Paterson Aide Charged With Assault

Friday, August 13, 2010

A top aide to Gov. David Paterson has been charged with assault for a domestic violence dispute that kicked off an evidence-tampering investigation against the governor and forced Paterson to give up his bid for a full term.

David Johnson entered a plea of not guilty Thursday afternoon as he stood stone-faced in handcuffs and a dark blue suit. He's facing misdemeanor charges for assault, menacing, and criminal mischief and one charge for harassment, a violation. The judge released Johnson on his own recognizance, but issued an order of protection directing Johnson to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker.

In the criminal complaint, prosecutors say Johnson grabbed Booker by the neck last Halloween and lifted her entire body off the floor before ripping off her clothes. Then, according to the criminal complaint, Johnson told her, "You're not going anywhere. I'll [expletive] kill you before I let you go anywhere."
 
Booker said Johnson tried to stop her from calling the police but eventually left the residence. She called 911 three times, at one point telling officers she was scared Johnson would come back to "finish the job."

Police officers said they didn't arrest Johnson that night because they saw no injuries -- but prosecutors say Booker had marks on her neck, arms and leg, and had difficulty swallowing after the attack. Because the police classified the incident that night as "harassment," a violation, the case was never referred to investigators. Domestic violence prevention advocates say police officers made several mistakes when they failed to arrest Johnson, and they say this case highlighted common lapses by the department when it comes to domestic violence investigations in New York City. A clerical error by police later wrongly classified the incident as "unfounded." Officers told Booker to seek a protective order on her own, but failed to tell her how to do so.

Within days, Booker went to Family Court to seek a protective order against Johnson. She told officials there that "the state troopers kept calling and harassing me to drop the charges." Booker failed to appear for a hearing after Paterson made a phone call to her, prompting an investigation into whether the governor tampered with witnesses during an ongoing domestic violence case. But a report by retired judge Judith Kaye found no criminal activity by anyone, except possibly Johnson.

Johnson has been suspended without pay since February, when news of the alleged attack first broke. Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said Thursday that his status has not changed. His next court date is October 14.  

Paterson, coincidentally, is expected to sign legislation Friday that would make strangulation a crime even if there are no physical injuries on the victim. Under current New York law, strangulation is not even a misdemeanor if it leaves no physical injuries.

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