Critiques of the Judiciary
Since the death of Sun-Ming "Sunny" Sheu from severe head trauma on June 26, 2010 outside his apartment, advocates who are seeking justice for him are convinced that he was murdered and that the failure of police to investigate his death is part of a cover-up. Sheu's friend, musician Will Galison, and Black Star editor, Milton Allimadi, have continued their probe into the circumstances surrounding Sheu's death, and in the best tradition of investigative journalism they are daring to speak truth to power. Reprinted below are articles describing their efforts and what they have uncovered.
On July 20, 2011, William Galison testified at a hearing before a special panel of commissioners chosen by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to determine whether state judges should receive a significant pay raise. Although Galison's testimony was severely restricted, he did manage to raise the issue of Sunny Sheu's suspicious death to the commission.
Excerpted from: "William Galison Testifies at the Committee on Judicial Compensation," [Video], uploaded 07/24/2011 by Ilovelawyers, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWivhbIVgMU, accessed 02/08/2012. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
Was Sunny Sheu, Foe of Judicial Corruption, Murdered?Activist Dead Weeks After Posting Video About His FearsPart One of a SeriesMILTON ALLIMADI with WILL GALISONJune 20, 2011
Since the death last summer of Sun-Ming "Sunny" Sheu, an activist fighting alleged judicial corruption in New York, his associates remain convinced that he was murdered and that police are not investigating his death because of a cover-up.
They point to the alleged kidnapping and death threats by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers that Sheu reported to the FBI, the highly suspicious circumstances of Sheu's injury, the contradictions in the official reports of his death, and most conspicuously, the lack of any investigation by law enforcement, even after Sheu's death was ruled "undetermined" by the Medical Examiner (ME), which makes an investigation legally mandatory.
They also cite a motive: the silencing of Sheu three days after he declared that he had discovered proof of felonies by a New York State Supreme Court judge.
Perhaps the most ominous evidence of foul play, his associates say, is the video Sunny Sheu made weeks before his deathnow posted on YouTubein which he predicts his own murder and names the parties he feels will be responsible, parties that include a sitting State Supreme Court judge and two detectives of the Queens District Attorney's Office who he claimed had "kidnapped" and threatened him months prior.
Sheu's associates also question why NYPD officers removed Sheu's body from the Queens hospital at 5 am, hours after his death, and transferred it to the Medical Examiner, who was provided with a letter stating that "no criminality" was involved, all without even a cursory investigation.
At the same time, Precinct 109, which was involved in the removal, insisted that Sheu had suffered "no head trauma," a position contradicted by the Medical Examiner who concluded that Sheu died of "blunt force trauma to the head with skull fractures and brain injuries."
Further darkening the story is the improper treatment of Sheu's body by the New York Queens Hospital and its false statements regarding his injuries. (The role of this hospital in the disposition of Sheu's body will be elucidated in Part Two of this series.)
Add the epilogue of NYPD's refusal to release relevant documents requested by this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and all the components of a deeply disturbing mystery are in place.
Whatever the direct cause of Sunny Sheu's tragic death, this is a story of grave national concern; it demonstrates from beginning to end the systemic failure of our government to protect the rights, and even the life, of a resident of the United States who had been threatened by government officials.
I first met Sun-Ming "Sunny" Sheu, an immigrant from Taiwan, when he asked me to write a story about his ten-year struggle with corruption at every level of New York government. Mr. Sheu was a small, wiry man, with a mischievous sense of humor who could express fierce outrage one moment and chuckle at the absurdity of it all the next. Though his English was rudimentary, he radiated intelligence and humble self-assurance. He felt that fighting for one's rights was a patriotic duty, a privilege of living in America that was, to some degree, its own reward.
Sheu's problem centered around his residential property, a simple
two-storyhouse in Flushing, which he said had been wrongfully wrested from him by a mortgage company with the aide of a judge, Joseph Golia of the State Supreme Court in Queens. He claimed Golia was "corrupt" and had consistently ruled against him and in favor of the bank to wrongfully ensure that he never recovered his property.
