New Westchester DA Revamps Conviction Review Unit, Puts A Public Defender in Charge


Westchester County’s new district lawyer, Mimi Rocah, is following by on her marketing campaign promise to revitalize her company’s conviction evaluation unit. This week, the county’s prime prosecutor introduced that Anastasia Heeger, a public defender and exoneration professional, can be heading the bureau, which is tasked with investigating claims of wrongful conviction.

Heeger beforehand served because the director of the Workplace of the Appellate Defender’s Reinvestigation Undertaking, the place she challenged potential wrongful convictions on behalf of low-income residents within the Bronx and Manhattan.

The choice to usher in Heeger, an outsider, marks a departure from the earlier DA’s administration, which had relied on a veteran prosecutor to guide case critiques.

“You’ll be able to’t presumably anticipate somebody who has been in a prosecutor’s workplace working alongside their colleagues to be utterly goal when taking a look at circumstances,” stated Rocah in an interview explaining her determination. She added that the appointment of a former exonerations lawyer will present a degree of experience that her company had beforehand lacked. “There’s nobody within the DA’s workplace who has expertise in doing exoneration work. It’s not one thing that you would be able to simply decide up sooner or later since you’re thinking about it.”

The Westchester DA additionally introduced a number of different new positions within the workplace. Jennifer Sculco, who beforehand helped deal with a corruption case towards corrections officers at Rikers for the New York Metropolis Division of Investigation, was made Deputy Bureau Chief of the company’s new Legislation Enforcement Integrity division. Brian Weinberg, who beforehand investigated political corruption in Mount Vernon for the state Lawyer Common’s Workplace, will lead non-law enforcement public corruption probes.

Rocah stated she hopes this week’s new hires will encourage members of the general public to deliver abuse and corruption allegations to her workplace. Throughout her marketing campaign final 12 months, she repeatedly criticized her predecessor for failing to correctly examine allegations of police corruption in Mount Vernon revealed in a collection of secret recordings captured by a police whistleblower and printed by Gothamist/WNYC.

Bobby Brown, a former Mount Vernon resident who says he was wrongfully convicted of drug expenses, stated the strikes gave the impression of first step. “It is an entire new 12 months. It’s one thing completely different,” he stated. “Any individual is wanting into issues that had been imagined to have been checked out a very long time in the past.” His lawyer, Karen Newirth of the Exoneration Undertaking, stated she hopes that the DA’s new conviction evaluation unit will examine Brown’s wrongful conviction declare.

The Westchester District Lawyer’s bulletins comply with an replace offered by the Mount Vernon Police Division final week about its departmental probe into the corruption allegations contained in tapes recorded by police whistleblower Murashea Bovell. 

In an announcement, a metropolis spokesman introduced that an inside police evaluation had cleared Sean Fegan, a sergeant who the whistleblower and one other officer within the tapes had beforehand accused of tolerating misconduct throughout his time as chief of the division’s narcotics unit. Fegan didn’t reply to Gothamist/WNYC’s request for remark. The spokesman additionally confirmed that one of many division’s former narcotics officers stays suspended whereas one other remains to be beneath lively investigation.

Two days later, the division additionally promoted Bovell, the whistleblower, to the rank of sergeant, his first promotion by rank since he joined the division greater than a decade in the past.

In a separate assertion, the Westchester County District Lawyer made clear that it’s presently conducting its personal investigation into the corruption allegations raised in Bovell’s tapes “in addition to different proof.” 

“We’ll work with all native police division inside affairs bureaus as mandatory and applicable,” stated Rocah. “Nevertheless, we need to make certain that Westchester residents perceive that our investigations will all the time be performed independently from any division the place personnel are beneath investigation. An area police division’s conclusions about its personal inside investigations can not and don’t signify the conclusions of the Westchester District Lawyer’s Workplace.” 

George Joseph reported this story for the Gothamist/WNYC Race & Justice Unit. If in case you have a tip, or if you happen to work or have labored in a prosecutor’s workplace, a regulation enforcement company or the courts, e-mail reporter George Joseph at You can even textual content him ideas through the encrypted telephone app Sign, or in any other case, at 929-486-4865.