Judge dismisses charges against Schenectady School Board member Miles

Schenectady School Board member Jamaica Miles speaks to reporters outside Saratoga Springs City Court earlier this month.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Schenectady School Board member Jamaica Miles speaks to reporters outside Saratoga Springs City Court earlier this month.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A judge on Monday dismissed charges against Schenectady school board member Jamaica Miles alleging she “imprisoned” a motorist during a July 14 Black Lives Matter protest.

Miles’ “history and character” factored heavily in the dismissal, City Court Judge Francine Vero wrote in her decision.

In a written statement, defense lawyer Kevin Luibrand, who had asked the court to dismiss the case in the furtherance of justice, said: “Jamaica was treated different not because of anything she did on July 14, but because of who she was, what she was saying and how loudly she said it.”

Miles said in a statement: “Today’s decision does not only impact me. It impacts every single person who dares to stand up and speak out for what they believe in. I was targeted because I speak out against injustice and people listen. Saratoga (Springs) Police declared that they would stop the narrative, stop your speech, deny us justice. But today, the judge made a decision based on the furtherance of justice, something both the Saratoga Police Department and Saratoga District Attorney’s Office not only refused to do, but were in direct opposition to doing.”

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen expressed concern that Vero’s decision could set a bad precedent.

Vero cited Miles’ work feeding the hungry and her lack of a criminal record, among other factors.

“In this case, the Defendant’s volunteerism and commitment to serving the less fortunate members of her community, all while raising four children, have significant weight in deciding this motion,” Vero wrote of the co-founder of the activist group All of Us.

Miles was charged on Sept. 9 with unlawful imprisonment in the second degree, a Class A misdemeanor, and a violation charge of disorderly conduct. 

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Frandino had offered to dismiss the unlawful imprisonment charge as long as Miles pled guilty to the disorderly conduct.

Heggen criticized the judge’s decision and suggested it sent a dangerous message that people who don’t have criminal records and perform good acts in the community get a pass to break the law.

“This decision is about Ms. Miles’ background and community involvement and not her actions on July 14, 2021,” Heggen said. 

“My office proposed a disposition of a plea to a disorderly conduct that took that background and personal information into account, but was rejected by Ms. Miles,” Heggen said. “I am not surprised by the Court’s decision today as the Court, on a prior date, proposed a disposition of an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which Ms. Miles rejected.”

Heggen went on to say: “I am concerned that this decision sends the wrong message that someone can violate the law and stop traffic, but if you have a background with involvement in your community and family, that can sway a court to dismiss the charges against you. I believe this may invite others to do the same in the future.”

Heggen indicated her office would review the case-law cited by Vero to decide if it will seek an appellate review of the decision.

Miles and others participated in the protest just before 8 p.m. that July day.

She was part of a group observed on video footage obstructing traffic by standing in the southbound lane of Broadway at Phila Street.

Prosecutors said traffic was blocked and stopped by the group for more than 10 minutes, during which law enforcement received 911 calls, including one from a motorist who said he needed to get medicine for his heart condition.

Thirteen others were charged for their actions during the protest, including three white people and eight black people who received resolutions of adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or an ACOD. The resolution is an agreement between the district attorney’s office and the defense to have a case adjourned with a view toward having it dismissed.

Frandino had said Miles had the highest level of culpability because she led the group. 

The judge’s decision noted that Miles’ hadn’t engaged with the occupants of the complainant’s car, nor was she ever in earshot during the four occasions the vehicle’s occupants pleaded with protesters to move.

Miles’ attention and comments while using a bullhorn were directed toward others.

“It appears Miles was unaware the occupants were pleading with the protesters to move so they could proceed on the roadway,” Vero wrote.

Miles could have received up to a year incarceration for the unlawful imprisonment charge.

“There would be no purpose in imposing a jail sentence upon a 47-year-old woman who has never been arrested before, particularly for an offense when there is no harm other than delay,” Vero wrote.

Vero credited defense witnesses Mark Emanatian, executive director of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, who testified he’s known Miles for 12 years, describing her volunteer work for the Schenectady City School District and her role in securing state funding for teachers. He testified Miles volunteers at mass food distributions.

Also, Molly Dunn, a white city woman, testified she participated in the protest and blocked the car that was the subject of Miles’ charges. 

Dunn was charged for the same offenses as Miles. Dunn received an ACOD after 30 days.

Luibrand said last week that Dunn received a better offer from prosecutors because she’s white and Miles is Black. 

Vero’s decision said blocking traffic is a serious matter. But other than the delay to the vehicle’s occupants, no proof was offered that Miles had harmed the complainant.

Vero said there’s little question Miles’ actions constituted disorderly conduct, as the video evidence showed her blocking the path of the complainant’s car.

Vero’s decision also noted that the unnamed victim in the case did not testify or submit a written statement opposing Luibrand’s motion to dismiss the case. 

The protesters were present to decry comments made by since retired Assistant Police Chief John Catone, who had complained during a June 28 press conference that a recent spate of violence had been caused by gangs from Albany, and that the police department had been damaged by activists who were portraying officers as “racist killers.”

The longtime police official vowed to pull out “every single connection my family has made over the last 130 years, and I will stop your narrative.”

The timing of the charges, six weeks after the protest, has drawn scrutiny from the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

The attorney general’s office started an investigation to assess whether the protesters were targeted with excessive force and retaliatory arrests. 

Frandino addressed that scrutiny during last week’s court hearing.

The prosecutor said officers in attendance during the protest “purposefully and carefully waited, gathered all the digital evidence that they could [and] identified everyone they could from the videos and later issued warrants.”

“Law enforcement’s concern then, and law enforcement’s concern now, remains public safety, and to turn that afternoon into even more of a chaotic event would have endangered the safety of everyone on the street — protesters and onlookers alike,” Frandino had said.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

 

 

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

1 Comments
William Marincic January 25, 2022
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What if the person that she stop from getting home to get his heart medicine had died? That is a very real possibility whenever anyone blocks traffic during a protest. How does inconveniencing people help your narrative, it doesn’t and they know it.