Judge Golia, through his law clerk Mitchell Kaufmann, today declined to comment or to be interviewed for this report. "The judge will not sit for an interview with you," Kaufmann said, adding that Judge Golia also would not respond, even if the questions were submitted in writing and by email message.
Sheu's story of his struggle with Judge Golia was so compelling that The Black Star News covered it in depth in a three-part series entitled "Junk Justice," which ran beginning in July 2009. The articles, which provide a detailed account of Sheu's struggle with mortgage fraud and alleged court corruption can be found online. What follows is a condensed and cursory version of the pertinent events.
The Background Story
Sheu's ordeal began over 10 years ago when a bank representative knocked on his door and said he was there to inspect the house for its new owner. The problem was that Sheu had never sold the house. It turns out that someone had forged critical documents and used them to illegally sell the property.
Sheu alerted all relevant authorities including the police, the bank that held the mortgage, and the title insurer of the property. Eventually the parties involved in forging the documents were prosecuted, pleaded guilty to forgery, and went to jail.
Sheu hoped that with all the evidence in his favor, the matter would be quickly resolved. It was actually only the beginning of his nightmare.
But Centex Home Equity, the bank that held the original mortgage, acted as if the fraudulent sale had been legitimate, ignoring all the documentation submitted by Sheu regarding the fraud, including the police report he had filed.
On December 12, 2001, Centex filed a lawsuit against Sheu in State Supreme Court, in Queens County. The bank asked for a default judgment on the property and foreclosure, claiming that the "new owners" were delinquent on mortgage payments. In reality, of course, there was never any legal "new owner."
The Centex case against Sheu went before Judge Golia. Sheu said he was stunned when Judge Golia ignored the obvious fact that the "sale" had been fraudulent, which would obviate the claim against him. Instead of immediately restoring Sheu's rightful ownership, he said, Golia allowed the lawsuit to proceed, eventually leading to the foreclosure of Sheu's home.
Worse yet, the judge let the case drag out for 10 years, with numerous postponements, in essence milking Sheu of all his resources. At some point, Sheu could no longer afford attorney fees and he had to represent himself.
Clearly, simple discovery (examination of documents by the court) would have proven the fraud in the alleged property sale, but Golia never allowed this fundamental judicial process to take place despite Sheu's numerous appeals, he said.
For 10 grueling years, Sheu said, he was consistently denied the opportunity to present evidentiary documentation proving that the fraud had taken place, and that Centex had no right to foreclose on his home.
Sheu's home was first foreclosed on January 28, 2005, and Centex "bought" the property for $1,000 from Amy Cheng, a pseudonymous fraudster involved in the fictitious sale. "How can you buy property from someone who does not exist?" Sheu had asked me, when I first started writing about his case.
Sheu also wrote to Centex executive Gerry King and New York State Chief Administrative Judgenow Chief JudgeJonathan Lippman, complaining about Judge Golia's conduct and accusing the judge of "discrimination" and "bias."
Sheu demanded that Golia recuse himself from the case; the judge refused.
Sheu was persistent, writing to numerous elected public officials and filing an appeal against the foreclosure. Aware that he had notified various elected officials about what he claimed were the "biased" rulings, Sheu said, Judge Golia eventually reversed his own earlier decision and rescinded the initial foreclosure, records showed.
Still, the judge refused to restore ownership of the property to Sheu.
Golia was so adamant to deprive him of justice, Sheu contended, that he came up with a remarkable decision. Golia now ruled that, even though Sheu's home had been illegally sold years earlier, since Centex had already paid off the mortgage, the bank now owned the property under the doctrine known as "Equitable Subrogation."
"How can equitable subrogation apply to stolen property?" Sheu said, in an interview with The Black Star News, referring to the fraudulent sale. "This means if I have a lot of money, like Centex, I can pay off anybody's mortgage anywhere without their permission and then take possession of their home and kick them out?"
Sheu continued to spar with Judge Golia. Finally, early in 2010, his property was foreclosed on again, this time conclusively.
Alleged Intimidation and Retribution
As Sheu realized that he could not expect a fair disposition of the case by Golia, he advised the judge that he would expose the judicial charade to the media.
