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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Prosecutor Plays Defense: Can D.A. Hynes Have It Both Ways on Hasidic Molesters?

The Prosecutor Plays Defense: Can D.A. Hynes Have It Both Ways on Hasidic Molesters?
By Daniel Geiger 
On a steamy night on the corner of a Bedford-Stuyvesant block in late August, District Attorney Charles Hynes stood waiting for the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Though he has fought crime in the borough for decades, Mr. Hynes, who is in his sixth term as the Brooklyn district attorney, looked slightly out of place loitering on a dark patch of sidewalk in front of a dicey-looking housing project near midnight.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes
at the Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther
King at BAM (photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Well into his 70s, Mr. Hynes is grandfatherly in appearance, white-haired and slightly hunched. He wore a bright blue checkered shirt, cleanly pressed, with an open collar. He waited patiently, a sizable police detail nearby, until Rev. Sharpton arrived, 20 minutes late, in a chauffeured black Navigator.
The gathering, which its organizers called Occupy the Corner, had been staged to protest the gun violence that has sprung up in recent months. Though the event was aimed at a spate of recent deadly shootings in problem Brooklyn neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, the message had been made all the more poignant by a shooting earlier that day in Manhattan in which a gunman murdered a former colleague outside the Empire State Building before being killed in a hail of fire by the NYPD.
“We’re not going to be intimidated … these are our communities, these are our streets, and this won’t continue,” Mr. Sharpton said in front of a small crowd of community members, news media and politicians, including Councilwoman Letitia James and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who is running for congress.
“We’re not going to stand by and let them overwhelm our streets and kill our children,” Mr. Hynes added when it was his turn to speak. “Whatever it takes, the people rule this city and not the thugs.”
There’s no doubt Mr. Hynes is proud of his record taking on violent crime in the borough—and he has a right to be. During his 23-year tenure in office, homicides have fallen precipitously.
“Brooklyn had less than 200 murders last year,” Mr. Hynes told The Observer, indulging his habit of frequently trotting out the impressive crime statistics of his tenure. “That’s the least since 1963, and this year we’re 23 murders fewer.”
As big an issue as guns are, however, and as much as Mr. Hynes cares about it, in the murky and sometimes cynical world of Brooklyn politics, the night seemed more than an opportunity to take a stand against violence; politically, it was a chance to grab some screen time with some of the most prominent leaders of New York’s black community—a voting bloc Mr. Hynes knows he would be wise to court.
“We’re happy D.A. Hynes has joined us tonight,” Rev. Sharpton said. “Most D.A.s just prosecute us; he’s one that is standing with us.”
DA Hynes announcing a large seizure of counterfeit items in July (photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In the wake of withering criticism, Mr. Hynes can certainly use endorsements like this.
In May, The New York Times ran a series of articles about the district attorney’s cozy relationship with influential rabbis in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Among the reports were disclosures that Mr. Hynes and his office had agreed last summer to allow a prominent religious organization, Agudath Israel, to vet sexual molestation accusations within the Hasidic community internally before reporting the allegations to the authorities.
The story drew a sharp rebuke from Mayor Bloomberg, who according to the Times said he “completely disagrees” with such an arrangement—the kind of top-level complaint rarely lobbed at a D.A. in this city, especially one as tenured and respected as Mr. Hynes.
The reports also took a critical view of techniques Mr. Hynes has employed to encourage victims of sexual abuse to step forward, and they questioned whether his office has pursued meaningful sentences against admitted molesters. To this day, Mr. Hynes will not release the names of accused Hasidic suspects of sexual assault, even though sheltering the identity of someone indicted for a crime is a highly unusual practice among district attorneys and has drawn persistent criticism from victims’ groups.
“We have completely disagreed with the policy of not releasing the names of the abusers,” Mark Appel, founder of a victims’ advocacy group, told The Observer. “A Jewish child should be identical to any other child.

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