Tuesday, January 7, 2014




(Tuesday January 7, 2014 Brooklyn Criminal Court, NYC)  As the young NYPD Officer, Sgt. Kevin Brennan sat with his wife just a few rows behind the evil thug found guilty of shooting him in the head on January 31, 2012, Justice Albert Tomei rendered his sentence to Luis Ortiz earlier today.  In a forthright, blunt manner Justice Tomei told the convicted murderer "You will, in light of this sentence, spend the rest of your life in a soulless, loveless, compassionless environment”, giving Ortiz, previously convicted of murder, a “life without parole” sentence.

The story here is not about a life long, hard core murderous criminal being sentenced to life without parole for shooting Sgt. Brennan but rather how important it was that Justice Tomei added his personal remarks prior to reading the actual sentence.  For far too long New Yorkers have watched from the sidelines as liberal judges have given light sentences to men convicted of atrocious acts of brutality and cold-heartedness.  We have had to observe over the years one instance after another when a Judge would set a very low bail virtually assuring the offender would be bonded out and would than simply vanish.  We have seen the miscarriages of justice and have repeatedly been puzzled, left scratching and shaking our heads while wondering “what the hell is wrong with our criminal justice system”?    The fact of the matter is that there is plenty very “wrong” with our criminal justice system and it was at least for a brief moment refreshing to hear justice Tomei’s words; words that many of us would have spoken – perhaps in more colorfully profane language – if we were in a position to do so.    Tomei’s words expressed the frustration that we have all felt at one time or another over the inadequacies of the Courts to do the bidding of law abiding citizens; a Court system that all too often appears to afford more rights to the defendant instead of the victim.


When we discuss the criminal justice system we need to know precisely what it is we are evaluating.  In our Democratic Republic the “System” is comprised of three distinct entities.  The first is the Police, the men and women in Police and Sheriff’s departments as well as all other law enforcement Agencies (LEA).  The Police respond to citizens calls, are dispatched to crimes in progress and scenes of crimes; conduct investigations and make arrests.  At this point the Courts take over.  The Courts are the Prosecutors, the District Attorneys and Magistrates who preside over the legal process.  It is often at this level that the system seems to go awry.  In accordance with our Constitution and well established practice of jurisprudence, all proceedings at this level are well codified and defined.  Public Defenders are provided for defendants unable to afford private legal representation.  At this level the often sloppy, clumsy process, a process largely driven by expediency and budgets, appears to the uninitiated to break down.  Pleas are proffered to defendants that typically result in a plea bargain.  If a defendant is found guilty or accepts the plea offer, a sentence is imposed by the Court.  Sentences range largely in accordance to the crime.  One could be sentenced to community service, probation or a short stay in a County jail or sent to a state or federal penitentiary.  In some of our United States the penalty of “death” is a viable option for a judge to impose and for a Prosecutor to request.  However, even in the ever shrinking number of States that have that carry out the death penalty, it typically takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years for the “appeals” process to wind its way through all the layers of lower to higher Courts.

The final phase in this process is what is euphemistically designated as “Corrections”.  Each State has a Department of Corrections (DOC) and many Counties, Parishes, and larger Cities have a Department of Corrections of their own. DOC’s are tasked with carrying out a sentence be it probation or long term incarceration.  This is another facet of the system that appears to be extremely flawed in many ways.  From County Jails to State Prisons there is an epidemic of overcrowding, under-staffing, budget cuts and woefully inadequate use of scarce resources.  In some ways our Correctional institutions have become nothing more than warehouses for the mentally ill; albeit, mentally ill individuals who have been found guilty of a crime.  The burdens placed on DOC’s across the country are often beyond a facility’s ability to address.  Because of the myriad stresses and strains on DOC’s there are many disturbing cases when violent inmates were paroled early only to commit another heinous act in short order.  The costs of incarceration are staggering at every level from County to State to Federal Penitentiaries.  But, this is the system we have.  This is the reality in America and to address the ailments of any of the “Three Cs” one must also consider their relationship to the other two.   Each is inextricably linked to the other and a holistic approach is the only way to make the system run more effectively, efficiently and safely.


Justice is said to be blind and that she may be.  At times it appears that she is deaf and dumb as well.  The scales she holds balanced in her hands in statues and paintings are rarely equally balanced in reality.  The scales seem subjected to the shifting weights of expediency and politics whims.  Justice, for all she represents in our Courts today does not view us all as equals under the law. 