Shortly thereafter, Sheu reported, he was contacted by Jason Garlick, an Assistant District Attorney at the Queens County DA's office, who had prosecuted the fraud case against the people who illegally "sold" Sheu's property. Sheu said that Garlick urged him not to contact the media. "How could he have known my plans to contact the media?" asked Sheu, "Only Judge Golia could have informed him."
Then, Sheu said, on January 14, 2009, when he emerged from the court house in Queens after filing papers in connection with his case, he was met by two detectives from the Queens County District Attorney's Office. According to Sheu, the men "showed their guns and badges," forced him into an unmarked car and drove him to the DA's office, where they entered through a back door. There, in a locked room, Sheu said, the officers berated, intimidated and threatened him, accusing him of harassing Judge Golia. He claimed one officer pounded on a desk and told him repeatedly that the house he was fighting for did not belong to him.
Sheu also reported that the detectives warned that if he went to the press or authorities, "you live in a dangerous neighborhood with gangs, and anything could happen to you." Understandably, Sheu took this as a direct threat against his life.
Sheu says that he was released after two hours, badly shaken and frightened for his life.
When contacted by this newspaper when the series of article about Sheu's case ran beginning in July, 2009, a spokesperson from the Queens DA's office, Kevin Ryan, confirmed that Sheu had indeed been taken by two detectives from the DA's office on the date in question, and that he had been "cooperative and willingly agreed" to accompany them, which Shue denied. Ryan never divulged the names of the detectives or the party who ordered the detention; he also didn't respond to a question about whether Judge Golia had filed a report about Sheu.
At this time, Sheu became so concerned for his safety that he contacted FBI agent Rachel Rojas of the New York Bureau, who started monitoring the case. Sheu also had a personal meeting with Rojas, accompanied by several of his associates.
Sheu followed up the meeting with a letter to Rojas, detailing the threats against his life and asking for witness protection.
In her responding letter, Rojas simply told Sheu to "be careful," an admonition Sheu found to be small comfort. When contacted by this newspaper while Sheu was still alive, agent Rojas declined to comment; she also did not respond to a phone message from The Black Star News after Sheu's death.
With this tepid response from the FBI, Sheu said he realized that he was basically on his own. Sheu, a man of considerable education and discernment, wondered if Golia's alleged blatant disregard of law in his case indicated a more general propensity for alleged corruption. Could he find evidence of other alleged improprieties by Golia?
Sheu Investigates Judge Golia
With this in mind, Sheu set out to investigate the personal financial disclosure filings of Judge Golia, which are public records available by request from the Office of Court Administration's (OCA) Ethics Committee. These filings detail the financial assets of all public officials as a means of curtailing potential conflicts of interest.
Sheu also searched the Internet for documentation of Golia's real estate holdings, hoping to find concealed assets that had not been declared on his financial disclosure forms. If he could prove financial impropriety by Golia, Sheu reasoned, perhaps he could get Golia removed from the bench and finally receive a fair hearing for his case from another judge.
Sheu, who was a computer expert, searched the Internet for evidence of properties he concluded were owned by Golia. Armed with a list of these properties, Sheu then went to the OCA Ethics Department to obtain Golia's financial disclosure forms.
According to Sheu, he discovered major discrepancies between Golia's actual properties and the ones declared on his financial disclosure forms, including a
million-dollarbeach house on Breezy Point on Long Island, which was described in a local magazine as belonging to the judge, and which is publicly listed as owned by the Golia family.
On November 29, 2009, Sheu alerted Janice Howard, the director of the OCA Ethics Department, of these apparent discrepancies.
Sheu's complaint included allegations that Judge Golia "...Failed to disclose fully his liabilities for 2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2008, in that he:
failed to disclose a mortgage held by HSBC under his wife "Roslaie Grecco" against the property
failed to disclose a mortgage held by HSBC of "Joseph Golia and Rosalie Golia"
failed to disclose "Rosalie Grecco" employment/ income/ property
failed to disclose "Hampton West" beach House (Breezy Point)
interest conflict, own Flushing Bank stock (Flushing Financial Corp) and using "connections" to get $750,000.00 in lower rate and mortgage more than the property market value, as NYC Dept. of Finance record, 2007 property market about $220,000.00."
