Did NY Gov. David A. Paterson Intimidate a Woman Allegedly Abused by His Wing Man?

Paterson and Johnson

New York Gov. David A. Paterson claims he’s a champion for women who experience domestic violence.  He was quite vocal with his criticism of former NY state Senator Hiram Monseratte, who was convicted of domestic violence.  After Monseratte was expelled from the senate, Gov. Patterson told the New York Times:

This seemed like a classic case of a woman who was intimidated. . .

In the Monseratte case, Gov. Patterson was incensed that the senator’s aides continued to have contact with his victim:

. . .that’s the whole essence of what domestic violence is.  It’s control.

Yet, it appears that behind closed doors Gov. Paterson was doing some intimidating of his own.  David W. Johnson, who is described as the governor’s closest confidant, gatekeeper, and wing man, allegedly brutally beat his live-in girlfriend Sherr-una Booker on Halloween night, 2009.  Although she diligently pursued securing a permanent order of protection, she mysteriously failed to appear in court on February 8 ~ the day after she spoke to Gov. Patterson on the phone.  Her case was dismissed.

Was There a Cover-Up?

Gov. Paterson has asked NY Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who is a likely opponent in the up-coming election, to investigate.

Lawrence B. Saftler, the attorney who represented the woman, told the New York Times that an intermediary asked her to call governor.  The Times reported:

The woman [later identified as Sherr-una Booker], who has asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, had gone to court on three occasions, seeking a protective order against Mr. Johnson and complaining under oath that she had been repeatedly harassed by the State Police not to press charges or seek the court-ordered protection.

In a separate article, the Times printed the transcript of the November 2, 2009 hearing which granted the original order of protection:

Court:  Four years.  [Confirming how long the couple had lived together in the woman’s apartment]  You have bruises on your arms. . .

Woman:  I’m scared he’s going to come back. . .

Court:  . . .I’m going to issue a temporary order of protection. . .

Woman:  I’m just. . .I’m glad you’re doing this, because I thought it was going to be swept under the table because he, he’s like a government official, and I have problems with even calling the police because the state troopers kept calling and harassing me to drop the charges, and I wouldn’t.  So I’m, I’m just ~  [the judge interrupts]

Denise E. O’Donnell Resigned at 2:00 PM Today in Protest

Denise E. O’Donnell, who oversees the state police, was a federal prosecutor and social worker.  She said in a statement to the New York Times which was also reported on CNN:

The fact that the governor and members of the State Police have acknowledged direct contact with a woman who had filed for an order of protection against a senior member of the governor’s staff is a very serious matter.  These actions are unacceptable regardless of their intent. . .

. . .particularly distressing [in an administration] that prides itself on its record of combating domestic violence.

The behavior alleged here is the antithesis of what many of us have spent our entire careers working to build. . .a legal system that protects victims of domestic violence and brings offenders to justice.

She believes State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt misled her into believing they were not involved.

Why Would the Harry Corbitt Get Involved???

Shortly after he became governor in March, 2008, Gov. Paterson insisted that State Police stop meddling in political affairs. . .like collecting information on his own extramarital affair.  He asked Attorney General Cuomo to investigate:

Mr. Cuomo’s report, issued in September 2009, did not find a rogue political unit per se but did find evidence of political interference by senior police officers, including an episode in which a police superintendent ordered changes to a domestic violence report involving a Republican congressman, John E. Sweeney. . .Mr. Corbitt. . .pledged to overhaul the agency.

Since the alleged incident of domestic violence took place in the woman’s Bronx apartment, the New York City Police Department has jurisdiction.  The New York Times reported yesterday that the police report indicated:

The alleged assault [by David W. Johnson] happened shortly before 8 p.m. on Halloween in the apartment she had shared with Mr. Johnson and her 13-year-old son for about four years.

She told the police that Mr. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, had choked her, stripped her of much of her clothing, smashed her against a mirrored dresser and taken two telephones from her to prevent her from calling for help.

. . .a graphic account of a violent and menacing encounter. . .

. . .she screamed for Mr. Johnson to stop and then screamed for the help of a friend who was visiting. . .

Mr. Johnson then turned to the woman’s friend and told her to leave, “if you know what’s good for you.”

Mr. Johnson was gone by the time the police arrived. . .not referred to detectives for investigation.

Within 24 hours, Mr. Corbitt knew about it.  He has a squad of 200 officers who provide personal security to Gov. Paterson and Mr. Johnson.  One of these officers met with the woman:

We never pressured her. . .We just gave her options.

Right.  I’ve had those “options” explained to me too.  I got the message loud and clear:  “yes, he can, in fact, kill you and get away with it.”  I knew immediately I was nothing but an expendable pawn in a high-stakes political game.

Mr. Corbitt’s “whacky woman” defense is familiar to a lot of abused women:

I’m not sure of her emotional state; I don’t know her.

Paterson:  Just a “Bad Breakup”

Today, Gov. Paterson distanced himself from Mr. Johnson, who has been suspended from his $132,000/year job.

The two go back to 1999 and Gov. Paterson’s early days as a state senator.  Mr. Johnson, who is a very large man with a booming voice, started out as driver and protector for Paterson, who is legally blind.  The two eventually became so close that Mr. Johnson has his own room in the governor’s mansion.

The New York Timesinvestigative team did some digging into Mr. Johnson’s past:

  • Arrested twice on felony drug charges including selling cocaine to an undercover officer in Harlem.  He served five years probation.
  • An arrest for misdemeanor assault in the 1990s.
  • Police responded to domestic violence calls involving two women.
  • Police were not called in a third case of domestic violence involving a woman who was allegedly punched by Mr. Johnson outside Mr. Paterson’s state senate office in 2001.  She was “offered counseling” by Woody Pascal, Mr. Paterson’s chief of staff at the time.  She told the reporters the police didn’t protect her during an earlier alleged domestic violence incident by Mr. Johnson.
  • Paterson chalked it up to an “argument between two people” because Mr. Johnson wasn’t arrested and a complaint wasn’t filed.
  • Paterson minimized the Halloween incident as a “bad breakup.”

Johnson Was Never Served with an Order of Protection:  Case Dismissed

Somehow the folks who serve protection orders on domestic violence perpetrators couldn’t find this very big guy who has a very public job. 

On November 4, the woman told Judge Andrea Masley that he “avoided” service of process.  During a hearing on December 17, the judge asked Mr. Johnson’s attorney, William J. Madonna, to accept service.  He refused.  Another hearing was set for February 8, 2010.  Because the summons still hadn’t been served, the case was dismissed.

Is Gov. Paterson a True Champion for Abused Women?

You decide.  On the date of the hearing, Gov. Paterson berated the New York Times editorial board for talking to Mr. Johnson’s ex-girlfriend.

Yes, he got a law passed to allow protection orders in cases of dating abuse.  He put on a big light show at the Empire State Building during October (National Domestic Violence Awareness Month).  He pressed hard for NY state senator Monserrate’s removal.

But, it looks to me like he’s worked overtime to protect his wing man.

I know from personal experience how the politically expedient winds blow.  The same person who demanded the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hunt me down to testify about the judge’s abuse claimed she had no knowledge a few years later when he ran for the state supreme court on the platform that he had “extensive experience with family and child abuse.”  She didn’t want someone with his pro-labor bias on the federal bench because she represented management in labor disputes.

Update:  On July 22, 2010, the New York Times reported the fall-out from these allegations is that Gov. Paterson decided not to run for election and five of his top administrative offials resigned including the top two officials of the State Police. 

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