By Lisa Dumas
It’s no secret that for the past several years there’s been no love lost between Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler.
However, new information has recently come to light regarding the district attorney’s long-standing, working relationship with Syracuse University that may shed some light on the tumultuous relationship.
An official report obtained by CNY Vision—in the wake of the Syracuse basketball team’s loss in the NCAA final four—chronologically lays out several instances where SU athletes and coaches have received special treatment by Fitzpatrick and his office dating as far back as 2001.
Although the statute of limitations has run out on most of the cases, the report—given on terms of anonymity—includes cases where charges were suspected to be either mishandled by the district attorney, or surreptitiously dismissed altogether.
The reason for Fitzpatrick’s alleged bias, according to the report, is based on the fact that the university is his alma mater. The report also labels him as being a “fierce basketball fan.”
Case in point: the first case detailed in the report regards former SU basketball player William Edelin. Edelin was suspended by the university in 2001 based on allegations from two female students of unwanted sexual conduct, including one accusation of rape. However, the district attorney’s office decided not to file criminal charges.
At the time, even though the school’s judicial review board found merit with the victims’ testimony, Fitzpatrick publicly stated: “We took the girls’ story and didn’t find the conduct of Mr. Edelin reached criminal conduct.”
As a result, Edelin received minor disciplinary action from the school in the form of a suspension from the university for one year, according to the report. However, with no criminal charges lodged against him, he was able to return to the university in 2002, and ultimately helped lead the school to an NCAA championship in 2003.
“Fitzpatrick also questioned whether Syracuse University officials and members of its judicial boards have ‘the ability to assess the issues of credibility,’” the report states. “The public had no reason to believe that the office may be ethically compromised, and gave full weight to the statements made by DA William Fitzpatrick, who led them to believe that Edelin committed no crime. All information found was to the contrary.”
In 2004, another case took place where an SU athlete faced substantiated criminal charges that were subsequently dropped by Fitzgerald’s office; again, for no apparent reason, according to the report.
Diamond Ferri, a former starting strong safety for the Syracuse football team, was arrested after an altercation at a local bar and charged with third-degree assault and resisting arrest on May 22, 2004.
The report stated: “Syracuse University announced that disciplinary procedures would be postponed pending the outcome of criminal charges. Ferri’s court dates were adjourned numerous times through the football season until April 20, 2005, when he received a six-month ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal). If a six-month ACD was an acceptable conclusion, the case appears to have been delayed for almost a year without legitimate purpose.”
According to the report, “Suspiciously, the long delayed conclusion to the case was reached within a day or two of Ferri traveling to New York City and signing as a free agent with the New York Giants.”
“The events in this case are another example of what appears to be unethical communication and possibly even collusion between the district attorney’s office and SU athletic departments, their coaches and/or their attorneys,” the report said.
Eugene Brown, a former junior defensive tackle for the SU football team, was charged with second-degree felony assault, after resisting arrest and injuring a police officer when officers were called to break up a fight at a local bar in March 2005.
Syracuse University announced Brown was suspended, pending a decision within the criminal justice system, the report states.
Fitzgerald never prosecuted. Instead, the case was adjourned for six months, then completely dismissed and sealed, according to the report.
“Two weeks after the incident, it was reported that Brown had been reinstated to the University and was back on the football team without further explanation. …All charges were dismissed (six-month ACD). …The case was dismissed quietly and without the injured officer’s notification,” the report stated.
On top of this, another unusual incident occurred a couple of years later when, in October 2007, three SU basketball players, Antonio “Scoop” Jardine, Johnny Flynn and Ricky Jackson, were alleged to have sexually abused another student, the report states.
“The victim’s only desire was to be heard in front of a judicial affairs board,” the report said. As a result, “The victim did not supply the Syracuse police with enough details for them to take further action other than to complete a basic incident report. The Syracuse police were neither involved in any investigation nor were they provided information from the district attorney’s office or Syracuse University to commence an investigation.
The next time the victim’s name appeared at the Syracuse Police Department was the following: On Dec. 20, 2007, an e-mail was sent out by Syracuse University outlining the details of an informal agreement between the players/their attorneys as well as the university and the victim/attorney.”
According to the report, some of the terms of the agreement included the fact that the young men would be placed on probation, required to live in housing away from the victim, and their parents would be notified. In addition, there would be an agreement on confidentiality.
However, the victim was not satisfied and never signed the agreement, the report said. Yet, for an unknown reason, she was still not allowed to testify at a judicial affairs board.
Then the university, believing the victim was leaving the school, closed the case without her approval.
Several months later, the victim told her story to David Potter, dean of student affairs for Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
In March 2008, Potter, as well as several other employees, began petitioning judicial affairs and the university to re-open the incident on the victim’s behalf. After that, according to the report, Fitzpatrick stepped in.
“District Attorney William Fitzpatrick suddenly involved himself in this incident,” the report stated. “There was no information found that would explain why the DA was involved legally. She did not want to pursue criminal charges. Judicial affairs at SU is not a public courtroom and their proceedings do not require a district attorney. No information was found as to who notified Fitzpatrick. There wasn’t even a criminal investigation going on. If the victim and the police did not call the DA, then who? Of all the parties involved in this case, only Syracuse University was left. Potentially, the university would not want to lose their players nor have their players arrested, so why would they want to notify him?”
In apparent answer to the question, the district attorney opened a subsequent grand jury investigation into the matter, the report stated. “This move allowed SU to delay the judicial affairs hearing again pending the outcome.”
