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Chief Currier: “What’s wrong with the justice system?”

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MASSENA - A New York City man’s arrest last week on unlawful imprisonment charges last week - and his ability to post $6,500 cash bail and be back on the streets literally minutes after his arraignment on criminal mischief and unlawful imprisonment charges has the village’s police chief raising questions about the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in St. Lawrence County.

Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said he is concerned low rates of incarceration among violent felony offenders has allowed crime in Massena to go unchecked.

Mr. Currier, in a statement released Monday afternoon asked “what’s wrong with the criminal justice system” and urged officials at all levels of the justice system to hold discussions to address his concerns on low rates of incarceration in St. Lawrence County. He pointed out that on average 27 percent of felony charges and about 41 percent of violent felony charges result in incarceration in the county.

“We have a drug problem in our community, and we have a crime problem in our community,” Mr. Currier said. “In our community there are a number of people with criminal records who are committing felonies, and dealing drugs, and it has my staff frustrated. We are not sending violent felons to jail anywhere near as much as neighboring counties.

“I respect that one of goals of the justice system is to rehabilitate individuals, but we also have to protect our community, and one of the steps to do that is to lock up repeat offenders,” Mr. Currier added.

Mr. Currier made a direct reference to Patrick R. Lloyd, a New York City man who said he he has been living in Massena for the past two years. He said Lloyd has 25 arrests, including 11 felonies, on his rap sheet, most of which occurred in other counties.

Mr. Lloyd was charged last week felony first-degree unlawful imprisonment and misdemeanor third-degree assault, stemming from a Feb. 16 incident in which he and 18-year-old female accomplice Miranda M. Green allegedly attempted to abduct 17-year-old Catherine A. Berry. Both females in the case are Massena residents, while Mr. Lloyd moved to the region from New York City.

“A look at this individual’s criminal history can only cause a reasonable person great frustration with a criminal justice system that is not perfect, overburdened and oftentimes underfunded,” Mr. Currier wrote in his letter. “Since 2006, this subject has 25 total arrest charges, 11 of which are felony level and he is still on the streets?”

Police and federal agents had charged Mr. Lloyd and two other New York City residents with multiple drug and gun felonies following a December traffic stop on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

He and the two other men were charged with one count each of second- and fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

A news release from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe said Lloyd and the two other men were allegedly were in possession of six ounces of heroin, six ounces of cocaine, two loaded handguns and about a pound of marijuana. Officials said none of the three had proper licensing to possess the seized guns, which had defaced serial numbers.

Mr. Lloyd also was at the Massena residence in October, where one man was shot, another man stabbed and a third man beaten. Police later charged a couple that were living at the apartment with possession of over 1,600 bundles of heroin.

A St. Lawrence County assistant district atttorney was in the courtroom last week when Mr. Lloyd was arraigned on the unlawful imprisonment charge and recommended bail at $2,500, the number requested by defense attorney Edward Narrow. Massena Village Justice Eric J. Gustafson set bail at $5,000. Mr. Lloyd was arraigned later that same afternoon on an unrelated criminal mischief charge, and bail was set at $1,500 on that count. Mr. Lloyd posted his cash bail before he was transported to the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility.

Mr. Currier expressed concern that alleged repeat offenders are offered plea bargains or have their charges “wrapped into one conviction to satisfy all charges.” He believes these actions do a disservice to the victims of the crimes committed and permit some violent criminals to remain at large in the community.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé said plea bargains are an effective way to solve cases that can’t be resolved otherwise. Oftentimes an individual is suspected of having committed numerous crimes, but prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to charge that person on many of the alleged crimes. In that situation, a plea bargain can persuade an individual to fess up to the crimes, thereby solving the cases, Ms. Duvé said.

She also pointed out it is not the responsibility of her office to hand down sentences - that is the responsibility of a judge. “We’re in regular contact with the folks at the Massena Police Department. We work very closely with them to make sure we can prosecute whoever we need to prosecute, but ultimately that decision is left up to the courts,” she said.

Ms. Duvé also said changes in state drug laws have made it harder for her office to aggressively punish those charges with drug-related felonies.

Mayor James F. Hidy agreed with Mr. Currier’s position, saying individuals charged with numerous felony crimes, such as Mr. Lloyd, need to be incarcerated for the safety of the community.

“These individuals belong off our streets and in jail. This cannot continue. Somebody is going to get killed,” Mr. Hidy said.

Mr. Hidy also raised concern that conviction rates for felony offenses were lower in St. Lawrence County than in neighboring counties and feels that too few convictions that result in incarceration could send the wrong message to out-of-town drug-dealers who may be searching for a community to operate in. “If all you’re going to get is a slap on the wrist and then sent back out onto the street, St. Lawrence County looks like a pretty good place to do business,” he said.

According to the justice department, the county’s conviction rate for felonies was 72.5 percent and 70 percent for violent felonies in 2011. That rate is far below the conviction rate of neighboring counties, such as Lewis and Franklin, for that year.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray echoed Mr. Hidy’s statements, saying low rates of conviction and incarceration in the county allow drug dealers from out of town to move in and take advantage of vulnerable customers and school children. He called for fewer plea bargains for felony offenders and stricter punishment for criminal behavior.

“What we have now is people from urban areas who’ve moved in and set up shop. They have a strong base of customers (for illegal drugs), unfortunately, and they have a naive community that isn’t used to dealing with drugs,” Mr. Gray said. “I believe we need to take back our community.”

Mr. Gray feels the solutions to these problem are multi-faceted and could best be solved by new policies by law enforcement officials, the DA’s office, local courts and members of the community. Good parenting, warnings and increased treatment for substance addiction may be able to help curb the usage of illegal drugs. Mr. Gray, who has a long involvement with the Rose Hill substance abuse treatment center in Massena, said these measures could help curb not only drug trafficking, but also a number of other issues related to illegal drug use, such as violence, disease and burglaries, which are often committed to pay for an individual’s costly and debilitating drug habit.

Mr. Gray believes the majority of thefts in the county are driven in some way by illegal drugs.

“It’s the parents’ job to make sure their kids are not exposed to that, and the kids need to wake up and see that by hanging out with these people they might end up dead someday,” Mr. Gray said. “We know who these thugs are, we know where they live and it’s time to turn the tables on them. If we can (eradicate) the demand for drugs, the problem goes away.”

Mr. Gray also urged residents to be watchful and report any suspicious activity, such as unusually large numbers of people frequently entering and leaving a residence. This might be a sign that illegal substances are being sold on the property, he said.

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