A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Legis. Peter Schmitt, presiding officer of the Nassau County legislature, to appear in court to face contempt charges for disclosing confidential information from an investigation of police officers connected to the Jo'Anna Bird murder case.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt made his ruling in a decision granting the Nassau Police Benevolent Association the right to seek the contempt charge even though the union was not part of a lawsuit filed by Bird's family against Nassau for failing to protect Bird from her ex-boyfriend.
"If we let this slide, then what happens the next time?" asked PBA president James Carver. "We felt that Mr. Schmitt violated the rights of our members."
Bird, 24, of New Cassel, was murdered in 2009 by Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, against whom she had an order of protection. Ten Nassau police officers were disciplined after investigators found the department failed to adequately investigate domestic violence calls.
The Bird family's lawsuit was settled for $7.7 million. But the county legislature declined to approve it without reading a police internal affairs report, which Spatt allowed on the condition they not talk or write about it. Later, lawmakers approved the settlement.
In a Feb. 7 television interview, Schmitt revealed that 22 police officers were involved, mandatory arrests were not made and that the ex-boyfriend had been allowed to call the victim 35 to 40 times while in jail.
According to Spatt's decision, Schmitt argued against the PBA's move for a contempt citation, saying he had done nothing to harm the union.
Noting the disclosures Schmitt had made, Spatt ordered him to show cause, "why this court should not find him in contempt."