This newspaper could not get Judge Golia to address the allegations that Sheu submitted to OCA; he declined to be interviewed.
Yet Janice Howard, director of the OCA Ethics Department, did ask for an amended financial disclosure statement from Golia.
By law, the amended disclosure form is the final opportunity for a public official to "come clean" about any errors or omissions on their original disclosure. The amended form is required to be submitted within two weeks of notice, but Sheu had to wait three months to receive the document from the judge.
Golia's Amended Financial Form
Finally, on June 23, 2010, Sheu was personally handed the amended disclosure form by Janice Howard at the Ethics Committee office. Sheu discovered that even the amended disclosure form still neglected to mention the beach house as well any of the other properties Sheu believed were owned by Golia.
The only asset Golia included on the amended disclosure form that had not been cited on the original was a "vacant lot" in Queens that Golia claimed was worth less than $1,000, and therefore did not require reporting.
When Sheu received the amended form at the Ethics Committee office, he was accompanied by two associates, one of whom recorded Sheu's reaction to reading the amended form. On the recording, Sheu can be heard exclaiming, "Now I've got him!
...I've got enough evidence to put Golia in Jail."
Three days later, Sunny Sheu was dead. His associates don't believe it was a coincidence.
Sheu's futile efforts to protect his life
The most terrifying aspect of Sunny Sheu's ordeal is that for two years after he was allegedly threatened by the detectives from the Queens DA's office, he could not find a government official or agency willing or able to investigate these alleged threats, or to offer him protection.
Sheu, an optimistic and philosophical man, often compared the United States with his original home in Communist China. He told his associates and others that, while in China whistleblowers were usually killed or imprisoned, he was certain that in the United States of America, those pursuing justice would ultimately prevail.
With this philosophy, Sheu was confident that if his story were known by the press and authorities, no one would dare harm him. That is why he came to The Black Star News, which covered his story in depth.
On numerous occasions, and in the presence of colleagues at this newspaper, this writer urged him to always be accompanied by a friend if he could, and to inform associates of his movements, "Even when you go out to the corner store to buy a can of soda, go with a friend." Still, I optimistically believed that no harm could befall him after this newspaper had publicized his case widely.
After reporting Golia's alleged ommissions on the financial disclosure forms to the OCA, Sheu attempted with new urgency to alert all appropriate individuals and agencies to his plight.
Among those he contacted directly were: State Senator John L. Sampson, State Senator Eric Adams, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Senate Judicial Ethics Committee, Presiding Judge Jonathan Lippman, Administrative Judge Anne Pfau, the Office of Court Administration Ethics Committee, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Queens DA, the NYPD, the CCRB, and the then Governor David Paterson, among others.
Sheu said that none of these individuals or agencies lifted a finger to help protect or defend him, or to investigate his allegations.
Finding government agencies and officials maddeningly unresponsive, Sheu again turned to the press. Apart from The Black Star News, no news organization would report or look into his claims of governmental threats against his life.
Sheu's video foretelling his death
On April 9, 2010, Sheu recorded a video statement that was later posted on YouTube. In the
two-minutevideo, Sheu expresses his fear for his life as a result of his investigation into Judge Golia's personal finances.
"I have filed a complaint to the FBI and the New York State Unified Court Disciplinary Committee about Judge Golia[s] [falsification of] his financial disclosure statement," Sheu, who spoke halting English, says.
"And I have submit[ed] evidence to the FBI. Recently [the] FBI returned [to] me cop[ies] of evidence that I sent to the FBI and today, April 9, [the] Unified Court Disciplinary Committee director Janice Howard called and [said] that judge Joseph Golia already amend[ed] his financial disclosure statement, which means my evidence is true."
Sheu's concluding statement is chilling: "I make this video for my safety.
...If anything wrong goes to me it should come from Judge Golia and his people [sic]..."
Little did he know that he had less than three months to live.
