Schmitt asks judge to amend Bird gag order

Nassau Legislator Peter Schmitt comments about being found Nassau Legislator Peter Schmitt comments about being found in contempt of court in Mineola. (June 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt is asking a federal judge to amend a gag order prohibiting him and other legislators from discussing details of a police internal investigation into a 2009 domestic violence murder, saying it prevents them from carrying out their duty to look into the case.

Schmitt's attorney Paul Millus said the confidentiality order preventing both legislators and parties in the case from discussing the internal affairs report on the murder of Jo'Anna Bird also prevents lawmakers from doing their jobs. He said that, at some point, lawmakers may need to schedule a hearing to discuss "whether the findings of the IAU report have been properly addressed" by police and the county.

"Any mention of an IAU report from now until end of time is forbidden except in executive session," said Millus, of Manhattan. "They need the freedom to make reference to the Bird case without fear that they will be held in contempt."

Under Millus' proposal, the confidentiality order would be amended so it would not restrict legislators from questioning police employees and officials about the case in a public setting.

A federal judge in June held Schmitt (R-Massapequa) in contempt and fined him $2,500 for discussing details of the secret report on television. Schmitt and some other legislators saw the internal affairs report when they approved a $7.7 million settlement to Bird's family in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

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A spokeswoman for Nassau County declined to comment on the motion.

Fred Brewington, an attorney for Bird's mother, Sharon Dorsett, said he has not seen the motion but he believes "all restrictions in viewing the report should be lifted."

Bird, 24, of New Cassel, was murdered by Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, against whom she had orders of protection.

Numerous Nassau police officers were scrutinized after investigators concluded the department failed to adequately investigate domestic violence calls. The number of officers involved, the extent of their discipline and most details of what happened have all been kept secret.

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