Saeed Shabazz, Rape case draws outrage, judge rejects plea, The Final Call, November 16, 2010
A rape case continues to draw outrage and anger from women's organizations as more is learned about the alleged courthouse assault of a teenage girl and a proposed plea deal that offered the alleged rapist no jail time.
The National Organization for Women, the New York Coalition of One Hundred Black Women, Inc., the National Action Network and the president of Bennett College for women were among those astounded by the alleged crime and proposed plea agreement.
But as controversy about the case grew, a judge killed the plea agreement Nov. 15, saying the defendant had shown no remorse and offered three years imprisonment and three years probation as an alternative. She said her decision was based on statements the accused rapist had made to probation officials. Her decision followed review of a report from the probation department.
Defendant Tony Simmons didn't chose between the option of jail time or a trial so Judge Cassandra Mullen vacated the deal. Mr. Simmons is scheduled to return to court Dec. 15. He will have the opportunity to accept the new punishment or go to trial.
The judge's decision also means there is no admission of guilt.
“I felt relief that the judge was willing to do the right thing,” said Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women. “The courtroom was packed, a lot of people turned out; it shows that sometimes it really pays to step up. We slowed down the train, everyone believes this is a strong case.”
NOW-NY will be monitoring the case but no demonstrations are planned at this time. “Hopefully the wheels of justice are turning in the right way,” Ms. Ossorio said. The atmosphere in the packed courtroom was intense, and when the judge finally had her say, there was a collective sigh of relief, Ms. Ossorio said. The assistant district attorney is new and told the judge prosecutors were ready for trial, she continued. “It's now up to the jurors of New York City,” Ms. Ossorio said.
Days earlier, activists gathered across the street from the courtroom of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cassandra Mullen demanding jail time for Mr. Simmons, a former juvenile counselor with the Department of Juvenile Justice. The 45-year-old had entered a guilty plea for raping a Black 15-year-old and sexually assaulting two other teens, ages 15 and 13, that he transported to Manhattan Family Court.
“Hey Judge Mullen, we're here to say serial rape is not okay!” chanted protestors during a Nov. 9 demonstration.
“This outrageous case is just one example of a widespread problem in our criminal justice system: The under prosecution and shockingly lenient sentencing of sexual predators,” Jane Manning, president of NOW-NY told protestors.
“If we cannot deliver justice for these victims who were assaulted on the premises of the Manhattan Family Court building by an employee assigned to protect them, how can we expect justice for any victims of violence?” asked NOW-NY executive director Ossorio.
The voided plea deal had offered 10-years probation and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
The judge had to review a report on Mr. Simmons from the Dept. of Probation. She said his comments in part blamed the victims and described one sexual encounter with a minor as consensual.
Since the story broke in October, there had been a blame game between the office of District Attorney Cy Vance and the judge's office.
Mr. Simmons was suspended from his juvenile counseling job the day after pleading guilty to the rapes. A spokesperson for his former employer called any counselor's exploitation of minors, or anyone else, a heinous abuse of the public trust.
Mr. Vance, who is elected, had told local newspapers the judge's decision to give the rapist probation was “outrageously lenient.” The district attorney, who is serving his first term, has since said nothing—and did not return Final Call phone calls asking for a statement.
A spokesperson for the state court system, speaking for Judge Mullen and speaking to only the New York dailies reportedly said: “The blame rests with DA Cy Vance, Jr. who didn't object to the sentencing.”
“We are outraged, a slap on the wrist for someone who is supposed to protect young people—what message does this send?” asked Tamika Mallory, national executive director of the National Action Network, which is led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Her comments came before the judge rejected the plea agreement.
Mr. Simmons had admitted raping a young woman who has only used her first name, Ashley, out of fear her alleged rapist could still harm her. She was 15-years-old when Mr. Simmons allegedly took her by elevator to the basement of the Family Court building and raped her. He then allegedly returned her to a courtroom to be sentenced for filing a false police report.
