By Lisa Dumas
In light of the recent article published by CNY Vision, “New Allegations in the Ongoing SU Sports Program Saga”, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said, although he and Syracuse police chief Frank Fowler have been battling publicly for years, most of the responsibility for the tension lies with Fowler.
Fitzpatrick said the initial clash with Fowler began over a disagreement regarding whether confessions taken by the Syracuse Police Department should be videotaped.
“The dispute between Fowler and I starts with my insistence that confessions be videotaped,” he said. “What would be the downside of it? Well that’s what I tried to ask Chief Fowler multiple, multiple times. Anybody that confesses to a major felony should be on videotape. You can Google it and you can see that he was resistant to it. Then he suggested that there were financial difficulties, which wasn’t true. We had gotten him a grant. Long story short, that was the start of a, shall we say, a philosophical dispute between me and the chief.”
From there, Fitzpatrick said the relationship had gotten worse, and he’s not sure why.
“I get along with every single law enforcement officer in this county and most of them in the state of New York,” he said. “The governor’s appointed me to commission after commission. I’m active in the National District Attorneys Association. I have relationships with the state police. I have relationships with federal law enforcement. Don’t ask me. Ask him.”
In addition, relative to recent allegations reported by CNY Vision regarding alleged decades-long favoritism of Syracuse University athletes by the D.A., beginning with former basketball player William Edelin, Fitzpatrick said he was even more dumbfounded.
“Now, Billy Edelin,” he said. “You have to understand the Syracuse Police Department has the power to arrest anybody they want. They have what is called summary arrest power in the state of New York. In New York City, where I’m from, police officers will review a felony complaint or a misdemeanor information with an assistant D.A. before the case is filed. That would be my preference on how to do things. However, this chief and previous chiefs, they don’t think that. They have power of summary arrests. Do they consult with us on occasion? Absolutely. On major cases, that’s the way things should be.”
Fitzpatrick said after the SPD decided not to arrest Edelin, the case was then sent to his office, which, after it was reviewed, resulted in the recommendation that Edelin not be arrested.
“They referred it to us,” he said. “And, at the end of the day, the conclusion from the A.D.A. that handled the case was, there simply wasn’t probable cause, credible evidence from all sides, to make an arrest of Billy Edelin; and that it would be best handled in the university judicial process. And it was.”
The recommendation was given to then-captain Becky Thompson, according to Fitzpatrick, who expressed “absolute nothing but agreement with that,” he stated.
In the case of Diamond Ferri, Fitzpatrick said his decision not to prosecute was based on the fact that the victim wanted to pursue a civil lawsuit instead.
“Everything we did was because we were asked to hold the case by the victim and his attorney,” he said. They reached a civil settlement. Ferri paid for all the damages that he did to this kid, which weren’t that extensive. It happens all the time. This is a punch to the face where the kid suffered a split lip and some dental damage. Ferri paid for all of that. That goes into our consideration. That is not an unusual disposition. I could find you 50 cases this month that are disposed of exactly like that.”
Relative to former football player Eugene Brown, Fitzpatrick said he did not recall the details of the case, specifically.
“I can’t find anybody in the office who remembers the case,” stated Fitzpatrick. “I’ve called the A.D.A. that handled the case. He doesn’t work here anymore. But I don’t remember this case at all.”
Regarding the high-profile case concerning three SU basketball players who were alleged to have sexually abused another student in 2007, Fitzpatrick said, in the beginning, he made a deal with the victim and her attorney that satisfied all parties involved.
It wasn’t until former SU dean David Potter got involved in re-opening the case that he decided to put it in front of a grand jury, he said.
“I was notified by the lawyers for the three players, who said, ‘Wait a minute, we reached a deal with this woman,’” he said. “I said, ‘Fine. If she’s now recanting and saying that her original story was true, that she was a victim of a sexual assault, this is serious enough; we’re gonna put it in the grand jury.’ What better way to handle it than that? Let her come in and tell her story. Let the players come in and tell their story. Let 23 impartial citizens say, ‘We find cause for an indictment.’ And, by the way, it’s not a conviction, it’s a lower threshold. The grand jury cleared them, that was it. The grand jury made a decision, the same decision the Syracuse police made, not to charge anybody.”
In the 2010 case involving former SU tailback Deleone Carter, Fitzpatrick said, similarly to the Ferri case, it was decided with the victim’s consent that Carter would plead to a lesser charge, in hopes of having an opportunity for settlement through a civil lawsuit.
“That was completely in agreement,” he said. “Everything about that was done with the victim’s consent. And I don’t know who’s complaining about it.”
Relative to the sexual-abuse case against former S.U. assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, Fitzpatrick said he was one of the first to say Bobby Davis, an alleged victim of Fine’s, was a credible person, but, although a crime probably was committed, the statute of limitations had run out on the time allowable for the prosecution of it.
In addition, Fitzpatrick said Fowler’s claims of a prior relationship between him and Fine were never substantiated.
“I’ve spoken to you more than I’ve spoken to Bernie Fine in my life,” he said. “So, just because Fowler says that Fitzpatrick is close to Bernie Fine don’t make it so.”
Fitzpatrick also pointed out that SPD police reports citing his involvement with suspects like Bernie Fine were fictional, and that several pieces of supposed documented information were written in haste and given to Syracuse’s The Post-Standard, under the Freedom of Information Law, simply to use him as a target.
Particularly, he mentioned one SPD report obtained by The Post, signed by both Chief Fowler and Deputy Chief Shawn Broton, in which, according to Fitzpatrick, the department stated the Fine case was still ongoing at a time when it should have been closed.
“I want to be clear about it because it’s a serious charge,” he said. “But it’s a fact. Ok, when you end a report by saying ‘investigation to continue,’ well that’s just a lie. Because the investigation was closed out five days earlier by the U.S. attorney; and my investigation was closed out a year earlier. So, there is no investigation to continue. Those three words were put in there to mislead people into thinking that this report was generated a year earlier than it was. These things are made up. …And being filed at 7:30 at night. And then the next day saying, ‘Ok, here Post Standard; here’s all the reports that we had. Oh look, here’s a report they wrote a year ago, this is why the D.A.’s office couldn’t handle the Bernie Fine case.’ It’s just a fabrication. Now, is the material in here true or not true? I say it’s not true. He says that I have a relationship with Bernie Fine, and he doesn’t offer anything to support that.”
Ultimately, according to Fitzpatrick, although SU is his alma mater and he considers Jim Boeheim a friend, he has no problem investigating any crimes that come up at the university; and if any ever involved Boeheim personally, he would recuse himself from the case.
“If somebody said Jim Boeheim stole money from me or punched me I’d say ‘Ok, we’ll get a special prosecutor,’ because my relationship with him is such,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said he’s had no communication with Fowler since the Bernie Fine case; however, he is currently open to mediation.
CNY Vision contacted Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler. Fowler said he was not captain during the time most of the cases were open so he could not address them. He declined to comment on the charge regarding SPD fabrication of police reports.