The Riverhead News-Review recently published an editorial about the sentencing of a defendant who was driving under the influence when he struck cyclist Steven Kane, killing him on Route 25 in Calverton. I agree with the editorial; a sentence of just six months in jail seems short of justice and unfair to the Kane family as well as society as a whole.
But where was the editorial outrage in March of 2013, when a Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department correction sergeant, Christopher Dean, was sentenced to no jail time — just probation — after being convicted of driving under the influence after striking and killing a pedestrian on Route 24. The victim , Efren Ramirez, was a Guatemalan immigrant who worked two jobs to support his wife and three small children. The News-Review reported on this story including the sentence handed down to Sergeant Dean., yet didn’t write any editorial at that time taking the justice system to task for such an outrageous sentence. Why not? Equally as disturbing about the no jail time plea agreement that Mr. Dean was offered by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office , was the decision made by the sheriff’s department to not seek Sergeant Dean’s termination from employment. Sergeant Dean retained his law enforcement job as a correction sergeant. Think about the absurdity of this: Its possible that the defendant who ran down Mr. Kane and killed him while driving under the influence, who was sentenced to six months jail time, may now be under the supervision in the county jail by Sgt. Dean, who ran down, while under the influence, a pedestrian, Efren Ramirez, a husband and father of three children. I would never suggest that the News-Review places a higher value on the life of Mr. Kane than that of Efren Ramirez. However, it does bring up some important issues in terms of how the criminal justice system seems to treat some defendants and victims differently in terms of offering plea agreements. Let’s be honest, there are two justice systems here in Suffolk County, as well as America as a whole. Depending upon one’s race and social position in society, on a fairly routine basis, justice is dispensed very disparately. The two cases I discussed above illustrate our unequal system of justice. Now I am not some naive person who believes that our justice system treats every person equally. We all know the playing field is far from equal. However, I think in the two cases discussed herein, something is really wrong. Why would the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office agree to a plea, without jail time, in the DUI case that led to the death of Efren Ramirez? It’s hard to take DA Thomas Spota seriously when he talks about cracking down on driving under the influence while he allows such an outrageous plea agreement to occur? And why would the sheriff’s office not seek to terminate one of its correction officers who pleaded guilty to a DUI that also involved the defendant running over and killing a pedestrian? It raises questions about Sheriff Vincent Demarco’s public commitment aimed at targeting those driving under the influence? These are questions that I leave for the media and public to seek answers to. Jerry Bilinski is a case manager with a nonprofit group that advocates for incarcerated and mentally ill people. He lives in Riverhead.