Rashed Mian

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: [email protected] Twitter: rashedmian

What Does DOJ Review of Police Settlements Mean for SCPD Reforms?

DOJ review
A vigil set up for Marcelo Lucero at the site of his slaying. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

In the wake of the high-profile slaying of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in November 2008 and accusations of discriminatory treatment of Hispanics, the beleaguered Suffolk County Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement intended to foster much-needed policy changes within the department.

Under the agreement, which the Suffolk County Legislature approved, federal monitoring of the agency potentially would’ve ceased after three years from its effective date, Jan. 13, 2014, had the department demonstrated improvements across the board. Three years later, however, the department remains tethered to the settlement despite it making “substantial progress” in implementing some of its requirements, according to the DOJ’s most recent assessment report, published on Jan. 19.

Suffolk police achieved “substantial compliance” in the area of hate crimes and hate incidents training—subjects garnering much scrutiny before and after the Lucero murder.

“In other areas,” the report stated, “considerable work remains.”

One such area DOJ inspectors identified for improvement is the way in which the department collects traffic stop data. In its latest report, monitors noted that Suffolk police “omits critical variables that are necessary for meaningful analysis of bias-free policing,” including the reasons for initiating a traffic stop.

Continued oversight of the department comes amid a March 21 memorandum issued by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to department heads and U.S. Attorneys across the country calling for a review of “compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation.”

Court-mandated consent decrees compel offending agencies to comply with federal directives. Out of court agreements, such as that issued in Suffolk County, are essentially contracts between two parties. Nationwide, there are currently 14 consent decrees and four out-of-court settlements aimed at reforming troubled police departments. Perhaps the most notable Obama-era consent decree involves the Ferguson Police Department, which became ground zero for large anti-police brutality demonstrations following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“All consent decrees currently in place would be subject to review” following Sessions’ memo, a DOJ official told the Press. Whether “review” means retreat from Obama administration policies remains unknown, though if Baltimore is any example—the DOJ under President Trump recently sought a delay in a consent decree stalling rehabilitation there—the latter is likely. Whether the review extends to the out-of-court settlement agreement between the DOJ and SCPD is also unclear.

Without federal compulsion to implement the aforementioned improvements, it’d be up to Suffolk County Police Department brass to continue the progress initiated by the DOJ—directives imposed for a reason.

“These aren’t taken on lightly,” explained John DeCarlo, assistant chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. “The DOJ doesn’t come in and say ‘Hey, we want to do a consent decree.’ They’re not picking on anyone.

“They’re there because there are substantial problems,” he continued. “Sometimes it’s not within the capability of the local political system to make the changes needed.”

Aside from the legal settlement, Suffolk police is under a long-standing consent decree related to its hiring practices, the same with neighboring Nassau County police.

A Justice Department spokesman did not address the 2014 agreement specifically, but in a statement said the memo was issued at a time of “new leadership in the Department actively developing strategies to support the thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country that seek to prevent crime and protect the public.”

“The Department is working to ensure that those initiatives effectively dovetail with robust enforcement of federal laws designed to preserve and protect civil rights,” the statement added. “While this memo includes the review of any pending consent decrees, the Attorney General also recognizes the Department’s important role helping communities and police departments achieve these goals.”

Over the course of the agreement, SCPD welcomed a new commissioner, Tim Sini, who vowed to reform the agency after its former chief of department, James Burke, shamed the department. The disgraced ex-chief pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy charges stemming from a precinct beating of a shackled burglary suspect. The suspect, Christopher Loeb, stole a duffel bag from Burke’s SUV containing sex toys, porn, a gun, ammunition and other items. According to federal investigators, Burke, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison, orchestrated a coverup and attempted, but ultimately failed, to stymie the FBI’s investigation.

As for Sini, the tall task of turning around a department embarrassed by scandal fell squarely on his shoulders. But at the same time, Sini had to mend the relationship with the FBI after Burke’s puzzling decision in 2012 to unceremoniously remove three detectives from the FBI’s Joint Long Island Gang Task Force, despite its resounding successes tackling violent local street gangs. The SCPD has since rejoined the collaborative unit, and Sini stood alongside DOJ officials and his local and state counterparts at a press conference in March announcing the arrest of 13 members of the MS-13 gang for seven murders and racketeering, among other alleged crimes.

More relevant to the federal government’s scrutiny of the department was the arrest of Suffolk police Sgt. Scott Greene for stealing money from mostly Hispanic drivers. Greene’s arrest was announced 18 days after the settlement went into effect. Greene was eventually convicted of petty larceny, official misconduct and grand larceny, but acquitted on the most serious hate crimes charges.

“I am particularly outraged by the conduct of this officer who was sworn to protect the community but instead targeted individuals who he perceived to be vulnerable,” former SCPD Commissioner Ed Webber said at the time.

‘EPIDEMIC OF HATE CRIMES’

This was all happening amid greater scrutiny of local law enforcement agencies nationwide under the Obama administration.

