Statement about the
April 6, 2019 Incident
on the Ithaca Commons
Posted below is a letter I sent to the Tompkins County Progressives in response to a letter from one of the young people involved in the April 6, 2019 incident.
March 13, 2020
I have read the recent letter from Rose DeGroat. Because the court cases are closed, I am able to put out this short response to the letter. The ethical rules for all attorneys in New York prohibited me from engaging with the public or the media during the case. The ethical rules apply to both the prosecution and the defense in a criminal proceeding and are meant to protect the individual’s right to a fair trial.
As I reflect upon the situation involving Cadji and Rose, I can say with complete honesty that everyone made mistakes, from the beginning to the end of the case, including me. I acknowledge that, and take responsibility for them. In retrospect, there are things I would have done differently. I understand that my decisions impacted everyone involved in the case. I am accountable for the decisions I made. No one told me what to do, especially not the police. I listened to many people, tried to get as much information as possible, and made my own decisions. My goal was to achieve a fair resolution that would allow everyone to gain insight into how their conduct affected the others involved. My allegiance was not to the police. My hope was to address the conduct of the law enforcement officers through the restorative justice process. Through mediation, everyone would be able to listen and process the perspectives of the others who were involved. That is still my hope. While I understand that how the court case progressed caused stress and trauma for the two young people, that was not my intention at any time. In fact, I used every tool available to avoid that outcome. And I want to emphasize that neither of the two young people was ever at risk of being criminalized or incarcerated. In fact, both were offered resolutions that would have resulted in the record being completely sealed.
There were allegations that an older, white male committed a sexual assault which was the catalyst for what happened on the Commons. I took those allegations very seriously and I investigated them. I sent an investigator to interview the woman who had been harassed by the older white male, but she would not cooperate or speak with us. If there had been evidence of a crime, or a victim who was willing to press charges, I would have prosecuted the perpetrator.
Rose was originally charged with a felony, as well as misdemeanors. My decision to reduce the felony was, in retrospect, made prematurely. I made the decision to present Rose’s case to the Grand Jury. As required by law, I provided notice to her attorney more than two weeks in advance of the proceedings. It is common for defense attorneys to request that witnesses who have information favorable to the defense be called to testify in the grand jury but no such requests were made in Rose’s case. Despite the fact that the grand jury found legally sufficient evidence to support felony charges, I proposed to resolve the case so that the charges would be completely sealed. It’s easy to second guess how the case progressed. I can’t imagine how frustrating it was to the community to only be able to view all of this from the outside while rumors and incomplete press narratives circulated. I understand how the process was traumatic for Rose, but that was never my intention.
This was a very difficult and emotional case and there were many conflicting opinions about it. We need to listen to and acknowledge the diverse perspectives and emotions that this incident caused, with the understanding that those perspectives are valid and invaluable in making our local criminal justice system better.
I am optimistic that we as a community can learn from this experience. I have. I am absolutely committed to engaging in the conversations we need to have in order for all the people affected by this case to be heard and to be acknowledged.
Matt Van Houten