Ashley was sentenced to 12 months for lying to police about the identity of persons who assaulted her on the way to school.
At the time of the alleged rape, Ashley was an orphan and lived with foster parents who reportedly left her to the system after her sentencing. She is now 20-years-old and has completed her GED and professional courses at a university.
Ashley, speaking to a news outlet in a rare interview, talked about suffering a “bad time” while incarcerated. Anger over the alleged rape led to problems with behavior while in detention.
Ashley came forward after another 15-year-old accused the same juvenile counselor of sexual assault in 2008.
‘He needs to go to jail'
“Probation is no consequence for this man, he needs to go to jail,” declared Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College in North Carolina and a national leader on women's issues.
“Our children in foster care are treated poorly, they suffer in silence, because they are not taken seriously, not valued—just thrown away,” Dr. Malveaux said.
One can only imagine how youth who come forward have been scarred for life, Dr. Malveaux added.
Speaking of the role Black women and their organizations must play, Dr. Malveaux said, “We need to be big sisters for them, and we need to monitor more closely what is happening throughout all of the systems that deal with these children.”
Virginia M. Montague, president of the N.Y. Coalition of 100 Black Women, agreed with Dr. Malveaux.
“Black women and their organizations must rise up and stand together with other organizations to send a message that we will no longer allow our young Black women to be viewed as disposable individuals who can be dismissed, physically and psychologically damaged by an ineffective and uncaring society,” she told The Final Call.
Ms. Montague said she has first-hand knowledge of issues facing teens in the juvenile system. “As a former probation officer, and a former counselor in a juvenile facility in North Carolina, I saw what happens to young women caught up in the legal system,” she said in an e-mail. “I have seen first-hand the abuse perpetrated on young women who are preyed on by the same persons hired to protect and care for them.”
“I have seen allegations dismissed or ignored, and I know the struggle that young women of color are subjected to in the best of circumstances; and to read that the offender plead guilty to the charges of rape and yet, will possibly only receive probation is unconscionable; and a true miscarriage of justice,” Ms. Montague said.
Rape of youth a national problem
Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Los Angeles-based Just Detention International said juvenile rape is “an enormous nationwide problem.”
And, she said, a Justice Dept. report released in January found one in eight detained youth had been sexually abused within a 12-month period.
Juveniles of color were disproportionately victimized, she added.
The report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “The National Survey of Youth in Custody 2008-2009,” surveyed detention facilities in all 50 states.
Reported sexual victimization by faculty or staff was slightly higher for Black youth at 11.9 percent while such assault rates for White youth were reported at 9.7 percent and for Latino youth the abuse rate was 8.1 percent.
The report added that White youth (4.4 percent) were more likely than Black youth (2.1 percent) and Latino youth (0.9 percent) to report victimization by other youth.
The report stated that the chance of staff victimization of youth who had spent at least 12 months or more in a facility was 14.6 percent, compared to the 8.3 percent for those in custody six months or less.
“A lot of these rapes go unreported, which stems from a belief that staff members have unlimited immunity,” said Ms. Stannow. “We have heard from youth that they are told by perpetrators, ‘don't you even think about revealing this, because nobody is going to believe you.' ”
It has been reported that the assistant district attorney trying the case of Mr. Simmons felt a jury would reject allegations lodged by a prisoner against someone who worked in the criminal justice system.
The stated goal of the youth correction system is rehabilitation, Ms. Stannow noted.
“The very people who are supposed to help you, turn around and destroy your life. Our goal, our focus is to seek an end to sexual abuse of detainees,” she said.
Dr. Malveaux is hoping for more outrage from Black women's organizations, groups such as the National Association of Black Social Workers and political leaders.
“Black legislators need to strengthen penalties—zero tolerance—for this behavior in the criminal justice system and in the foster care system. We must draw the line,” she said.
Ms. Mallory felt the reason for the initial lack of outrage from Black women's organizations in New York was due to the lack of publicity concerning the case.
“I plan to call together the heads of these organizations,” she told The Final Call.