The Courts are at the pinnacle of our tripartite legal system. The men and women, the Justices and Judges that preside over them have historically held above repute, as honest, impartial arbiters of the laws of our land.  Our entire criminal justice system is rooted in the Old English document the Magna Carta written in 1215 AD which came to codify criminal and civil law for most of the Western World.  The Magna Carta in a way provides a job description for Judges and all “High Officers” of the Court.  But increasingly over the last forty years we have been left to feel disappointed at best, outraged at worst by failures of our Courts to mete out what the majority considers to be commensurate with the crime.  We have seen verdicts that defy simple logic as well as our inherent sense of fairness.

There have been numerous cases in which “activist Judges”, those who feel the “Law” is open to their interpretation rather than the strict boundaries of our Constitution, criminal and civil codes.  There have been Judges who felt compelled to correct what they perceived as being some distant legacy of injustice.  Yes, this works both ways; some Courts have been very lenient and others very harsh.  If the scales of justice were truly balanced the instances of this type would not be as common as they continue to be.

That was why Justice Tomei’s words were so powerfully refreshing.  He spoke his mind and heart to an already convicted and sentenced murder and sent him off to an upstate penitentiary with a fairly accurate description of what that scumbag’s life will be like.  We have seen liberal Judges in New York City conduct business as if the victims are not worthy of having all the equal protections under the law afforded to them while some young ACLU attorney represents the offender just to gain enough courtroom experience to move on after a few short years in the Public Defender’s Office.

From the early 1970’s until his retirement, a Judge in the Bronx County Courthouse named Bruce Wright presided over many an arraignment, worked “night court” and served as a trial Judge.  Judge Wright became known as “Let ‘em Loose Bruce” for his infamous reputation to treat truly dangerous, hardened criminals very easily.  In the winter of 1972 there was a young NYPD Officer patrolling with his partner a sector in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx.  As they slowed cruised up and down the cold, dark, cracked and potholed asphalt streets, narrow corridors lined with tenements, burned out shells of buildings and vacant lots they rolled past a tavern.  As was their custom they stopped their patrol car outside until the bartender made eye contact with whoever was driving and gave either a thumbs up or thumbs down signal.  Obviously, if PO Dowd and his partner did not get a distinct thumb up they could assume that something was amiss and would enter the tavern to see what was what.

On that fateful night near 2 o’clock in the morning they made eye contact with the bartender and received no signal whatsoever.  They “smelled” trouble and proceeded to enter the tavern.  Immediately as Dowd entered the tiny barroom he was shot with a sawed off shotgun at point blank range in the abdomen.  This assailant fled, the call from Central Dispatch was transmitted across the Bronx and the actual perpetrator was apprehended within hours.

The alleged perpetrator was brought before Judge Bruce Wright who set bail so low that the suspect was able to post bond – make bail – and was released back onto the streets within hours of shooting a uniformed NYPD Officer during the commission of a robbery.  Well, that was the last time that particular suspect was ever seen again.  Let ‘em Loose Bruce had struck again it was the shooting of Denny Dowd that came to be the template to measure the efficacies of the NYC Courts.  (Denny Dowd did recovery after several surgical procedures a long convalescence and rehabilitation.  He never returned to NYPD because his injuries had rendered him medically unqualified).

Detective Sgt. Kevin Brennan (second from right) and his wife Janet (wiping tear)
 in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday for Luis Ortiz sentencing.
Aaron Showalter/New York Daily News

NYPD Officer Kevin Brennan was conducting “vertical patrol” in one of the apartment buildings that comprise the Bushwick Houses project in Brooklyn. AS walked down the stairs from the roof he interdicted several young men virtually all of whom quickly vanished when they saw the uniformed Officer approaching.  Luis Ortiz who had murdered a man just a month earlier crossed paths with Brennan and in that fateful moment Ortiz shot Brennan in the head.  Brennan began chasing Ortiz but his wound and blood loss were bringing closer to his own death.  Miraculously he survived and has since been promoted to Sergeant and is assigned to a position at One Police Plaza.

He lived to tell and testify in Court the circumstances of their encounter, how he was shot and that Ortiz said, “Fuck you, die” after he shot Brennan.

This story outraged a City but, as we have endured before, there was no expectation that the wheels of justice would move swiftly in this case.  Thanks to Justice Tomei who runs a “tight ship” in his Courtroom, has a stellar reputation for his no nonsense presiding style and wealth of judicial experience, in this case the system worked about as swiftly as it ever can.

We hope “Baby” Ortiz does, as Justice Tomei advised, “spend the rest of your life in a soulless, loveless, compassionless environment."  We need more Judges and Justices of Tomei’s integrity, professionalism in our Courtrooms all across our Five Boroughs.

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