From the time he came into office, former President Obama’s DOJ sued 14 police departments and agreed to four out-of-court agreements with four agencies, including Suffolk police, according to The New York Times. As evidenced by Sessions’ memo, the Trump administration is not expected to pursue oversight of local police departments as vigorously as his predecessor.

In fact, they appear to be doing the opposite. Without explicitly stating in the memorandum his intention to roll back, or perhaps even squash such reforms, Sessions declared:

“The Federal government alone can not successfully address rising crime rates, secure public safety, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, or implement the best practices of policing. These are, first and foremost, tasks for state, local, and tribal law enforcement.”

Among a list of ways to “effectively promote a peaceful and lawful society society, where the civil rights of all persons are valued and protected” ensure successful policing, Sessions’ memorandum states: “Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.

“The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe,” it continues.

Sini, a former federal prosecutor who has been commissioner for 14 months, inherited a department plagued by the scandal-scarred Burke and accusations of discriminatory policing tracing back years.

In November 2008, Latino Justice, an immigrant advocacy group, wrote a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department detailing allegations of discriminatory policing in Suffolk. The letter was deeply critical of Suffolk County’s treatment of Latinos, going as far as declaring “an epidemic of hate crimes against Latinos had erupted in Suffolk County.”

The DOJ first announced an investigation in 2009 after predatory teenagers viciously killed 37-year-old immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, which brought Suffolk County into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Lucero slaying was predated by two similarly vicious attacks: the kidnapping and beating of two Latino men in Farmingville by white men posing as contractors in 2000, and the 2004 burning of a Latino family’s home. A climate of fear had enveloped the Hispanic community, advocates said, with many afraid to report crimes to the police because of their questionable immigration status or distrust of law enforcement.

A Sept. 13, 2011, letter from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division addressed to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy noted that it was investigating, among other allegations, that “SCPD engages in discriminatory policing, that its approach to the Latino community discourages Latino victims from filing complaints and cooperating with the police, and that the Department fails to investigate crimes and hate-crime incidents involving Latinos.”

Two years later, the DOJ and Suffolk police agreed to the current settlement, which was negotiated out of court and included 29 reforms currently guiding changes within the department. The areas for improvement include bias-free policing, hate crimes and hate incidents, training, and language assistance.

Even with allegations swirling against Greene for targeting Hispanics and the circus spawned by Burke’s cantankerous reign, the police department has managed to come into varying degrees of compliance since the DOJ stepped in.

During a hearing before the Suffolk County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee last week, Sini told lawmakers that the department was in “compliance” with 28 of 29 of the recommendations. In reality, the police department has only achieved “partial compliance” with regards to 21 of the DOJ provisions, compared with seven such provisions in which monitors found the department to be in “substantial compliance.”

According to the agreement, the DOJ assessment won’t be over until the county “has maintained substantial compliance with all provisions” for the previous 12 months. Sini indicated that he’s prepared to open discussions with the DOJ about “how to move forward.”

Sini’s assessment aside, the DOJ’s January report suggested its mandate that SCPD achieve full compliance remained unchanged. The report was published one day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Sessions wasn’t confirmed as Attorney General until Feb. 8.

SCPD MONITORING MOVES FORWARD

“Over the coming year, we will focus our attention on the Department’s efforts in the substantive areas of the Agreement with which the Department remains in partial compliance,” the DOJ said in the Jan. 19 assessment, adding that it will release public reports on its observations in both the spring and fall of 2017. According to a law enforcement source close to the matter, members of the DOJ toured SCPD headquarters in Yaphank this month and recently held a meeting with members of the community—standard procedures for a compliance evaluation.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District declined to comment on Sini’s statements to the Pubic Safety Committee. A spokesman for Suffolk police did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Following a request for response from the Press regarding inoperable links to the DOJ settlement on SCPD’s website, the hyperlinks were activated, though no explanation was provided.

A former chief of the Branford Police Department in Connecticut, New Haven University’s DeCarlo has studied settlement agreements, and said it can take years for a department to come under full compliance. For example, the Detroit Police Department was under federal monitoring for 13 years before its consent decree expired last year. In the case of East Haven Police Department in Connecticut, federal monitors pulled out after the department met compliance standards after three years, explained DeCarlo.

“They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to have 100-percent compliance, but they want to have movement,” DeCarlo told the Press, speaking broadly about settlement agreements. “The feds aren’t being unreasonable—and it’s all about policy, about changing your policy and changing the patterns and practices of what you’re doing. If you’re doing stuff that you’re not supposed to be doing or is not in the best interest of the community, they want you to change it.”

DeCarlo reviewed the DOJ’s most recent assessment of the SCPD and said the recommendations do not appear to be unfair.

“If the community is not happy with the cops, and the bias is perceived, then that’s bias,” DeCarlo said. “Whether you’re intending to do it or not, if you do not appear legitimate as a police department in the eyes of the community that you’re there to serve, then you’re biased.”

DeCarlo noted that a successful transition from police department under scrutiny to one making serious reforms depends on not only the willingness of the agency to achieve its goals, but also backing from local officials. He said departments may perceive federal monitoring in a negative light at first, but taken retrospectively, settlement agreements could prove beneficial to the department—and the community it serves.

