Two suspects charged in an attempted robbery that led to the 2019 friendly fire death of an NYPD detective from Calverton will remain in custody despite their lawyers' concerns they risk contracting the coronavirus, a pair of Queens judges ruled this week.
Both men face multiple charges, including murder, in connection with the Feb. 12, 2019 fatal shooting of NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen by another officer as they responded to an attempted armed robbery at a Richmond Hill T-Mobile store.
Queens Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Holder on Wednesday rejected a request from the Legal Aid Society to release Christopher Ransom, of Brooklyn, from Rikers Island.
On Tuesday, Queens Supreme Court Judge Marcia Hirsch denied a similar request to release Jagger Freeman, of Queens, who is charged with serving as Ransom's lookout during the attempted robbery.
Both motions were opposed by the Queens district attorney's office.
"Throughout this pandemic, the DA’s Office has prioritized releasing individuals in the interest of justice, while also keeping in mind the safety of our communities here in Queens," said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who has signed off on the release of 95 defendants due to coronavirus concerns and did not oppose discharging 150 others from Rikers for the same reason.
"Decisions are made balancing public safety issues and public health issues while also evaluating the merits of each petition," Katz said in a statement released Wednesday.
Lawyers for Ramson and Freeman have said medical conditions could make both vulnerable to contracting the virus. Ransom suffers from acute osteomyelitis, a bone infection, his lawyer said Wednesday. Freeman has asthma and has shown signs of having COVID-19, his attorney said.
"Our clients who are seriously ill or at a high risk if exposed to the virus should not face a death sentence at Rikers Island before a jury has even had a chance to judge their guilt or innocence, regardless of the charges against them,” said Tina Luongo, who heads Legal Aid's Criminal Defense Practice, which has sought the release of dozens of inmates during the pandemic.
Simonsen, who grew up in South Jamesport, was fatally shot by a fellow officer as he and his supervisor, NYPD Sgt. Matthew Gorman, of Seaford, responded to the attempted armed robbery.
Ransom had brandished a realistic-looking imitation pistol and pointed it at responding officers, who fired 42 shots in about 11 seconds, the NYPD said at the time. Ransom was shot eight times but survived. He was charged with murder, robbery, assault, aggravated manslaughter and menacing. Freeman was charged with murder and a dozen other offenses.
Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detective Endowment Association, Simonsen's union, said the Legal Aid motion was "irresponsible, insulting, and endangers every New Yorker." The union submitted a letter to the court opposing the motion, arguing the suspects were a flight risk and a danger to the community.
"Christopher Ransom and Jagger Freeman are being tried for murdering a hero cop who spent his life protecting New Yorkers — and the Detectives’ Endowment Association will not rest in ensuring that they remain in custody pending a final outcome in their cases," DiGiacomo said Wednesday.
Leanne Simonsen, the late officer's widow, also opposed the release of Ransom and Freeman.
“There is nothing that will ever provide me with complete closure as I go on without Brian," she said in a statement released by the union. "These cowards being behind bars and facing life in prison is however some measure of justice for Brian, his family, and myself."