Court halts police report release in Jo'Anna Bird case

Joanna Bird, right, of New Cassel, was murdered Joanna Bird, right, of New Cassel, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Leonardo Valdez-Cruz. Bird is seen here in an undated family photo holding her daughter Joanna. Photo Credit: Handout

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A federal magistrate has issued a temporary injunction preventing a lawyer from releasing a report that details failures by police to protect Jo'Anna Bird of New Cassel, who was tortured and killed by her former boyfriend in March 2009.

U.S. Magistrate Kathleen Tomlinson, in an order signed Tuesday, said lawyer Fredrick Brewington, of Hempstead, cannot release a Nassau Police Department internal affairs report until lawyers on both sides of the case have a chance to argue the issue in court.

Lawyers for the county must submit their papers by Friday. Brewington, who is representing Bird's mother in a federal civil lawsuit against the county, must respond by Monday, according to Tomlinson's order.

Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said in May 2009 that the internal investigation revealed that seven officers, including a patrol supervisor, did not properly investigate at least four domestic-violence visits to the home where Jo'Anna Bird was staying in the days before Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, of Westbury, killed her. Mulvey did not reveal the names of the officers or what disciplinary action was taken.

Valdez-Cruz, 25, who was convicted of first-degree murder, burglary and other charges, is serving a life sentence for murdering Bird, with whom he had a young son, now 5.

Brewington, who was forced to cancel a news conference set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, said the public has a right to see the internal affairs report.

"I don't think it's appropriate for me to be gagged in any way," he said. "The public should know what its police department does, is not doing and has done."

County Attorney John Ciampoli said he "will not try this case in the media.

"My office requested - and was granted - a temporary stay to protect the sanctity of this case in light of statutory protections," Ciampoli said in a statement.

Brewington was given a copy of the report, with portions redacted, as part of a federal lawsuit he filed alleging that police mishandled Bird's calls for help before her death.

The lawsuit claims that police went easy on Valdez-Cruz in the days before Bird's murder in part because he was working, either formally or informally, as a police informer.

Brewington said the county never asked Tomlinson for a protective order that could have kept the report sealed. Prior to turning the report over to Brewington, the county asked Tomlinson to redact major portions of it. In an Oct. 29 ruling, Tomlinson consented in some cases, but restored many of the proposed redactions.

Jim Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham University School of Law, said even if the county had asked for a protective order, it is unlikely that Tomlinson would have granted it. But the fact that they didn't request one makes it even less likely that she now will restrict distribution of the document.

"There's really no excuse for not permitting the lawyer to use it," Cohen said.

With Robert E. Kessler

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