Justice falls victim to flawed convictions

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside the Suffolk County Legislature Building in Hauppauge. (Credit: James Carbone)

Ellis Henican

Newsday columnist Ellis Henican Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a

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It's easy to think of shady police work as a victimless crime.

Really, who's being hurt when cops bend the evidence against a bad guy -- or the crime lab gets sloppy or a prosecution witness is nudged toward a lie? Is it mostly guilty people being ushered off to jail?

Maybe it is.

But when police and prosecutors lose their credibility, even in pursuit of real criminals, the whole justice system can be undermined. We keep learning this one the hard way.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota just agreed to vacate two men's drug convictions and release them from prison. Coming in the middle of a major drug crackdown, this was the last thing Spota wanted to do. But what choice did he have? He said he'd grown convinced the arresting officer used trumped-up evidence against Bernard Cooks and Mohammed Proctor. Now 100 other cases brought by the same cop have to be reviewed.

Was it just one bad officer? Or did the problems go deeper into the now-disbanded street-crimes unit of the Southampton Police Department -- and beyond? How many more convictions will have to be vacated? How will the wrongly convicted be paid back? Who will pay for that? And what does all this do to the credibility of honest prosecutors and police?

One officer's behavior, one big mess.

Long Island's criminal-justice system has a critically important job to do. But criminals must be brought to justice the clean way.

 

COP OUT

1. "The sooner you tell me what happened, the sooner you can go home."

2. "Your friend's the one we're really after."

3. "We're putting you in the lineup for your own protection."

4. "Why waste your money on a lawyer?"

5. "No one gets jail time for something like this."

ASKED AND UNANSWERED: Will any Longwood High administrators be suspended now for overreacting to Jessica Barba's anti-bullying video? . . . Whaddaya mean the Huntington Town Council can't make a decision? They're set to pass a new bamboo-usage law in -- wait, can they please have another 90 days to think about it? . . . Those hundreds of LIRR retirees who faked disabilities to get fatter pensions -- tell me again, why shouldn't they be prosecuted? Does Loretta Lynch's federal amnesty offer really allow the scammers to keep their liar benefits? . . . Better than last month, worse than last year? Is that what economists call a "mixed LI jobs report"? . . . Did a truck carrying highway barriers really crash into a highway barrier? Why else do you think the LIE was so backed up near Exit 52 on Wednesday afternoon?THE NEWS IN SONG: If you have to ask the question: "Would You Lie to Me?" by Eurythmics, tinyurl.com/eulying

LONG ISLANDER OF THE WEEK: SEAN NOLIN

We're not quite the DR yet. But Long Island does breed the occasional major league pitching prospect, as folks in Toronto know well. They came to love lefthanded reliever Bill Koch of Rockville Centre. Now, they're paying extra-close attention to lanky lefty Sean Nolin, a 6-foot-5, 22-year-old Seaford native who is suddenly burning up the Advanced-A Florida State League. With the rare distinction of having been drafted three straight Junes (Brewers, Mariners, Blue Jays), Nolin opened his Dunedin Blue Jays' season 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA and 53 strikeouts -- and looking very commanding on the mound. OK, he's still a few miles from the bright lights of Rogers Centre. But Toronto baseball fans are suddenly being regaled with warm remembrances of Seaford coaches Mike Malano and Jamie Adams. Both men always talked "about showing up for every game, about giving your best," the young LI pitcher told the Toronto Sun.

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