(The next installment will include a detailed examination of the circumstances surrounding Sheu's death and The Black Star News' futile attempts to get relevant information from law enforcement, including through an FOIA request.)Copyright 2011, Black Star News, Inc.
Adapted from: Milton Allimadi with Will Galison, "Was Sunny Sheu, Foe of Judicial Corruption, Murdered?" The Black Star News, New York, June 20, 2011, http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/7472/2011-06-20.html, accessed 02/08/2012. Milton Allimadi can be reached at Milton@blackstarnews.com. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
- See original article supra for links to additional information.
- See also: "The Murder of Sunny Sheu," http://www.sunnysheu.blogspot.com/ (accessed 02/11/2012).
- Letter of Dec. 11, 2011 to State Senator John L. Sampson from Milton Allimadi.
- Certificate of Death, Sun-Ming Sheu.
- Return to first series on Sunny Sheu's death.
Sunny Sheu's Death Ongoing Cover-up?Many Mysteries Remain in Death of Judicial Corruption FoePart Two of a SeriesWILL GALISONJuly 9, 2011
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 26, 2010, my cell phone rang and Sunny Sheu's name flashed on the caller ID. I was relieved to get the call, having been worried about his safety since our last meeting.
Three days earlier, Sunny, Dr. Sherry Brobowsky and I had visited the Office of Court Administration Ethics Department to pick up Judge Golia's amended financial disclosure form. In front of OCA officials, Sunny brazenly claimed that the amended form constituted proof of felony fraud by Judge Golia. If Sunny's allegations were founded, Golia could be in deep trouble, and Sherry and I worried about what might be done to quash Sunny's efforts. (Judge Golia declined an interview request from The Black Star News.)
Now, on June 26th when I lifted the phone and said "Hi Sunny," it was not Sunny's voice that answered; the caller identified himself as Officer Ramos of the 109th Precinct in Queens.
Ramos told me that a man, tentatively identified as Sun-Ming Sheu, had been found in a coma with severe head trauma and was now at the New York Hospital of Queens. My phone number, Ramos explained, was on the speed dial list, and Ramos had dialed the list sequentially in order to alert Sheu's colleagues of the injury and to summon someone to definitively identify the patient. He asked if I could come to the Hospital ASAP.
I immediately suspected the worst.
I called Sherry, who drove into the city from Yonkers to pick me up and take me to the Hospital. As I waited for her to arrive, I hastily uploaded the video that Sunny had made weeks earlier for YouTube, praying that Sheu's prediction of violent retribution had not come to pass.
Before entering the hospital, I activated my cell phone video and sound recording app, and positioned the phone in my breast pocket so its camera could capture whatever was to unfold.
Sherry and I arrived at the emergency room at 8:15 pm. We were greeted by Dr. Zasheen Ahmed, a
29 year-oldresident, and an Emergency Room nurse named Laura. The pair stood in front of a closed curtain.
"I'm sorry" Ahmed said, "We just covered him up."
The video recorded a silence as the meaning of these words sank in, then Sherry gasped and I cried, "No, no, no."
As the initial shock subsided, Dr. Ahmed asked us if we could identify the body. With his hair slicked back and his lifeless eyes and mouth half open, it was not immediately clear that this had been Sunny, but after examining his face and hands, we acknowledged that the body was our friend's.
At Dr. Ahmed's direction, we wrote down our names and numbers on a blank piece of paper and verbally confirmed Sunny's identity.
Sherry then asked the doctors what they knew about Sunny's injuries. Because of the call from Ramos citing head trauma, Sherry assumed that there were external wounds and fractures.
Here is how the conversation went:
Dr. Ahmed: "We've got a CAT scan of his head. He's got a massive bleed throughout his brain. It's called a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage."
Sherry: "Did you relieve the pressure?"
Dr. Ahmed: "No."
Sherry: "Why not?"
Dr. Ahmed: "First of all, this wasn't traumatic most likely. There's no signs of trauma on his head, there's no fractures."
Dr. Ahmed and Laura went on to say, "There was not a scratch on his head, not a bump, not a lump, nothing." When asked why Officer Ramos had cited head trauma to four different people, Ahmed replied, "Sometimes they make mistakes."