“Change is hard, and police departments, like all pieces of government, are bureaucracies,” he said.

Whether the DOJ under Sessions will unilaterally back out of the agreement remains to be seen. But if their intention is to give SCPD its independence, there may not be any obstacles to prevent them from doing so, said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“If the DOJ was what prompted it, and they just walk away from it, that’s probably just the end of it,” said Dunn, speaking broadly about out-of-court agreements, as is the case in Suffolk.

Joselo Lucero, Marcelo’s younger brother, said that a premature exit from the settlement agreement would be unwise considering increased anxiety among immigrants with fear of deportations under the new presidential administration.

Lucero meets with both Suffolk police and the DOJ periodically. Among the foremost issues he discusses with the DOJ is language access, which the DOJ’s Jan. 19 report graded as in “partial compliance” and requiring further improvements.

“I think it should continue,” Lucero, outreach coordinator at the nonprofit Hagedorn Foundation, told the Press. “I cannot tell you for how long, but until the community feels safe and feels comfortable to talk to the police…the fear to be arrested by immigration is a big issue right now.”

In his conversations with Sini, Lucero was told that SCPD doesn’t recognize Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and only complies when a warrant for a particular person in custody has been issued.

According to Suffolk police policy documents amended last April, non-US citizens cannot be detained “solely pursuant to a request from ICE” and “such detention shall only be conducted pursuant to a warrant.”

As for how the administration now compares to the one in power when his brother was tragically killed, Lucero said the difference is stark.

“If you go back 10 years ago, it was worse, really, it was worse against immigrants,” he said. “This administration has made progress.”

In public, Sini has displayed an openness to work with the community. During press conferences related to the recent MS-13 slayings, he has reiterated that a person’s immigration status would not be impacted if they came forward with information about crimes. And during two press conferences about four bodies found in a Central Islip park, a Spanish-speaking interpreter was present to translate the commissioner’s comments.

Sini also told the Suffolk County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee the department is making it easier for members of the Hispanic community to file complaints with Internal Affairs investigators. Doing so, he said, is good for transparency.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk police detective and one-time member of the Long Island Gang Task Force, said the department had always been involved in community relations, but to a lesser extent than it is now.

“I think the department is in a way better place than what it was,” Trotta said, attributing much of its rehabilitation to Burke’s downfall. “The bar was set so low that it’s doing much better. The guys are hard working, they’re trying to get the job done. There’s always a couple of bad apples in any bunch.”

That the police department has been more engaged and is making progress is clear in the report. But, as the DOJ’s Jan. 19 assessment notes, there’s still more work to be done.

If Lucero had it his way, the DOJ-led monitoring would continue until the department met all its requirements.

“I don’t see why they have to finish with this settlement, especially now, when the community is under attack,” he said.

Beatles Legend Paul McCartney Coming to Nassau Coliseum

 

 

Could this be the surprise performer officials teased at the new Nassau Coliseum unveiling last month?

On Tuesday, Beatles legend Paul McCartney announced a stop at the renovated NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for his much-anticipated “One on One” tour, which kicked off this month.

Besides Billy Joel, who opened the Coliseum earlier this month, McCartney will be the biggest name to grace the stage at the refurbished arena for his Sept. 26 show.

McCartney’s last Coliseum gig was in 2002, when he put on a 36-song performance, which included two encores. Among the notable hits that evening were “Hello, Goodbye,” “Blackbird,” “Let it be,” and “Hey Jude,” according to setlist.fm.

Tickets for the Sept. 26 show go on sale May 5. According to McCartney’s website, American Express cardholders can purchase tickets on advance between April 26 at 10 a.m. and April 30 at 10 p.m.

The Coliseum stop will be the last of four straight performances in New York, beginning with a show at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 15. From there he’ll head to Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sept. 19, and the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on Sept. 23 before hitting the Coliseum.

McCartney hasn’t played at MSG since 2005.

The new Nassau Coliseum officially reopened on April 5 for Joel’s sold out show. The 13,900-seat arena cost $165 million to renovate. Aside from an exterior facelift, the Coliseum boasts widened concourses, high-definition screens, brand new seats, Long Island-based food options and revamped restrooms.

Long Island Schools Named in ‘Best High Schools’ Report

Jericho High School was ranked as the top high school on Long Island in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 rankings—a survey that also included 11 other LI schools in the top 300.

Jericho High School was the only LI high school ranked in the top 100, but six others were ranked in the top 200: Garden City High School (No. 157), Great Neck North High School (No. 164), Syosset Senior High School (No. 173), Manhasset Secondary School (No. 177), Great Neck South High School (No. 195), and Cold Spring Harbor High School (No. 196).

Five additional schools were ranked in the top 300: Roslyn High School (No. 208), Herricks High School (No. 213), Paul D. Schreiber High Senior High School (NO. 223), North Shore Senior High School (No. 234), and Harborfields High School (No. 247.)

