Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Officer's Death Puts Focus on Suspected Shooter's Warrant
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 06:42 PM
The shooting of a police officer in Brooklyn on Monday is raising questions about why the alleged killer was never picked up by authorities in North Carolina despite being wanted for a summer shooting there. Lamont Pride, 27, was arrested by the New York City police twice this fall, but North Carolina didn’t request extradition until pressed by the New York City Police Department.
North Carolina issued a warrant for Pride’s arrest on Sept. 23, after authorities decided he was the primary suspect for a summer shooting. The NYPD had arrested Pride on Sept. 22 in Brooklyn for illegal possession of a knife and a second time on Nov. 3, also in Brooklyn, for possession of crack cocaine and endangering the welfare of a child.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Pride was released from jail after both those arrests rather than sent back to North Carolina because the arrest warrants in North Carolina were for in-state extradition only.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department first made contact with the Greensboro Police Department on Nov. 3, after Pride’s second arrest in New York City, to urge that Pride be extradited back to North Carolina. Browne did not offer a specific explanation about why the NYPD didn’t push for extradition after Pride’s September arrest in New York for knife possession. He said he could not comment freely on the September case because records have since been sealed.
The Greensboro Police Department did amend the warrant so that Pride could be extradited back to North Carolina, but by then had been released.
Calls to the Greensboro Police Department about why it did not seek extradition of Pride earlier than November were not returned.
In an earlier written statement, Greensboro Police Department spokesperson Susan Danielsen suggested the nature of Pride’s arrest warrant reflected his risk level.
“The Guilford County, NC District Attorney evaluates the circumstances of each case when determining what level of extradition is warranted. In-state extradition is appropriate and reasonable when officials have no reason to believe that the suspect is a flight risk. This was the case with Pride,” the statement read.
But Greensboro prosecutors took issue with that statement.
“Well it implies there was a risk assessment done by the DA’s Office and that’s not correct,” said Howard Newman, the Chief Assistant District Attorney in Guilford County, North Carolina. “Whether the police made their own risk assessment or not is something they would need to speak to.”
Newman said that even though the District Attorney’s Office has to approve all cases for extradition, the police department must first request extradition to get the process started. He said the office was not asked by Detective Mike Francis of the Greensboro Police Department to approve Pride’s extradition until Nov. 8 – days after the NYPD first contacted the Greensboro police. At that point, the DA’s Office determined that Pride should be extradited.
The office assesses the criminal history of the suspect, whether he’s in custody already, whether the case is prosecutable and the cost of sending authorities to bring a person back.
Newman said extradition was highly proper in Pride’s case because New York was a reasonable distance away from North Carolina, Pride was a convicted felon accused of a violent crime and he was suspected of being in possession of a firearm, which would have made him prosecutable under both state and federal law. The Guilford County District Attorney’s Office thought the U.S. Attorney’s Office would be interested in the case.
After the DA’s Office approved extradition of Pride, it then notified law enforcement authorities in New York on Nov. 9, to ask them for help to track Pride down but discovered at that point that Judge Evelyn LaPorte of Brooklyn Criminal Court had already released him without bail on Nov. 4.
Paul Browne said that had Pride not been released that day, North Carolina authorities might have been able to swiftly collect him after extradition was approved on Nov. 8.
At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized Judge LaPorte for releasing Pride, saying that she “should have done more work” to assess how dangerous he was before releasing him from jail.
David Bookstaver, spokesman for the New York State Court system, said judges have discretion to set bail.
“There seems to be a conclusion that had bail been set, that this tragedy would not have taken place, and I think it is speculation to make that assumption,” Bookstaver said.
Newman said that when someone is released, it’s almost impossible to find them for extradition. Usually they track people down only after the person is arrested again on an unrelated charge.
“The nature of the people you’re looking for generally don’t have home addresses, they don’t have places of employment. Their head hits a different pillow in a different place very night,” Newman explained.
Newman said at any given time in Guilford County, which has a population of about 500,000, there are between 75 and 100 fugitives at large whom the District Attorney has agreed to extradite once captured.