Queens County DA Richard Brown. Photo: Twitter
Charles Hynes, who died on Jan. 29, became a hero to many in New York’s Black communities when in 1987 he prosecuted White defendants in a racist attack. They’d chased Michael Griffith, an African American, into a highway where he was killed by a vehicle. Three men were convicted of manslaughter.
After Hynes’s defeat by Ken Thompson in 2013, his reputation was sullied when dozens of convictions secured during his tenure were overturned through the work of a Conviction Review Unit established by Thompson, Brooklyn’s first Black District Attorney. Thompson died prematurely from cancer in 2016. By the summer of 2017, the unit he’d created was still functional well after his death; 23 people had been exonerated by then.
If a prosecutorial misconduct civilian complaint review board (pmccrb) had existed, similar to the one that now looks into police abuse accusations, might it not have detected corrupted evidence in some of the most egregious cases in DA Hynes office? Many of the investigations were handled by Det. Louis Scarcella who was responsible for the wrongful conviction of at least 13 people. His name is now like a cuss word in Black communities.
The need for such a prosecutorial misconduct ccrb has been impressed upon me over the past seven years as I’ve written about –and discussed on WBAI Radio– cases involving a Queens resident named Kris Gounden. During this period Gounden has been prosecuted at least eight times by the Queens County DA, Richard Brown, who announced on Jan. 9 that he’s retiring. Seven of the eight cases have been resolved in Gounden’s favor: charges were either withdrawn; the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence; or, Gounden was acquitted.
The eighth case goes to trial in Queens Criminal Court before Judge Michelle Johnson on Feb. 7.
In reality, it’s the complainant in the case, together with the officer from the 106 precinct who arrested Gounden last year, and prosecutors from the Queens DA’s office who should be on trial. We’ll get to that shortly. First some background.
Gounden’s problems with the 106 precinct and the Queens DA’s office started in 2007. In 2006, Gounden purchased a two-house waterfront property in Howard Beach for $800,000. The Goundens, dark-skinned ethnic Indians from Guyana, were the only family of color in their neighborhood and they soon faced backlash in the form of verbal racist abuses by some neighbors.
The hostilities escalated when one neighbor disrupted an outdoor gathering on the Goundens’ property and reportedly hit Gounden and a guest with a baseball bat while hurling the N-word. Given the bad reputation for racist attacks in Howard Beach, the incident garnered significant media coverage. One Daily News article from Aug. 24, 2007 ran under the headline “Family Haunted By Hate in Queens,” and stated: “‘It’s something out of the Deep South, or the backwoods, circa 1950,’ a police source said.”
At the time, the then New York City Council Member Joseph Addabbo, Jr., now a State Senator, claimed it was Gounden who’d played the race card.
In the article Gounden complained that his next door neighbors and their friends blocked his driveway, urinated and dumped garbage on his property, and logged daily complaints against him with City agencies. He started getting fines from city and state agencies for phony violations on his private residential property and apartments buildings he owned. Over the years the fines accumulated to hundreds of thousands of dollars and four of Gounden’s buildings worth millions of dollars were foreclosed on.
As a result of the harassment from neighbors in 2007 the Goundens had 24 x 7 police protection outside their home for a few months. But after the media coverage died down and the police protection was pulled things went downhill for Gounden. This time, his primary tormentors were the police from the 106 precinct and prosecutors from Queens DA Brown’s office.
Over the years I’ve written about many of these cases. In one bogus prosecution case stemming from a 2015 arrest an assistant district attorney named Brian Cox handed Gounden a DVD case in front of Judge Johnson that he claimed contained a video of him shoplifting from a Home Depot store. When Gounden opened the container it was empty. A second case from Cox contained a DVD that computer experts told Gounden couldn’t be played and in any case contained insufficient data. Judge Johnson acquitted Gounden on Feb. 22, 2018. Yet Cox was never sanctioned for his diabolical court antics.
Gounden has even lost his family and a married police officer named James Wilfinger has now moved into the house he bought in 2007 and is living with Gounden’s wife. Sounds mind boggling even for NYPD? When Gounden confronted Wilfinger he claimed the Officer brandished a gun at him. When Gounden complained to officers at the 106 precinct he was the one arrested instead.
What ties all the cases together is that the arrests are always from officers from the 106 precinct; and in all the cases, the evidence suggests that Gounden was the victim of wrongful arrest and prosecution. It’s impossible to review all the cases. Today, I focus on the one to be tried on Feb. 7. It offers a good example of the egregious assaults by police and prosecutors engaged in a vendetta against one man who had the temerity to move into a neighborhood where he wasn’t wanted.
