A week after a county union head warned that public safety was in jeopardy at Nassau County’s Traffic & Parking Violations Agency, a melee broke out at the traffic court in Hempstead.
Punches were thrown while public safety officers and bystanders struggled with an angry defendant standing before the bench. Some reports say Chief Judge John G. Marks was punched in the face during the scuffle.
County spokesman Brian Nevin acknowledged an “altercation” occurred at the agency on March 7, but said Marks was not punched. Instead, the 75-year-old white haired judge “put the guy in a headlock,” Nevin said.
Marks “thinks one of the public safety guys got punched,” Nevin said, but the judge had no concerns about public safety.
However, Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Nassau Civil Service Employees Association, said, “When the judge has to put somebody in a chokehold, we got a problem.”
Laricchiuta provided a video of the melee taken by a bystander. It is difficult to see who was punched or what exactly happened when the defendant appeared before the bench. The defendant was not identified.
However, it is clear that Marks supervised as the offender was removed from the courtroom.
A week earlier, at the last legislative meeting, Laricchiuta told county lawmakers that Nassau’s county public safety department, which provides security at county buildings, was understaffed and needed new equipment and updated training.
He told them only three public safety officers were stationed at TPVA. “We have angry residents paying tickets there,” he said. “They get mad and take it out on public safety officers.”
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter denied Laricchiuta’s complaints, which included concerns about lack of training for 911 operators.
But Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) is taking Laricchiuta’s comments seriously, said spokeswoman Cristina Brennan. Gonsalves is working with Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and the union to set up a panel discussion about safety and training concerns, probably this week, she said.
Abrahams said in a statement, “Episodes like this definitely give us pause. We believe that public safety officer staffing standards and practices need to be reviewed for both the employees’ and residents’ safety.”
The Republican majority on the county legislature this year agreed to add a $55 surcharge on all traffic tickets as a revenue-generating measure — cutting a $105 surcharge proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano.