Albany, NY – A caravan of 10 buses carrying 400 police officers and two dozen widows of murdered officers will make its way to the state capital on Wednesday to deliver 800,000 unread letters in 360 boxes to the New York State Parole Board.
The letters oppose releasing convicted cop killers on parole.
Grace Russell, the wife of murdered New York Police Department (NYPD) Police Officer Michael Russell, discovered the letters weren’t getting to their intended recipients when her husband’s killer came up for parole in March, the New York Daily News reported.
Officer Russell was murdered in Brooklyn in 1979 when he chased a gunman who had just shot a shopkeeper during a charily baseball game, according to the New York Daily News.
Grace and her daughter were organizing another letter writing campaign in March via the online portal the parole board set up in 2012 on the Police Benevolent Association’s (PBA) website. The portal provided an easy link by which letters could be sent directly from the PBA website to the parole board.
She told the New York Daily News that her daughter wondered how many letters had been submitted about her father’s killer, and so she asked a parole board official for the information.
That’s when she learned that the New York State Parole Board had shut down the PBA portal without telling anyone in 2014. Since that time, all the letters submitted via that website have been hanging in limbo, the New York Daily News reported.
It was estimated that more than 200,000 letters opposing the parole of convicted cop killers were never received by the decision makers at the parole board.
The New York Daily News reported that as many as 48,500 letters of opposition in 2018 alone were caught in cyberspace.
During that same time, Herman Bell and Robert Hayes, both of whom were convicted of murdering police officers, were released on parole.
PBA President Patrick Lynch sent a letter to the parole board chair demanding immediate reinstatement of the letter program, the New York Daily News reported.
“By failing to communicate to the PBA, the board has deprived hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of their right to make their voices heard as part of the parole consideration process,” Lynch said in the letter immediately after the discovery was made.
But New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Spokesman Thomas Mailey defended the parole board and said that the shutdown of the PBA portal had not prevented people from submitted letters via other channels.
Mailey said that shutting down the PBA link “has in no way prevented the PBA or anyone else from providing letters of opposition or support. The Board always has - and continues to - accept letters that are electronically submitted through the Department’s website or submitted by mail to the facility where the individual is located.”
However, since the parole board never notified the PBA that they were shutting down their portal, they didn’t know to tell people to submit their letters of opposition another way, meaning that hundreds of thousands of comments never reached their intended recipients, the New York Daily News reported.
The PBA president was furious about the way the entire thing was handled and said the union had been wasting money paying for radio and print advertising to promote the portal on its website as a way to send letters of opposition to releasing cop killers.
“With each interaction with DOCCS’ Parole Board, a state agency that reports to the Governor, it becomes even more clear that this is a rogue agency over which no one exercises any control,” Lynch said.
He noted that the parole board had opted to release Bell despite vehement objections from the PBA and relatives of murdered NYPD Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones, the New York Daily News reported.
“It is no surprise that DOCCS Parole Board has no interest in considering the public’s opinion regarding the release of cop-killers back onto their community’s streets,” Lynch said.
The massive delivery of letters to the parole board by the murdered officers’ families is meant to have a visual impact on the recipients, Grace Russell told the New York Daily News.
“I just think it’s a great way to make a statement physically rather just sending an email," Grace said. “My sisters are going, my daughter, my brothers. Everyone who was affected by this is going. The fact they never read them all these years is just horrible.”