Rikers Island inmates hinder legal system to avoid showing up at court, costing taxpayers $67.1M


http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/exclusive-rikers-inmates-hinder-legal-system-avoid-court-article-1.2219919

For 2,521 days, the grieving son of murdered Queens dad Jagdish Missir waited and waited and waited for the wheels of justice to turn.

Police arrested a suspect named David Chisolm two days after 39-year-old Missir was fatally shot in the face before a barbecue in May 2008.

They had video placing Chisolm at the scene of the crime. They even had his videotaped and signed confessions.

But for about seven years, Chisolm managed to throw wrench after wrench into the gears of the legal system to keep from going to prison — and extend his stay on Rikers Island — at a cost of $1.16 million to city taxpayers.

“I kind of gave up,” Missir’s son Christopher told the Daily News. “It’s a low-priority case to the system. It’s another murder that happened in New York City that didn’t involve the police or anyone known. It’s at the bottom of the barrel.”

And there are lots of other David Chisolms in that barrel, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Rikers is supposed to be a temporary holding spot for people awaiting trial or convicted of crimes with a sentence of a year or less.

But while most Rikers inmates are in and out in about 54 days at a cost of $24,840, a Daily News investigation found that 95 inmates have figured out how to game the system.

These enterprising inmates have spent an average of 1,535 days in the jail, racking up an average $706,100 in costs.

That adds up to an astonishing $67.1 million, a figure reached by multiplying the combined estimated 145,792 days these offenders have spent at Rikers by $460, which is the estimated cost of housing a single inmate per day.

How did they manage to gum up the works? By repeatedly changing pleas. By changing lawyers. Or by simply refusing to go to court.

One justice-dodging inmate failed to report to court 18 times since 2012, a review of records obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request showed.

In some cases, prosecutors and the sheer size of the city’s court system have enabled the accused to avoid going upstate — and doing real hard time. Experts say some inmates manipulate the system to stay at Rikers simply because the city lockups are closer to their friends and families than prisons upstate.

In the meantime, crime victims and their families were stuck in legal limbo.

The Missir family was finally able to close the book on Chisolm when the 35-year-old killer pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter on April 28, just as the case was finally set to go to trial.

But before that happened, Chisolm switched lawyers twice and caused more delays by claiming he was forced to admit to a crime he didn’t commit by cops who threatened to have child welfare take away his girlfriend’s kid.

Just before Chisolm was supposed to go on trial, the case was thrown into chaos when a new witness suddenly surfaced and claimed Missir was murdered by another man.

That delayed justice for a whole year because the witness made the claim during an unrelated interview with IRS officials and it took prosecutors and Chisolm’s lawyer more than a year to find him.

“I have always believed in the system and thought the system worked and I don’t believe in vengeance,” Christopher Missir said. “But my father was taken from me. The delays made me lose my faith in the system.”

If the Missir family is in dismay, imagine the anguish of the family of murder victim 34-year-old Robert Gaston.

His accused killer, a 33-year-old thug named Carlos Vega who sports teardrop tattoos on his face, has called Rikers home for an an incredible 7½ years, records obtained by The News show.

Vega is accused of killing Gaston Sept. 29, 2007, during a bodega robbery near Yankee Stadium. It took five years to start Vega’s trial as a result of delays by Bronx prosecutors and state court officials.

Gabriel Vazquez
Cadman Williams Courtesy of Bronx DA Enlarge

Gabriel Vazquez (L), who’s accused of attacking two cops, extended his stay on Rikers by 1,364 days by refusing to go to court at least 18 times since March 13, 2011. Accused killer Cadman Williams (R) has been on Rikers for 2,435 days.

Then the jury deadlocked in November 2012 after a key witness — an off-duty cop — was charged with fixing tickets for friends. Vega’s retrial is set to start May 20.

“We have been ready for trial since the beginning,” insisted Bronx district attorney spokeswoman Terry Raskin, who blamed a court staffing shortage and space problems for the endless delays.

“The length of time victims and defendants often wait is a function of the need for additional judges, courtroom staff and courtroom space,” she said.

Then there’s 23-year-old Gabriel Vazquez, who has extended his stay on Rikers to 1,364 days by refusing to go to court at least 18 times since March 13, 2011.

That’s when Vazquez was busted for attacking two police officers who stopped him for riding his bike on the sidewalk. Not only has Vazquez refused to take his meds for a bipolar condition, he has become the detainee authorities don’t want to deal with, jail sources and records show.

Vazquez put papers inside his cell on fire and punched a correction officer who let him out of the smoke-filled room in December 2012, according to a criminal complaint.

For reasons unclear, the Correction Department, which is allowed to use force to get detainees to court, won’t risk getting an officer hurt without a judge’s order, multiple sources involved with the case said.

Carlos Vega has called Rikers home for an an incredible 7 1/2 years while waiting to be tried for the murder for Robert Gaston, 34, in 2007.

Carlos Vega has called Rikers home for an an incredible 7 1/2 years while waiting to be tried for the murder for Robert Gaston, 34, in 2007.

Then there’s accused killer Cadman Williams, who has been on Rikers for 2,435 days.

Williams is charged with fatally shooting 42-year-old Kenneth Sackey of Yonkers on Aug. 21, 2008. Police say he shot the victim in the chest in the lobby of a building on the Grand Concourse.

The case was ready to go to trial 3½ years ago, but got put on hold when the suspected murder weapon suddenly turned up.

Prosecutors, determined to tie Williams to the gun, then requested that a common kind of DNA testing that generates a profile based on minuscule samples be done on the weapon.

In a lucky break for Williams, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Mark Dwyer in January ruled that small-sample DNA testing was not scientifically sound. So the Williams case — along with hundreds of other cases that relied on this kind of DNA testing — have been put on hold.

The de Blasio administration recently rolled out a plan to reduce the number of Rikers inmates by 25% over the next 10 years by tackling the hundreds of languishing cases.

The “Justice Reboot” plan calls for regular meetings with representatives from all the major players: the mayor’s office, district attorneys, police and the defense bar. Officials at those gatherings will monitor progress of the oldest cases and develop reforms to cut through bureaucratic delays.

“The de Blasio administration has made reducing case delays a top priority,” mayoral spokeswoman Monica Klein said.

But Williams’ attorney says he is no hurry to push the case forward. He intends to wait until the final verdict is in on the DNA testing.

“My client is a patient man,” said lawyer Jonas Gelb. “He doesn’t want to be part of a political position to move cases prematurely.”

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