonderful thing, and she certainly has,” Mallow said. “She has been a wonderful DA for this cause.” Rice’s plea deal change was the opening salvo in her battle against DWI. She said she also worked with sometimes-reluctant members of the judiciary to set up a DWI court to more effectively and efficiently handle cases; worked with police to improve enforcement of the crimes; brought a new DWI-education program to 57,000 high school students; and became a major proponent of Leandra’s Law. Among other changes, that 2009 state legislation made it a felony to drive drunk with a passenger age 15 or younger. “There was a prevailing cultural sentiment about drunk driving on Long Island that it was one of those socially acceptable crimes,” Rice said. “I saw the numbers, I saw the statistics, and they were alarming and they were frightening.” Rice’s actions brought her recognition, including a feature on the television program “60 Minutes” for her decision to prosecute Martin Heidgen of Valley Stream for murder after a DWI crash. Heidgen, who was initially charged by Rice’s predecessor, Denis Dillon, plowed head-on into a limousine coming from a wedding. The crash killed 7-year-old Katie Flynn and the limo driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, 59. Rice’s office secured two murder convictions against Heidgen in 2006. He was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison, and the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the convictions in November 2013. Not all reactions to Rice’s DWI crusade have been positive. Criminal defense attorneys have accused her of unfairly saddling defendants with criminal records and other hardships based only on the amount of alcohol in their blood. Misdemeanor offenses can carry much higher penalties than infractions beyond adding a criminal record. Another component of Leandra’s Law requires those convicted of criminal DWI to install ignition-locking devices intended to curb drunken driving for at least one year on all cars they own or operate. Misdemeanor convictions might also lead to fines up to $1,000, a year in jail and at least a six-month license revocation. Those convicted can also face hundreds of dollars in legal, court and traffic school fees and the loss of their car in a government forfeiture proceeding.

Case by case

Mineola lawyer Robert Brunetti said some clients with no criminal histories are having their lives upended because Rice’s office is not taking into account all of their circumstances, including whether a criminal record would cause them to lose their jobs. He suggested the district attorney should use community service or other sentences in lieu of giving defendants criminal records that will follow them for the rest of their lives. “The people that have these alcohol problems or made a mistake, they are paying the ultimate price,” Brunetti said. “I don’t think any other criminal offense is treated as seriously as DWI, other than maybe sex crimes. The average, law-abiding citizen is getting pounded. So is their family.” Rice said her office does take into account the circumstances of defendants — including whether they will lose their job — and negotiates appropriate pleas with defense attorneys. She said the only mandatory sentence for those convicted of a misdemeanor is the one-year ignition lock requirement in Leandra’s Law. “Defense attorneys like to have a bogeyman — and I get I’m an easy target — but … it was the New York State Legislature that imposed that pretty strict law,” Rice said. Garden City lawyer Thomas Liotti has filed three unsuccessful lawsuits challenging Rice’s DWI policies. He said her office has repeatedly refused to punish his clients without giving them a criminal record that will follow them through job applications for the rest of their life. “There needs to be more flexibility and more understanding in the plea policies and more latitude to account for people who do have extenuating circumstances and also to provide for alternative sentencing,” Liotti said. Many of the 260 cases in which a Nassau County defendant pleaded to an infraction are examples of her office taking into account extenuating circumstances, Rice said. Others may have been pleaded down due to perceived weaknesses with the government’s case. She said veterans and youth programs allow such pleas after extensive community service or alcohol treatment, among other penalties. “I agree with the defense’s position that each case should be handled on a case-by-case basis,” Rice said. “That’s how I handle every case in the office. No two defendants are alike.”

No big shift in traffic stats

Despite the tougher stance Rice has taken, traffic statistics do not show a decline in alcohol-related accidents that’s as dramatic as the drop in plea deals, especially compared with the rest of the state. According to New York Department of Motor Vehicles data, alcohol-related Nassau County crashes that caused injuries or deaths have declined 14.6 percent since Rice took office through 2012 — the most recent data available — compared with the seven years before. Statewide there was a larger, 16 percent decline, and in Suffolk County the decline was 6.3 percent. When looking just at alcohol-related fatal crashes, Nassau County’s figures increased 5.6 percent under Rice, going from 178 in the seven years before she took office to 188 in the seven years after. Statewide, the fatal crash increase was smaller, at 3.6 percent. Suffolk County fatal crashes increased 16.8 percent over the last seven years, the Newsday review of the data shows.
Source: New York State Department of Motor Vehicles; Graphic by Matt Clark
Traffic safety experts said the statistics likely do not indicate that tougher enforcement hasn’t had an effect. They pointed out that the numbers are small — New York has among the lowest rates of fatal alcohol-involved crashes in the country — and national accident rates have been stagnant or increasing recently after decades of decline. James C. Fell, a senior research scientist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation with 45 years of traffic safety research experience, said studies have shown many of the strategies Rice has pursued have been effective in reducing crash rates. He expressed support for her decision to change the plea-bargaining policy.
“Your chances of getting into a crash are probably 20 times or 30 times greater than someone who is sober when you are at .13,” Fell said. “I kind of agree that they shouldn’t be pled down.” In the past, Rice has said that traffic fatalities have declined since she took office, and the data show that has been true during certain time periods. She pointed out that the state includes crashes involving sober drivers but drunken passengers or pedestrians in its count of “alcohol-related crashes” and that other factors such as traffic volume can make it “really hard to capture that number.” “I am proud of my office’s success,” Rice said. “There’s no going back to the days of pre-2006, that is for sure.” Rice, who has made DWI a significant component of her campaign for Congress, said she plans to continue her fight against DWI and other traffic safety issues in Washington if she wins her election. “This is an issue for which I am already known nationally,” Rice said, “and I think I would bring a very credible voice.” To read the original comments on this story, click here to view the thread in Disqus.