Sherry and I then asked Dr. Ahmed if he would speak to us in private. In a nearby hallway, we told him that we suspected foul play because of the suspicious timing of the death as well as the death threats he had reported in his video. We asked Ahmed if he would double check for any signs of trauma, and he agreed that he would and would let us know if his opinion changed. Before we left, Nurse Laura surprised us by giving us Sunny's cell phone, wrapped in a plastic evidence bag.
Then Sherry and I left the hospital to get some air and assess the situation.
Outside the hospital, Sherry phoned the 109th Precinct and asked to speak with the Precinct Captain, Chris Austin. Sherry informed Austin of the threats against Sheu's life and asked Austin to send a detective to take a statement about Sheu.
Austin refused and told us to come to the Precinct house to give a statement. At this suggestion we looked at each other and shook our heads. Under the circumstances, we felt it was wiser to decline the invitation. Austin told Sherry his detectives determined there was no foul play; that a witness had seen Sheu fall and that he had suffered no head trauma at all. Sheu died of an aneurism, he told us, echoing Dr. Ahmed.
I whispered to Sherry to mention the video Sunny had made, and when she did there was a silence. Then Austin yelled: "YouTube?
...It's on YouTube? Why didn't he come to us?"
Of course, Sunny had gone to the 109th many times, as well as to the Queens DA, the FBI, the CCRB, the Attorney General, Internal Affairs, and the Commission on Judicial Conduct, among others. No one had done a thing to investigate his allegations of death threats against him.
Sherry and I reentered the hospital and encountered Dr. Ahmed in the lobby. Spontaneously, he told us that he had been thinking about the earlier conversation, and wanted to reassure us that there was no head trauma.
Sherry drove me home and we went over every word, gesture and nuance of the evening. In addition to our grief and disbelief, several things did not sit comfortably with us, particularly the assessment of no head trauma. Why would Officer Ramos make that up?
I had strangely conflicting emotions that night. Of course, I was devastated by the loss of my friend, but was there any solace in the notion that he had died "naturally"? If Sunny had died of natural causes, albeit brought on by 10 years of excruciating stress, there could be some relief in the idea that his time had simply come, without a grisly murder or terrifying conspiracy behind his death.
On the other hand, it seemed tragically ironic that, after years of abuse by the authorities, Sunny should die from "natural" causes, while his tormentors carried on without consequence.
The next day, Sherry received a call from the ER "Head Nurse" at the hospital. Sherry was told that she needed to come back to the hospital to officially identify the body again, as the proper identification forms had not been signed.
Sherry was also told that she must return Sheu's cell phone to the hospital at once for "family members." This was peculiar, as Sunny had no family in the United States that we knew of, and clearly we were the only ones who had identified the body and were effectively "next of kin." As Sherry couldn't get to the hospital on Monday and I couldn't get there on Tuesday, Sherry asked if Wednesday would be alright. She was told that the body would certainly be there on Wednesday.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, June 30th, we returned to the hospital.
We were directed to the Admitting Office where we spoke to Ernesto Macasaet, the Supervisor of Admissions for New York Hospital, Queens. Again, I had my iPhone record the exchange. To our shock, Macasaett told us the body was no longer at the hospital.
"What I can tell you is that [Sheu was] identified by the [109th] Precinct," he told us, "and the Medical Examiner has taken the body.
We had the police officer identify the patient, gave us the name, and it was a Medical Examiner case".
Sherry objected: "There is no officer that knew him " Macasaet cut her off, saying, "Not that they knew him, I don't know how [they identified him]
the police officer identified him. I don't know what documentation he had, but we were given information from the police officer that he was identified."
Macasaet would not divulge the names of the 109th Precinct police or the time of day that they had requested the transfer of the body. He only said, "Sunday morning." Information gained later through New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests by The Black Star News showed that the police had arrived at 5:00 am on Sunday morning to remove the body, only nine hours after his death.
We were stunned. The implications of this development were staggering.
Why would police take Sheu's body from the Hospital at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning, or have any interest in Sheu's body when there was no "indication of criminality"?