U.S. News & World Report, which releases its list of top schools annually, uses a four-step process to identify high performing schools—a scale that includes graduation rates, student performance on state exams, and college preparedness.

The publication reviewed more than 28,000 public high schools across the country. All schools in the top 500 were awarded its “gold medal.”

Overall, New York State was ranked No. 12, two spots below its neighbor and rival state, New Jersey.

Jericho High School came in at No. 11 in the state, No. 67 nationwide and was credited with having a 97-percent graduation rate and an Advanced Placement participation rate of 94 percent.

The latest rankings include both charter and magnet schools, though U.S. News & World Report noted that more than 80 percent of the top-performing schools are traditional public schools.

LONG ISLAND SCHOOLS IN THE TOP 300:

No. 67: Jericho Senior High School
No. 157: Garden City High School
No. 164: Great Neck North High School
No. 173: Syosset Senior High School
No. 177: Manhasset Secondary School
No. 195: Great Neck South High School
No. 196: Cold Spring Harbor High School
No. 208: Roslyn High School
No. 213: Herricks High School
No. 223: Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School
No. 234: North Shore Senior High School – Glen Head
No. 247: Harborfields High School – Greenlawn

Long Islander Bill O’Reilly Out at Fox News Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Bill O’Reilly, the star host of conservative Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor , recently plagued by mounting reports of sexual harassment allegations, was ousted by the very same network he steadfastly defended following similar accusations against its founder Roger Ailes.

The network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, released a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing its divorce from O’Reilly, a native Long Islander and a divisive figure in media circles.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said.

O’Reilly’s departure comes several weeks after The New York Times reported that Fox and O’Reilly paid five accusers a total of $13 million in settlements related to sexual harassment allegations. The article prompted several dozen companies to pull its advertisements from The O’Reilly Factor, the most-watched show on cable news. Among the accusations: a repeat guest on The O’Reilly Factor rejected advances from O’Reilly, who subsequently reneged on his offer to land the woman a job at the network.

The media figure’s dismissal also comes less than a year after the network forced out Ailes, its former chairman, CEO and founder. Ailes was also at the center of a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the network.

O’Reilly, who has been on vacation, has denied claims of sexual deviance. His attorney’s have compared the mounting accusations to a smear campaign perpetuated by left-leaning organizations.

According to reports, Fox was under significant pressure from advertisers and women inside the company who questioned whether the network was taking such allegations seriously. Another women reportedly came forward this week with her own allegations, and 21st Century Fox was purportedly set to deliberate on O’Reilly’s future on Thursday.

The Levittown-native and current Manhasset resident has seen his popularity—at least in conservative circles—soar over his 21 years at Fox News. O’Reilly offered unabashed opinions on politics and social issues and portrayed himself as a crusader against political correctness.

His status as a cable news juggernaut brought considerable power, and O’Reilly enjoyed the highest ratings of any political pundit on television.

Over the course of a year, Fox News has seen its chairman resign amid sexual harassment allegations, Megyn Kelly, herself a dynamic personality, leave for NBC, and now O’Reilly’s humiliating downfall.

Central Islip Slayings Largest Mass Murder on Long Island Since 2011 Medford Massacre

David Laffer and Melinda Brady

The brutal murders of four males, including three teenagers, found in a wooded area in Central Islip April 12 represents the largest mass slaying on Long Island since the so-called “Medford Massacre” on Father’s Day six years ago.

Suffolk County police Wednesday night discovered four mangled bodies—one 16 year old, two 18 year olds and one 20 year old—in the woods adjacent to the Central Islip Recreation Center on Clayton Street. The brutal way the four young men died is “consistent” with the modus operandi of the extremely violent MS-13 gang, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said.

The apparent gang slayings came six months after six victims of gang violence were found dead in a span of five weeks in Brentwood. Two of those victims—best friends Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16—were apparently together when they were killed.

Sini confirmed that the male victims in the latest incident were all killed together, though it’s unclear how they were connected. The last time that number of people were murdered simultaneously on Long Island was allegedly in June 2011, when David Laffer, a former solider and a drug addict, gunned down four people during a robbery at a drug store in Medford. Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, each pleaded guilty. Laffer is serving consecutive life sentences, and his wife was sentenced to 25 years in prison for her role in the robbery and driving the getaway car.

The disturbing slaughter at Haven Drugs pharmacy rocked the region, prompting an outpouring of support for the victims’ families.

When Laffer walked into the pharmacy, he intended to rob the store for prescription painkillers to feed his addiction, prosecutors said at the time. In the process, he fatally shot the pharmacist, a 17-year-old clerk, and two shoppers who tragically walked in on the holdup.

Killed in the hydrocodone massacre were 45-year-old pharmacist Raymond Ferguson of Centereach, and his 17-year-old assistant, Jennifer Mejia of Each Patchogue. Laffer then turned his gun on 33-year-old Jaime Taccetta, a mother of two and bride-to-be from Farmingville, and 71-year-old Byron Sheffield of Medford, who was picking up medication for his wife of nearly 50 years.

Underscoring the heartache of the victims’ families, Taccetta’s grandmother told the court in November 2011: “There will be no Christmas this year…because David Laffer and Melinda Brady needed drugs.”

