Albany, NY - Paterson Said to Direct Aides to Influence Abuse Case
Albany, NY - Gov. David A. Paterson personally directed two state officials to contact the woman who had accused his close aide of assaulting her, according to two people with direct knowledge of the governor’s actions.
According to one person who was briefed on the matter, the governor instructed his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent, contradicting her accounts to the police and in court.
Mr. Paterson also enlisted another state employee, Deneane Brown, a mutual friend of the governor and the accuser, to make contact with the woman before she was due in court to finalize an order of protection against the aide. Ms. Brown, an employee of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, reached out to the woman on more than one occasion over a period of several days, and arranged a phone call between the governor and the woman.
After the calls from Ms. Brown and the conversation with the governor, the woman failed to appear for the court hearing on Feb. 8, and the case was dropped.
These accounts provide the first evidence that Mr. Paterson helped direct an effort to influence the accuser.
Last Friday, Governor Paterson ended his campaign for election, after The New York Times disclosed that he and his State Police detail had intervened in a domestic abuse case involving one of his closest aides, David W. Johnson. But he has stated that he was unaware of the details of the case until The Times reported them, and has said he did nothing improper.
After the news reports, he suspended Mr. Johnson and asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to begin an investigation. Mr. Paterson’s office declined to comment on Monday, citing the pending investigation.
The call from Ms. Shorenstein to the woman came on the evening The Times was preparing to publish an article about Mr. Johnson, his past episodes with women and the police, and his ascent to top ranks of the Paterson administration.
The person briefed on the matter said that at the time of the call, Ms. Shorenstein was not aware of the severity of the alleged assault, and that she did not believe that Mr. Paterson was aware of it either. Ms. Shorenstein failed to reach the woman, who has never spoken publicly about the episode.
The descriptions of the governor’s actions come from two people with direct knowledge of the events.
The latest revelations come as Mr. Paterson spent much of Monday vowing to remain in office despite pressure on him to resign and distancing himself from the controversy over the domestic violence case.
“This is a separate issue that really involves the problems of someone that worked for us and not me,” Mr. Paterson said at a Midtown breakfast forum Monday morning.
To date, the administration has conceded that the State Police contacted the woman in the hours and days after Oct. 31, and she has complained under oath in family court that they harassed and pressured her not to pursue charges.
But the governor’s state of knowledge about the alleged assault and personal involvement in the administration’s handling of it remain murky.
He has acknowledged having a conversation with the woman on Feb. 7, the day before she was due in court to seek the final order. The woman failed to show up in court the next day, and as a result her case was dismissed.
But the people close to the governor also described a more concerted effort to contact the woman before the court date.
They said the governor enlisted Ms. Brown, a mutual friend of his and the alleged victim’s, to make contact with the woman.
She contacted the woman on more than one occasion over a period of several days, culminating on Feb. 7, when she called the alleged victim on the governor’s behalf and encouraged her to call him, which she did.
The nature of those contacts and what Ms. Brown was seeking to achieve remain unclear. She has not responded to numerous phone calls and visits to her home. Her husband, in a brief telephone interview Monday, said he knew nothing about the events and would not comment.
Ms. Brown had also played a role on the administration’s behalf in characterizing one of Mr. Johnson’s prior disputes with a woman. Mr. Johnson, according to his girlfriend at the time, punched her in the face outside Mr. Paterson’s Harlem office in 2001, when the governor was a state senator from upper Manhattan.
The woman did not file a police report, and Mr. Paterson’s chief of staff at the time, Woody Pascal, said he had intervened and counseled the woman.
Shortly before the article on Mr. Johnson was published, Mr. Paterson’s press office informed a reporter for The Times that it had unearthed a witness, Ms. Brown, who characterized the incident as nothing more than a verbal argument.
On Feb. 16th, Ms. Brown was interviewed and said she had been working as a volunteer in Assemblyman Keith Wright’s office, next door to Mr. Paterson’s Senate office, one day in 2001 when she walked out into the hall and encountered Mr. Johnson and a woman whom he had been dating in the midst of a heated argument. Ms. Brown said she witnessed no physical violence during the portion of the argument she saw. She said she felt certain that no physical violence had occurred.
“To me, it was more of a lover’s spat,” she said.
Mr. Cuomo’s investigators appear to be moving quickly in their inquiry. On Monday, they interviewed the two most senior officials in the state police, Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt and his second-in-command, Pedro J. Perez.
A lawyer for Mr. Perez, Stephen C. Worth, said he could not comment on what was discussed.
The investigators also were scheduled to interview the New York City police officer who first responded to the call at the woman’s Bronx apartment on Oct. 31.
The case that sparked the recent furor involved Mr. Johnson, 37, a top aide and a former driver who had become one of the governor’s most trusted advisers. Last October, Mr. Johnson was accused by the woman, a longtime companion of the assault.
Last week, after Mr. Paterson suspended Mr. Johnson without pay, his top criminal justice adviser, Denise E. O’Donnell, resigned, saying it was “unacceptable” that Mr. Paterson and the State Police had made contact with the woman and that she could not “in good conscience” remain in the administration.
On Monday, speaking at the breakfast in Manhattan, he stressed that he will not resign: “I think there is an hysteria that I’ve been the victim of over the past couple of months,” he said. “I’ve been resigning about five times before this weekend.”
More of today's headlines“Manhattan, NY - Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and a 1983 bombing of U.S. Marines in Lebanon are seeking to hold Iran accountable in separate...” Manhattan, NY - Lawsuits Seek Damages from Iran for Terror Acts “Manhattan, NY - New York Times Co. will distribute its news to 850 television screens in Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shops and other locations in five U.S. cities to promote...” Manhattan, NY - New York Times Content May Be Coming To A TV Screen Near You