Under what circumstance, if any, can a body not yet officially identified by next of kin be legally removed from a hospital by people who have no relationship to the decedent and no means of identifying him?
How did this "police officer" know what Sunny Sheu looked like in order to "identify" him, and what documentation did he provide to prove he could identify him?
Macasaet, the Supervisor of Admissions, admitted the truth on the recording: "I don't know what documentation he had." Not only were the police not authorized to take the body, the hospital had no legal right to release it to them.
So where was the body now? Macasaet first told us that the body had been taken to the Manhattan morgue, but a colleague interrupted and told us that it was in fact at the Queens morgue, which made more sense to us.
We drove to the Queen's County Morgue.
There, we were referred by the receptionist to Deputy ME, Dr. Corrine Ambrosi, who was from the outset helpful, courteous and forthcoming. She seemed appropriately sympathetic for our loss and eager to help. Ambrosi had been told which case we were concerned about and she held the folder documenting Sheu's case.
My first question was: "Excuse me doctor, but how did you know that this was Sunny Sheu's body?"
Dr. Ambrosi replied that the file contained the name of the person who identified the body and his relationship to the deceased. She leafed through the folder and when she reached the pertinent page I noticed her eyes widen. "That's strange," she exclaimed, "there's no record of anyone having identified the body."
I am over six feet tall, and standing beside Dr. Ambrosi I could see the pages of the folder as she went through them. At one point I saw a page with the schematic figure of a male body from the rear. At the back of the skull, just above the neck was a dark, vigorously drawn circle in blue ball-point ink, with a line leading from it to the description,
I cautiously broached the question: "I don't know if you can tell me, but was there any head trauma?"
Ambrosi: "I'm not keeping anything from you." She paused. "Yes, there certainly was."
This was the moment I realized we were swimming in very deep water. Why had Captain Austin and Dr. Ahmed denied that there had been head trauma?
Officer Ramos, who had clearly reported to Austin, and Dr. Ahmed had provided incorrect information.
I felt a jolt of adrenaline and discreetly kicked Sherry's leg as Dr. Ambrosi continued to flip through the pages of the autopsy report, suddenly appearing a bit more subdued.
My Call to the Medical Examiner
I now realized that I possessed information that could implicate some individuals in foul play in connection with Sunny Sheu's death.
After about a week, I called Dr. Michael Greenberg, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy. At the time I called, Dr. Greenberg had already officially determined the "manner of death" as "natural."
The "cause of death" describes the physical means of a death such as stabbing, shooting, trauma, heart attack etc., whereas the "manner of death" describes the legal status of the death. The categories of "manner of death" include: natural, accidental, homicidal, suicidal, or undetermined if the others could not be readily established. The significance of a "manner of death" determination is that, under New York law, an "undetermined" death has to be investigated, whereas a "natural" death does not.
Here is how my conversation with Greenberg went:
Me: "What happened to [Sunny Sheu]?"
Dr. Greenberg: "From what I understand, he collapsed and struck his head on the ground, which resulted in bleeding around the brain."
Me: "Is it possible that he was struck on the head before he fell to the ground?"
Dr. Greenberg: "According to the police report that I got, he was witnessed and just collapsed
but from the autopsy itself it was impossible to tell how the injuries were sustained. It was consistent with him collapsing on the ground, but if I didn't have this witness story, I probably would have left it undetermined for now."
Me: "So if there hadn't been a witness, it would be an open question as to what happened?"
Dr. Greenberg: "Right, Yeah, Right."
The "police report" or "witness story" that convinced Greenberg to initially determine that the death was "natural" was later acquired by The Black Star News through a FOIL request to the Medical Examiner. The same document was earlier denied to The Black Star News by the NYPD. The "report" was actually a note, written by the NYPD liason to the Medical Examiner's office, Detective Grant, attributing the information to Chris Austin, Detective and then Captain of the 109th Precinct. It read:
THE UNDERSIGNED [Detective Grant] CONFERED WITH DET AUSTIN 109th PCT SQUAD. He reports that the decedent was witnessed to collapse at the above location. THE 911 CALLER WAS INTERVIEWED BY EMS AND POLICE OFFICERS. THE 911 CALLER STATED THAT THE DECEDENT WAS WALKING WITH A PEDOMETER IN HIS HAND WHEN HE COLLAPSED. THE SQUAD IS HOLDING THIS CASE AS AN ACCIDENT WITH NO CRIMINALITY.