Now, six years later, families of the victims of violence in Central Islip have to cope with burying their loved ones and making sense of their brutal murder.

Since the Medford pharmacy slayings, there have been occasions in which four or more people have died in the same event, but those cases involved vehicle crashes. A shooting in Wyandanch in June 2015 claimed three lives.

Between 2011 and 2015, 115 homicides occurred in Nassau County and 136 in Suffolk County, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice.

To help solve the Central Islip park slayings, the Suffolk Police have offered a $25,000 “fast cash reward” for anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest. They ask people to call 800-220-TIPS; all calls will remain confidential, police say.

 

‘Tax Marches’ Planned on LI & Across Nation to Push President to Release His Tax Returns

tax march

Long Islanders will join thousands of Americans this weekend participating in “Tax March” rallies intended to discredit President Donald Trump’s claims that the public is apathetic when it comes to his returns, which he refused to reveal in the run-up to the presidential election and continues to withhold from the public.

Members of the so-called Trump “Resistance” are organizing rallies across the country, including outside Internal Revenue Service (IRS) buildings in Hauppauge and Bethpage, which happen to coincide with the country’s most-scorned date of the year: April 15th, Tax Day.

In the spirit of transparency, demonstrators plan to call on the president to finally produce his tax returns so the public can have a greater understanding of the self-declared billionaire’s sprawling business interests, including any financial ties to foreign countries.

“Let’s send a clear message to the President: ‘SHOW US YOUR TAX RETURNS!’” reads a Facebook event for Saturday’s Bethpage rally. “The President is accountable to the American people. We care, and we’re not going away!”

Demonstrations are planned across the country, including in Washington, D.C., where protesters will march from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial.

“You work for us,” the message to Trump on the Tax March website reads. “And we demand answers.”

Throughout the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump vacillated on the issue of releasing his tax returns: in one breath saying he’d acquiesce and in another he claimed that an IRS audit prevented him from doing so, a justification thoroughly debunked by neutral observers.

Trump broke with a four-decade-old tradition of presidential candidates’ releasing their returns to the American public. The list includes President Richard Nixon, who was also under an audit but made his documents available anyway.

Among some of the reasons given for concealing the documents was Trump’s assertions that Americans are not interested in his returns, that they’re so voluminous that the layman would be unqualified to come to a knowledgeable conclusion about the documents’ contents, and that only reporters have expressed interest in Trump’s returns.

Despite what Trump says, many national polls show that a majority of Americans would prefer he reveal his tax returns.

A Pew Research Center survey released 10 days prior to Trump’s inauguration found that 60 percent of respondents said the president has a responsibility to release them, compared with only 33 percent who said he did not.

Surveys released in the final months of the presidential campaign similarly found public interest in Trump’s returns, including a Sept. 7 Fox News poll in which 60 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked: “Do you think Donald Trump is hiding something in his tax returns?” Not surprisingly, Democrats overwhelmingly agreed with that premise as opposed to little more than one-third of Republicans who were surveyed.

Americans have only seen small snippets of Trump’s past tax returns. In October, The New York Times reported that Trump reported a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax returns. Such a dramatic loss could have, in theory, allowed Trump to pay nothing in federal income taxes for 18 years, the Times reported.

In March, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reported that Trump paid $38 million in federal taxes, according to his 2005 1040 form.

On the legislative side, some Congressional Democrats have said they’d refuse to act on any Trump tax reform proposal until they have an opportunity to review the president’s returns to determine what impact changes to the tax code would have on his private finances. Trump has identified tax reform as a major policy objective of his early presidency.

The rally in Bethpage will run from 10:30 a.m. until noon at the IRS office at 999 Stewart Ave. The Trump tax protest in Hauppauge runs from noon until 1:30 p.m. at the IRS location at 1180 Veterans Memorial Highway.

‘I Love Long Island’ Campaign Tackles Harmful Lawn Fertilizers

I Love Long Island

A local environmental group is taking the fight against water pollution straight to Long Islanders’ lawns through a new “I Love Long Island” campaign meant to curb the use of potentially harmful high-nitrogen fertilizers.

The ambitious project, spearheaded by the nonprofit Grassroots Environmental Education, coincides with Earth Day, which is on April 22.

To raise awareness about pesticides and high-nitrogen fertilizer, Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education, founded ILoveLongIsland.org. The site provides educational material about certain lawn products and encourages people to sign a pledge to refrain from using fertilizers containing 10 percent nitrogen or more on their property. A coalition of more than 30 environmental groups has already signed the pledge.

“This is like heroin for your lawn,” Wood said, explaining that grass and plants eventually become too dependent on such products to survive.

Part of the problem is people are constantly seeking “that perfect lawn…but they don’t realize there’s a payment for this,” he said, adding that stormwater runoff can lead to contaminated drinking water, algae blooms and fish kills. Wood sees an opportunity in changing people’s habits toward how they treat their lawns.

“This is a problem that people can do something about,” he said.