Eventually, the victim was found “not credible” enough by the grand jury to warrant criminal charges. However, no request was made to obtain grand jury testimony “due to the sensitive nature of this report,” the report said.
Following the decision, the victim was finally allowed to testify in front of a judicial affairs board, where the athletes were found to be in violation of student code and placed on probation for one year, while still allowed to play basketball.
In the aftermath, Potter and several other employees involved in re-opening the case were consequently fired, the report said. But, of all the employees who were let go, Potter was the only one who declined to sign a confidentiality agreement.
In an Oct. 2008 article published by Inside Higher Ed, Potter said of his advocacy for the female student, “From my perspective, it’s a straightforward matter of principle. I wanted to resolve it. I’m not angry at anyone. I don’t want to take anyone out. I believe in daylight and conversation and not shadow and covers.”
Next, in yet another strange case concerning the district attorney, and an SU basketball player, Eric Devendorf was involved in two incidents that resulted in investigation after the 2007-2008 season.
According to the report, the first case was deemed an assault; however the police, unable to acquire a statement from the victim, were incapable of making an arrest.
In the second case, though, of harassment, “the victim desired prosecution,” the report said. Nonetheless, “William Fitzpatrick refused to prosecute Devendorf for harassment in the second-degree.”
At the time, Fitzpatrick interviewed alleged witnesses, several of which were basketball players, according to the report, and said he found differences between those and the victim’s accounts.
But, in the subsequent judicial affairs decision, the testimony obtained by Fitzpatrick was called “scripted and biased” and disregarded as evidence. Therefore, Devendorf was suspended for one academic term.
However, upon winning an appeal, the sentence was reduced to 40 hours of community service, after which he could be reinstated to the school.
“While reducing his sentence is not inherently illegal for the private institution, it bears witness to the overwhelming pressure asserted to keep Devendorf on the basketball court,” the report states. “William Fitzpatrick’s actions, or lack thereof, appear to be part of this pressure.”
In 2010, the report said an incident involving star tailback for the SU football team Delone Carter offered more interference from Fitzpatrick.
According to the report, Carter was accused of striking SU student William Hotaling in his face, rendering Hotaling unconscious while on his feet and unable to break his fall to the ground. And, even though Hotaling faced severe and substantial head injuries, including fractured bones and a permanently dislocated jaw, the charge was eventually plea bargained down to a charge of second-degree harassment by the district attorney, with a one-year conditional discharge, the report states.
“Carter was immediately suspended from the football team and the university for two semesters, those being the remainder of the spring semester and the summer semester,” the report said. “He was reinstated in time to make the first fall practice on Aug. 9, 2010.”
According to the report, the conditional discharge meant that the case would remain open for 12 months, and then be closed as long as Carter stayed out of additional trouble.
In the end, the report found that the Syracuse Police Department, “took the investigations as far as possible without visible support of the district attorney’s office.”
All of this led up to the more recent fallout between Fitzpatrick and the Syracuse Police Department, during an investigation into the largely-publicized case of SU assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, who, in Nov. 2011, was accused of sexually abusing two former ball boys.
The report alleges blatant misconduct by the district attorney’s office during that time, including one documented telephone conversation between Fine’s attorney, Donald Martin, and an unknown person. In the conversation Fitzpatrick was mentioned specifically: “No, I haven’t heard anything from Fitz,” Martin allegedly stated. “None of his people are here. The last I talked with him, he said that as*hole deputy chief called the feds.” The call ended shortly afterwards, the report said.
Detective Joseph DeCaro allegedly overheard the exchange and included the dialogue in his report after a search of Fine’s home on Nov. 25, 2011.
According to a 2011 article published in Syracuse’s The Post-Standard, in a rare move, police ultimately turned the case over to federal prosecutors.
“It appeared to police that the DA’s office, in those early days of the investigation, was out to discredit the victims,” Deputy Chief of Police Shawn Broton said.
And, although Fitzpatrick denied the allegations, “Broton’s report said there’s a history of SU athletes getting preferential treatment from the DA’s office,” the article stated.
Recently, Fine, after having been fired over the matter, has filed a defamation lawsuit against ESPN, according to a March 28 article in USA Today.
In addition, questions regarding favoritism for SU athletes by the school have also resurfaced, according to a March 20 article in The Post-Standard titled, “Sources: Syracuse basketball program under wide-ranging NCAA investigation.”
“NCAA investigators have conducted face-to-face interviews of SU employees or former employees for at least the past school year in a wide-ranging investigation that includes the handling of Fab Melo’s academic eligibility and a 2007 alleged sexual assault case involving three players, two named and two unnamed sources told The Post-Standard,” the article states. “‘The transgressions were described as both major and wide-ranging in nature,’ CBS reported. The investigation also encompasses football but is believed to primarily involve basketball, according to the report.”
The article stated one NCAA investigator, Meg Babcock Locker, spent two hours interviewing former associate dean David Potter, who also recommended Locker interview Cathryn Newton an SU professor and former dean.
According to The Post, Newton said of the alleged 2007 sexual assault case: “An arts and sciences student filed a complaint that was specific and credible, and that complaint did not progress in the usual way.”
Fitzpatrick began his tenure in the district attorney’s office as a law clerk in 1975, and has been district attorney since Jan. 1992.
As of the printing of this article our calls to Fitzpatrick’s office were not returned.
For additional information on sources and articles, go to the links below.