So the 109th Precinct had concluded that there had been "no criminality."
Yet, as Dr. Greenberg himself admitted, it was precisely the memo from Austin that led to his initial determination of "natural" death. Perhaps my questions made Greenberg reassess his conclusion, because days after the conversation, Greenberg changed his determination of the manner of death from "natural," which requires no investigation, to "undetermined," which under New York law requires an investigation.
The report from Austin to the ME raises a host of difficult questions not yet answered by Captain Austin and the NYPD:
Who is this witness who called 911 and was interviewed by EMS and police officers? Why will police not supply this witness' name to The Black Star News after the newspaper requested it through FOIL? Even the intensely personal 911 calls made by the victims of 9/11 are available to the public, because that is what the law requires.
It surely can not be on account of an ongoing criminal investigation, because Detective Grant's note, which attributes the information to Austin, specifically states that there is "no criminality." Why is the NYPD refusing to release the identity or interview of this witness?
If a witness had been there, how would the police know that the witness did not see Sheu collapse moments after being struck on the head? What's more, how was the witness cleared by the police of a possible role in Sheu's death?
Furthermore, how could Austin say that, "the squad is holding the case as an accident with no criminality," when no investigation had been conducted?
There are other glaring inconsistencies.
The "Time of the injury" was recorded at "18.15," which is 6:15 pm. But the first call Officer Ramos made from Sunny's phone was at 4:29 pm, reporting that Sheu had suffered "head trauma." A typographical error, or did Ramos know about Sheu's injuries nearly two hours before the 911 call?
When I spoke by telephone to a Detective Ardisano at the 109th Precinct over two weeks after Sheu's death, he said he was unaware of the incident I was referring to. Clearly, Austin had never consulted Detective Ardisano, who is on the homicide squad, so he cannot truthfully claim that "the Squad is holding this as an accident with no criminality." When Ardisano looked up the case, he said the records showed that Sheu died "naturally" of an "aneurism," with no head trauma, and that no witness was mentioned.
I asked Ardisano: "If the ME had discovered that something had happened to him, like trauma, would they have reported that back to you?"
Ardisano: "They would have to."
Me: "right away?"
It was clear to me that Ardisano was "out of the loop." Had he been involved with a cover-up he would not have contradicted his Captain's account of Sheu's death.
Later, when Black Star News' Milton Allimadi reached Dr. Ahmed by phone, Ahmed made a stunning revelation, as Allimadi recounts:
Allimadi: "Do you believe there was foul play involved?"
Dr. Ahmed: "Yes."
Dr. Ahmed also confirmed to Allimadi that there had been head trauma. He declined to elaborate, citing patient's privacy, and referred Allimadi to a hospital spokesperson who would not respond to a question about why the body was released to the police.
This is the time for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to become involved in this matter.
The Black Star News sent a letter via certified mail to Commissioner Kelly, raising questions about the Sheu case, and copied the letter to the Mayor.
The newspaper has yet to receive a response.
(Part Three will examine who authorized the hasty cremation of Sheu's body, and who now owns the house wrongfully taken from Sheu a house that may have cost him his life in the end.)Copyright 2011, Black Star News, Inc.
Adapted from: Will Galison, "Sunny Sheu's Death Ongoing Cover-up?" The Black Star News, New York, July 9, 2011, http://blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/7509/2011-07-09.html, accessed 02/08/2012. Will Galison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
JUDGE WALTER NIXON JUDGE ROBERT COLLINS JUDGE THOMAS PORTEOUS JUDGES FOR SALE POLICE STATE IN NEW ORLEANS JUDGES HELPING LAWYERS TILTING THE SCALES JUDGE BRENT BENJAMIN FIXING THE JUDICIARY LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT
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