Along with launching the new website, GEE is creating 500 “I Love Long Island” lawn signs that will be ready for distribution on Earth Day, and he commissioned a short video explaining the potential dangers associated with high-nitrogen products. The animated video, “I Love Long Island—The Movie,” depicts a Long Islander convincing his neighbor who enjoys fishing to make the switch to more environmentally friendly products.

One of the biggest threats to Long Island’s water supply is nitrogen, which can seep into the Island’s many waterways and vulnerable underground aquifers, which are the main source of the region’s drinking water. While nitrogen produced by wastewater has been blamed for threatening protective marshlands, experts also point to other pollutants and fertilizer as possible factors of environmental degradation.

Wood acknowledges that many homeowners are simply unaware about the effects of high-nitrogen products, and he’s sympathetic to landscapers who understand potential consequences but are “kind of forced by the market to use these chemicals.” He also understands that the higher price tag associated with organic fertilizers can be a deterrent.

“I’m not trying to take business away from anybody…I’d like to see everyone do well,” he said.

In the past, Wood’s organization has trained more than 1,000 landscapers in the science of lawn care, and was hired by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to train school facility directors on the topic. New York, he noted, is the only state in the country that prohibits pesticides on school grounds.

Now Wood and a coalition of groups that signed on to the “I Love Long Island” pledge are hoping to educate residents who want to do their part in protecting the region’s natural resources.

NY State Passes Law to Stop Prosecuting Teens as Adults

custody

New York State lawmakers this weekend approved a long-sought bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State to 18.

The state had been debating whether to abolish prosecutions of 16- and 17-year-olds who commit non-violent crimes as adults in criminal court for a dozen years but made little progress. When the state Assembly and Senate approved the measure, officials lauded the change as a legacy achievement for Albany and potentially life changing for offenders.

“For too long, draconian punishments for youthful mistakes have ruined the lives of countless young New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “By coming together, we reversed this injustice and raised the age of criminal responsibility once and for all so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically processed as adults.”

New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the nation that prosecute defendants aged 16 and 17 as adults.

The bill was passed as a part of the state’s $163 billion budget package.

“The steps we have taken today to reform the criminal justice system will go a long way to ensure that young people who make mistakes are not unfairly swept into the same category as violent criminals,” added Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), in a statement. “It serves the best interests of all communities to reform those individuals who, with support and age-appropriate treatment, have the potential to achieve law-abiding and successful futures.”

Leading up to the state’s April 1 deadline to reach a budget agreement, which passed without a deal, criminal justice reform organizations held several public rallies supporting a “raise the age” measure, expressing concern for teens incarcerated with adults.

Dr. Jenny Bencardino, a Long Island advocate for increasing the age of criminal responsibility, said she’s heartened that 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer have to be exposed to adult inmates in jails and prisons.

Bencardino pointed to a report published by Scientist Action and Advocacy Network that found “incarceration can leave a lasting and traumatic mark on adolescents as they are separated from friends, parents, and loved ones, and deprived of the opportunities to practice pro-social behavior.”

The report cited scientific research showing how areas of the brain instrumental in decision-making and regulating emotions and impulses “are among the last to develop.” That’s to suggest, Bencardino said, that a teen that listens to career criminals in jail are prone to taking that experience with them when they leave prison.

“I’m really happy they’re going to be removed from that environment,” she said.

Some lawmakers and prosecutors opposed the measure on the grounds that it will make young gang members more difficult to prosecute.

Under the change, violent felony charges in a newly established Youth Part of criminal court would be subject to a three-part test of the seriousness of the allegations to see if the case should be transferred to Family Court. Those not eligible for such transfers will still be treated as adults during sentencing, although judges can consider the defendant’s age when imposing incarceration. Non-violent felonies and misdemeanors would be handled in Family Court, where cases are automatically sealed, although prosecutors could seek to have serious non-violent felonies transferred to criminal court in serious cases.

The measure will not go into effect immediately. Officials said the state will increase the age of juvenile delinquency from 16- to 17-year-olds in October 2018, and then raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in October 2019. Along with the age-cap on adult prisons, young people will be prohibited from being jailed on Rikers Island in New York City beginning in October 2018, officials said. Instead, they will be housed in a juvenile detention facility.

Among the other significant measures included in the state budget is an increase of $129 million for Long Island schools, $2.5 billion for water infrastructure upgrades, expanding ridge-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to Long Island, and tuition-free assistance for college students beginning this year.

Under the free tuition program, students whose households earn $125,000 or less will be eligible for tuition assistance that will effectively make college free. Students who quality must be enrolled in college full-time, complete their degree on schedule, and maintain a certain Grade Point Average. The program will be phased in over three years, with the income cap increasing from $100,000 in 2017 to $110,000 in 2018, until finally, $125,000 in 2019.

While Long Island boasts the second-most college-age students in the state, only 55-percent of students will be able to take advantage of the program once its fully phased in—the lowest percentage of any region in the state.

