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Queens Chronicle

Six of seven DA candidates spar

Lasak receives most applause; Lancman jeered; Katz absent

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2019 10:30 am

Greg Lasak drew the biggest cheers during Monday night’s Queens district attorney Democratic primary debate at the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Hillcrest.

The former judge criticized plans of Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) to “decriminalize half of the penal code,” as Lasak put it.

“That’s why we cannot elect a politician to be a district attorney,” he said to applause. “They don’t have the experience. They don’t have the knowledge. They can outtalk me but we need experience.”

The biggest issue raised was where the candidates stood on a bill that would allow the state Parole Board to consider granting parole to inmates over the age of 55 who have served at least 15 years in prison. The bill would not mandate the release of those individuals.

“We have to ask ourselves how much money are we going to spend incarcerating people long past the point, because of their age, where they pose any kind of threat or danger to another person,” Lancman said. He believes too many people are incarcerated at “extraordinary expense” to taxpayers, money that could be used for education, housing and seniors.

“I’m comfortable giving a parole board the option after someone has served a lengthy prison sentence and they’re over 55 years old,” he said.

Lasak said the bill “doesn’t make any sense” and later added, “You must never forget the victims’ families ... they lived and died by that case and they thought at the time of the sentence life without parole would mean life without parole.”

Six of the seven candidates were present; Borough President Melinda Katz was at a previously scheduled event with the police commissioner in Jamaica.

Betty Lugo said the decision should be left to politicians to decide and that she would involve the community to review the person’s credentials, such as a sex offender attempting to get back in the neighborhood.

Mina Malik said the issue should be analyzed further while judging it from a public safety versus economic cost point of view.

“If you have an elderly person who is incarcerated, is it worth it to keep them incarcerated if they’re not a threat to public safety?” she asked.

Jose Nieves voiced his support for the legislation, saying he believes “that everybody should have a fair and just chance to be heard by a parole board after a certain amount of years. Fifteen years is a long time.”

Nieves did clarify that the bill doesn’t mean a person would be automatically released.

“It’s an opportunity to give that individual the application to make and then the parole boards can consider other factors in addition to what that person is saying,” he said.

Tiffany Cabán believes if a parole board deems that someone is no longer a threat to themselves or the public, “We should be looking at that very seriously.”

As some in the crowd asked what they would think of the bill if it excluded violent offenders from the legislation, Cabán explained that not all violent offenses include violent behavior and should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“If you went into an apartment building and stole an Amazon package from inside the lobby of that building, that’s a burglary in the second degree,” she said. “That’s a violent offense that you could serve a life sentence for.”

Other hot issues were working with the NYPD and police accountability.

“We have a very serious problem in this city of a lack of accountability for police wrongdoing,” Lancman said, adding that he was proud to have the endorsement of Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, which was met with groans from the audience.

“If you can’t uphold those two thoughts in your head at the same time — that you can work closely with the police to make us safe and hold them accountable when they engage in wrongdoing — then I don’t think you understand the responsibility of the district attorney,” Lancman said.

Malik said that it’s “extremely important” to have a partnership with the police and that she believes she had the relationship with the department, having been a prosecutor for most of her career.

She added, “Anyone who has the endorsements of all the law enforcement unions are beholden to the Police Department and to the law enforcement unions.”

Lasak responded, “I’m beholden to nobody. Yes, I’m getting law enforcement unions. So far, I’ve got them all. And I’m sure that other candidates, I know, would love to have that.”

He said that he has had a personal relationship with every chief of detectives in the city dating back more than 30 years.

For anyone concerned he would look the other way on police misconduct, Lasak said in 1985 there were officers in the 106th Precinct harming prisoners with a stun gun. Lasak led the investigation, leading to the indictment of three police officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant, while the captain of the precinct, the borough commander and the chief of patrol for the city were forced to retire.

Lugo spoke of the importance of working with police, saying, “If you don’t have a good relationship with them, they’re not going to protect your community. And they put their lives on the line every single day for us, to protect our safety. We need a better relationship with the police. We need more respect.”

Nieves has worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement and said, “If you don’t have that working relationship with the NYPD and other law enforcement officials within your jurisdiction then you’re already behind the eight ball and you’re not going to be effective.”

Cabán said “without a doubt” the DA’s Office needs to have a good working relationship with law enforcement. She added that as a matter of public safety, “Whether it’s a person that is wearing a badge or not wearing a badge, there also has to be mechanisms in place to hold officers who don’t fulfill their duties accountable.”

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