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Schmitt drops motion for Bird gag order

Nassau County presiding officer, Peter Schmitt, arrives at

Nassau County presiding officer, Peter Schmitt, arrives at federal court in Central Islip. (May 31, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Nassau Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt has dropped a motion asking a federal judge to amend a gag order prohibiting lawmakers from discussing a police investigation into the 2009 murder of Jo'Anna Bird, ending the prospect of public hearings into the case.

Schmitt (R-Massapequa) also withdrew his appeal of a criminal contempt citation for discussing the case on TV and personally paid the $2,500 fine.

In June, Schmitt held a news conference announcing that he would ask the court to lift the confidentiality order, allowing legislators to publicly question police officials about the case. Schmitt also asked the court to release a redacted version of the internal affairs report on alleged police misconduct, but quietly dropped both motions last month, court records show.

"I chose not to pursue this appeal because I believe the point has been made about alleged police impropriety in this case," Schmitt said in a statement. "To do so would have placed an unnecessary financial burden on the county. I personally paid the fine even though I am indemnified by the county and because I thought it was the right thing to do."

Schmitt's motion was opposed by the administration on the grounds that the publicity would jeopardize the officers' livelihoods. County officials and GOP chairman Joseph Mondello denied pressuring Schmitt to drop the case. County attorney John Ciampoli said Schmitt's actions "put this case behind us and allow us to move forward."

Frederick Brewington, attorney for the Bird estate, said Schmitt dropped his motion after his office filed a separate motion asking the court to lift his gag order and to release an unredacted copy of the report. Newsday and News 12 have filed similar motions.

"Justice demands that this report be made public," he said. "The public needs to know what they can and cannot depend on when they call 911."Bird, 24, of New Cassel, was murdered by Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, against whom she had orders of protection. Several Nassau police officers were scrutinized after investigators determined the department failed to adequately investigate domestic violence calls, but the details about any discipline in the case have been kept secret.Schmitt saw the report when the legislature approved a $7.7 million settlement to Bird's family in a wrongful-death lawsuit. He later discussed details of the report in a TV interview, disclosing that police officials gave Valdez-Cruz, Bird's estranged boyfriend, a cellphone to be used in jail. Valdez-Cruz is serving a life prison sentence.

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