Ray Longo’s Battle-Tested Path to Training UFC Champs

ray longo

Ray Longo and his star pupil, former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, will walk into a Buffalo arena Saturday for a potentially career-altering fight that comes nearly a year to the day New York ended its prohibition on professional Mixed Martial Arts bouts.

Until last April, New York had been the lone state in the nation with an MMA ban on its books, which some in the industry considered peculiar considering the sport’s popularity, buoyed by a network TV deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the potential for huge paydays at world-class arenas, such as Madison Square Garden.

This Saturday, April 8, Longo, the steely trainer who grew up in Williston Park, and Weidman, an All-American wrestler at Hofstra University and a Baldwin native, will collectively serve as the face of Mixed Martial Arts on Long Island as the latter battles Gegard Mousasi in UFC 210 at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center. Foremost in their minds, however, will be whether Weidman can overcome a pair of setbacks.

The 32-year-old Weidman may boast the headline-worthy name and Hollywood appeal, but it’s the 58-year-old Longo who has been instrumental in developing title contenders, and thus, raising UFC’s appeal on Long Island and across the country.

A lot has changed in the decades since Longo first began pursuing martial arts and before Taekwondo and karate studios became ubiquitous with strip malls across Long Island. Back then, Longo received lessons from neighborhood martial art instructors for free inside garages, backyards and school gymnasiums—anywhere. By the time he became a full-fledged trainer, his fighters’ names appeared on kickboxing cards at hotels and catering venues, among them the Huntington Hilton, where his fighters attracted large crowds.

The indefatigable Longo doesn’t appear ready to explore retirement or abandon training for other pursuits just yet. But if he ever does, it won’t be because of a lack of opportunities. Longo recently had a stand-in role in the mob film, The Brooklyn Banker, appeared in the CBS drama Kevin Can Wait, and hosts his own internet show, “Training Day with Ray,” produced by Garden City writer/producer Michael Ricigliano.

“Your life is an accumulation of experiences,” he tells me inside his Garden City gym, which he and Weidman operate.

Growing up in Williston Park, Longo attached himself to kids four or five years his elder. He became fascinated with the art form ever since a neighborhood friend told him about how he prevailed over a bully at school.

Longo’s first gym was actually the backyard of someone’s home in Roslyn, because his father, who worked for the transit authority, bristled when Longo told him about a dojo charging $16 a month for lessons.

So he found a guy who would train him for nothing at all, which was just as well.

“He was willing to beat the crap out of you…and it was free—no charge,” Longo says.

After graduating St. John’s University in 1980, Longo became an accountant, which helped supplement his marital arts lifestyle. UFC would not be established for another 13 years.

By night, Longo was training guys out of a Victorian house with a stable and at his mother’s home.

Longo wasn’t building the framework for a fledgling business, nor did he have delusions of grandeur. At the time, he was just “going with the flow,” he says.

“I was never in this to make money,” he adds, noting his philosophy at the time was simple: “Find something you can do for free and then figure out a way to get paid for it.”

For Longo, everything seemed to happen organically: from his own unconventional foray into martial arts to using his education to teach other fighters and then opening a nondescript gym in Mineola—all before MMA entered the mainstream.

When MMA suddenly creeped into combat sports, Longo, who had already practiced boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai—a form of martial arts from Thailand focused on “stand up” striking—was uniquely qualified to train fighters entering the budding industry.

Longo pulled off a coup early in his career when he began training Matt Serra, which he attributed to his experience in Jiu-Jitsu. The East Meadow-born Serra would later pull off a stunning knockout of welterweight champion George St-Pierre at UFC 69 in 2007. Longo caught lightning in a bottle again eight years later, when his newest protégé, Weidman, knocked out UFC legend Anderson Silva to earn the middleweight title.

On Saturday night, Weidman hopes to rebound after an excruciating defeat at Madison Square Garden in November, and the disappointment of having to pull out of a headlining title fight in June due to injury.

“We gotta get him back on track,” Longo says of Weidman. His advice to Weidman: “Believe in your training and believe in yourself.”

That Longo has a steady crop of Long Islanders holding their own in the Octagon comes as no surprise to the veteran trainer. He credits the region’s strong “wrestling-based community” for producing talented Mixed Martial Artists, and cites Weidman’s own stellar collegiate wrestling career.

“They had literally no striking experience when they got here,” he said of Weidman and Serra, who was a martial artist. Both ended up hoisting championship belts, anyway.

 

 

On a rainy day inside his gym last month, Longo was focused on stabilizing Weidman’s career. Longo appears to be a steadying force for many. When he started taking his own lessons back in 1973, he never knew where it’d lead him. He was just enjoying the ride—and still is.

“To be a kid, and to watch all the great fights growing up at Madison Square Garden, and to actually be coaching someone there yourself, is sort of surreal,” he says.

Amid a cacophony of music and fists violently striking pads, Longo, the one-time accountant-turned UFC trainer and part-time internet show host, considered the winding, battle-tested path that led him to where he is now—one future fighters are unlikely to repeat, considering the dearth of MMA facilities and other gyms dotting Long Island.

“This story is fucking nuts,” Longo laughs.

