Material Witnesses and Me...(This weekend's adventures...)

It is 11:20p.m when the cell phone rings. It’s Robin. I’m sitting in a swank downtown restaurant, a half empty decaf cappuccino and mostly eaten peach crème brulee on the table in front of me. It’s been a good meal—roasted duck and delicate ravioli. ”Remember that woman I told you about” Robin’s voice is urgent. “She’s at the precinct. Not under arrest, but she’s there and they’re not letting her go”

“That’s bullshit” I say, cradling the cellphone slightly embarrassed that I’ve lapsed into my Bronxese “They gotta make a choice”. “I know” Robin says impatiently. “Karen’s been on the phone with them. “ok, and what’ya need? “ I asked half-knowing the answer. “I need you to get up there and walk her out” Robin says flatly. “Sorry””What precinct?
I ask. “4-8” she says. “Ok I’m on my way”

At first I thought I might be able to do it by phone, but after a contentious conversation with a detective, it was pretty clear that there was not going to be an easy resolution. I tried to break it easy to the cabbie I flagged down just outside the restaurant. “I know this is going to sound crazy, I said, but I’m headed under the Cross Bronx Expressway” I’ll show you where.”

Many of my friends wonder why the hell I’d trek up to the Bronx at midnight on a Friday for a client I’ve never even met before. And the reality is, that there is something fun about it—making a precinct call, is about as raw a display of commitment as one can make. It is going into the belly of the beast, and speaking truth to power. Being on the streets or being in the precincts is an even more raw experience than being in court—in court there are the moderating influences of protcol and procedure. Who stands where and what you can say are fairly circumscribed. The chances of a fistfight are minimal. Upstairs in the 48 detective squad, by contrast, sinuous muscle of law enforcement is far more naked.

And when I got there, met at the door to the squad room by the Lieutenant, I went straight into attack mode. “look” the Lieutenant said earnestly “we think she’s been threatened. She not under arrest, she’s just holding out”

“Lieutenant”, I said, “I’m gonna tell you exactly how this is gonna go... If you want to talk to her. You’re gonna call her attorney. And iiiif, her attorney is interested in talking to you, and iiiif her client has something to say to you, then iiiif it happens to be convenient for her and for her lawyer, then, you’ll be invited to sit down like normal people and have a normal conversation until such time as either her attorney or she doesn’t feel like it anymore, at which time, that interview is over. That. Is how it’s going to be from now on. Got it?"

“If she dies, it’s on your head” The main investigating detective, sitting at a desk about three feet away says to me over and over.

Are you through? "This is bullshit. and we are walking out of here now."

“Hey!” It was a huge Latino detective with a barrel chest and biceps like cantaloupes. Getting out of his chair he took two menacing steps toward me. “You’re in our house here” He nearly shouted, echoing a common cop refrain. “This is our house—don’t you dare come in here cursing—cussing at my Lieutenant. “You’re gonna come in here and talk shit to him?” “You wanna show me what a big man you are huh?” He took another step toward me “do ya?”

I look over at him dismissively. “Sit down” was all I said. “It’s late, and we have a taxi waiting”

And then turning to my new client with a courtly flourish, I offered her my bent arm-as if she were a princess in a disney flick. “C’mon darling, we’re walking out of here now” I said, as she took my arm and we turned to leave. “Always a pleasure” I said as we sailed through the door to the stairs and the exit.

Walking someone out of the precinct, getting them away from the terrifying clutches is itself a gratifying experience, and being in a situation in which sounding like Clint Eastwood makes sense—is expected even—is itself exhilarating. It is an odd form of pleasure-- to find yourself covered, with the sticky smell of spending too much time near jail cells. There is also something exhilarating about being in ‘their house’ working within a system in which they make all the rules. There is something exciting about walking into a place where everyone else has guns, armed only with a bit of legal savy and and the determination to get something done. And this was a good thing to have gotten done.

Strange really, given the the whole material witness situation. The abuse of that doctrine is absolutely chilling...
Check out what the times did on it just last week...

The New York Times > Washington > For Post-9/11 Material Witness, It Is a Terror of a Different Kind

I'm Baaack...

Sorry I've been gone so long. It's been a crazy summer. Here's a juicy little morsel: Astonishing really when you look at the lengths prosecutors will go to kill.

The New York Times > New York Region > Across New York, a Death Penalty Stuck in Limbo