On Feb. 5, 2018, while driving to pick up his children from school, Gounden’s vehicle was rear-ended several times by a black BMW with registration HJP 5422 while he’d stopped at a red light in South Ozone Park, Queens. After the driver of the BMW rear-ended his car again at a second red light, Gounden pulled over. The driver of the BMW ran out of his car and kicked and punched Gounden’s vehicle, leaving a dent. Gounden dialed 911 at 2:26 PM, as phone records show, and reported the attack. He took photographs of Adorno’s car.
Gounden drove back home; he was followed by the BMW which continued to rear-end his car along the way.
Gounden dialed 911 again at 2:34 PM. He was on the phone when police arrived, from the 106 precinct. Gounden had been falsely arrested several times by officers from the 106, so he kept the voice recorder on a second cell phone running just in case. Gounden provided his account of the incident to an officer named Carlos Bello.
The driver of the BMW, later identified as Joseph Adorno, and his wife Evaline Orovco, provided a remarkably different account. They claimed Gounden had struck the husband after he’d walked out of a B.J.’s store and fled from the scene. The location? A shopping mall in Five Towns, more than 6 miles away from the location where Gounden reported that he’d been attacked, at 116-32 117 Street, in South Ozone Park, Queens. The couple even claimed they’d recorded the incident by phone video.
In Gounden’s own surreptitious recording, which I’ve heard –and forwarded a copy to: the Queens DA; New York Attorney General Letitia James; NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau; and, Mayor de Blasio– he’s heard protesting that he’d never been anywhere close to Five Towns on Feb. 5. He demands that the couple show the video to Officer Bello and his partner. Bello, without demanding to see the purported video, orders Gounden to turn around. Gounden can be heard asking if Bello viewed the purported video and the police officer can be heard saying “No.” Gounden is handcuffed and arrested.
When I obtained a copy of Bello’s police report, I noticed that while the incident is still described as a hit-and-run, with Adorno as the victim, the location had been changed to match the one provided by Gounden–116-32 117 Street, in South Ozone Park. In other words, Officer Bello, not knowing Gounden had recorded the conversation before he was arrested, filed a false police report.
Adorno himself later filed a no-fault claim against Gounden’s insurer Allstate. Yet he seems not to have kept track of his lies. When he testified to an Allstate lawyer on April 26, 2018 during an Examination Under Oath (EUO) Adorno gave yet a second different location as the scene of the purported incident, the transcripts show. This time, he told Allstate attorney Daniel Gilley, he’d just exited his car to see a mechanic when he became the victim of the hit-and-run by Gounden at 130-34 117 Street, about a block from his home–not at Five Towns shopping mall.
A copy of the intake report from the Queens County DA’s office dated Feb. 5, 2018, by ADA Cox –the same man who handed Gounden the empty DVD case– states that Adorno was hit in the hand while standing outside his car. It also places the location as 116-32 117 Street; the one provided by Gounden, not outside B.J.’s in Five Towns. Yet, in his testimony to the Allstate lawyer Adorno said he had pain in the back, knee, neck, and shoulder and had taken time off from work and filed for lost wages as a result of the accident.
Gilley also questioned Adorno about several past claims he’d filed for auto accidents.
How bad of a liar is Adorno?
At one point the Allstate lawyer Gilley asked Adorno, who is 42 and testified that he had a ninth-grade education, “Now, when that accident took place, were you operating a motor vehicle?”
“Yes,” Adorno said.
Whereupon his lawyer, Matthew Marchese, interjected: “No, you weren’t operating it. You were outside the car. You had just gotten out.”
Adorno then said, “Okay. Yes. I was outside of the vehicle.”
Yet, Allstate still paid out on Adorno’s insurance claim and canceled Gounden’s coverage. Someone at New York State Department of Financial Services needs to look into the matter.
As for the purported video? The Queens DA provided a copy to Gounden during a preliminary hearing. It’s not clear when this video –which I’ve viewed– was made. It certainly doesn’t show anyone being hit by a car. In fact, it doesn’t show anyone at all. It shows an empty road shot from inside a moving vehicle; a male and female voice can be heard yelling: “There he is! There he is!” It’s so amateurish that the DA didn’t even present it during the last preliminary court date.
Yet, in spite of the false police report by Officer Bello –altering Adorno’s own statement and placing the incident at the location provided by Gounden– and, the recording by Gounden exposing Bello’s and Adorno’s lies, the Queen’s DA is prosecuting Gounden.
One hopes that one day Judge Johnson will finally say “Enough! Get this crooked prosecution out of my courtroom!”
It’s hightime for the New York City Council to consider a bill introducing a ccrb for prosecutorial misconduct. Such an agency could handle egregious cases such as the ones exposed by Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit.
It could also curb the kind of abuses Gounden has endured at the hands of the 106 precinct and DA Brown.
The Queens DA through spokesperson Ikimulisa Livingston declined to comment for this column.