Judging by how much fun he’s having, Longo appears years away from writing its final chapter.

Like Obama, Trump Goes to War While Congress Looks On

Donald Trump

Six years into the dreaded Syrian Civil War that has caused the deaths of half a million people and displaced more than 6 million, President Donald Trump Thursday night unilaterally ordered cruise missile strikes on the war-torn country, instantly escalating America’s involvement in the conflict.

Trump’s response came in the wake of a deadly gas attack that killed scores of people, including more than two dozen children. The horrific images of children being asphyxiated as a result of the bombings reportedly served as the impetus for Trump to break from his campaign pledge to keep America out of foreign wars unrelated to terrorism.

The missile strike, which took all of four minutes, could have significant implications for the United States going forward, considering the various proxy wars being fought inside Syria by the likes of Russia and Iran. But for Americans at home, the strike evokes a familiar policy pursued by U.S. presidents since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Driven largely by a Congress that has abdicated its constitutional duties, President Obama bombed and mobilized U.S. Special Forces inside sovereign nations without approval from Congress, the lone branch of government empowered by the Constitution to declare war or authorize military force. Thursday’s strike put Trump on equal footing with Obama and George W. Bush before him.

Since 9/11, the United States has fought wars in seven countries. Other than Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, Americans would be hard-pressed to identify the nations caught in America’s 16-year “War on Terror.” These include Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

During the Obama years, a small bipartisan group of representatives in Congress, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), called on their colleagues to enact a new war authorization limited to battling the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Congress mostly shrugged, failing to even hold one floor debate on the merits of the war.

Obama, like his predecessor Bush, relied on the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force passed six days after 9/11, which approved military action against al Qaeda. During his two terms in office, Obama used the 2001 AUMF to justify drone strikes, U.S. Special Forces raids, the targeted killing of an American citizen, and other military efforts, which opponents argue has been interpreted so broadly that it has long exceeded its legal authority.

In 2015, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service released a report examining the evolving interpretation of the AUMF prior to 2014:

Screengrab from the Congressional Research Service’s 2015 on the 2001 AUMF’s continued application.

To prevent presidents from usurping Congress’ authority, lawmakers passed the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which stipulates that the president pull armed forces out of a conflict in 60 days if Congress goes 30 days without providing authorization.

On Thursday night, the White House legal office reportedly justified the president’s actions under Article 2 of the Constitution, arguing that “promoting regional stability,” among other factors, gives Trump legal protection.

RELATED: The Controversial Truth Behind America’s Never-Ending War

The Syrian strike, which happened to come on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, recalls Obama’s 2011 bomb raids in Libya to assist rebels in ousting dictator Muammar Gaddafi. At the time, Republicans, and some Democrats, criticized Obama for overstepping presidential authority.

Among the most outspoken critics of Congress’ unwillingness to accept its constitutional responsibility and authorize or declare war is Lee, the congresswoman from California.

“The American people and Congress deserve to know what’s being done in their name,” Lee told the Press last year last year. “Sadly Congress has been missing in action. It’s unacceptable that our brave servicemen and women are facing snipers and mortar rounds, but Congress can’t even muster the courage to debate the war that we are asking them now to continue to fight—it’s just plain wrong.”

Obama’s repeated use of the 2001 AUMF amid America’s seemingly endless wars inspired U.S. Army Captain Nathan Smith last year to sue Obama on the grounds that the ISIS war is illegal without congressional authorization. The suit was later rejected.

The debate over war authority has largely focused on constitutional authority rather than the merits of specific wars. Some members of Congress woke up Friday morning after watching reality war theater play out on prime-time television and called on Trump to seek congressional approval. Constitutional scholars echoed those calls.

“In order to ensure that war powers are exercised with wisdom, restraint, and popular approval, our Constitution assigns to Congress its most important and fundamental responsibility: to ‘declare War’ by specifying enemies, defining clear objectives, and setting limits that keep the executive’s power as commander in chief within bounds,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “This fundamental principle of separation of powers lies at the core of the Constitution and is the foundation of our democratic form of government.”

Whether Trump seeks authorization from Congress, or if America’s representatives find it within themselves to act on their own, will likely depend on the administration’s plan moving forward. Was this a one-time response to ostensibly show America means business, or will the White House direct further military action at the Syrian government?

On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned that Thursday’s strikes might not be the last.

“The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary,” she said.

If the administration lives up to its warning, the calls for Congress to either declare war or authorization military action may become more emphatic.

Even if Congress does act, it would likely choose the latter option. America has not formally declared war since World War II. The Vietnam War was validated by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which Congress passed on Aug. 7, 1964. In order to justify military action in Korea, President Harry Truman bypassed Congress entirely, instead, relying on permission granted by the United Nations Security Council.

“Absent a sudden attack on the United States that requires a president to take immediate action to repel the attack, no president has the power under the Constitution to decide unilaterally to take the United States into war,” the ACLU’s Shamsi said. “Unilateral military action was unlawful when President Obama did it, and it’s unlawful now.”

Is Congress listening?

(Featured photo credit: Department of Defense)