NEW YORK—People with warrants out for their arrests for class C misdemeanors can have their cases resolved at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church Saturday, Aug. 17, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., without the risk of being arrested.
The church in Brooklyn was transformed into a courtroom Friday, as the Kings District Attorney’s Office and community groups brought project Safe Surrender to the predominantly African-American neighborhood. Through the program people with warrants out for their arrests can come before a judge to resolve their warrants and settle the original offenses.
The service can be life changing for some people, said Joseph Jones, the Project Safe Surrender liaison for the Kings District Attorney’s Office.
Jones relayed the story of a 17-year-old young woman, who, when the project started in 2010, walked four hours from Queens to Brooklyn, because she couldn’t afford a MetroCard.
The 17-year-old had a summons for being in a park after dusk. When she didn’t appear in court, the summons turned into an arrest warrant. She started skipping school because she was afraid she would get arrested, and was too scared to broach the subject with her mother.
Through Project Safe Surrender, the judge saw that the time written on the original summons said 5:30 p.m., and at that time of year it would have still been daylight. The charge was withdrawn, and the girl broke down in tears, Jones said. The young lady is now in her third year of college.
Jones said the last Safe Surrender at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in April helped 840 people get their summonses dismissed.
Project Safe Surrender can help people with outstanding summons warrants for possession of marijuana, possession of alcohol under the age of 21, littering, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, noise disturbances, failure to have a dog license, spitting, and loitering.
Ed Coleman from the MTA was also on hand to help resolve transit summonses. Such summonses are given out for things like putting feet up on seats in the train, drinking coffee on the train, fighting on the train, and walking through carriages.
Project Safe Surrender organizers sent out mailers to people with outstanding summonses on the District Attorney’s database, and also blanketed the streets with flyers, to allow people who need help to walk in off the street.
Council member Jumaane Williams provided $10,000 of the $30,000 required to cover costs and pay the court officers and court clerks for the two days. The other $20,000 was provided by a pastor from Long Island.
“We let everyone know that no one gets arrested, so that’s a very important component,” Williams said.
Kings District Attorney Charles Hynes said that several years ago he “learned to his horror” that about a quarter of a million people in New York City had warrants out for their arrests, and thousands of them were from Brooklyn.
In 2010, when Johnny Ray Youngblood, from Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, suggested the District Attorney’s Office offer to dismiss some minor misdemeanors, Hynes thought it was a great idea.
Howard Williams, rector of St. Augustine’s, said the church offered a safer environment for people, because people might feel afraid to go to court.
Hynes said people with arrest warrants hanging over their heads would have trouble getting well-paid jobs, and going to certain schools. Being unable to earn a living lawfully could encourage people to get involved in other types of crime.
He said since the project started in 2010, the District Attorney’s Office has helped around 3,000 people resolve their class C misdemeanors and get a certificate of disposition, through the program.
Around 145 people were working and volunteering at the church Aug. 16, including staff from the District Attorney’s Office, Legal Aid staff, court staff, court officers, and New York Criminal Court Judge Evelyn Laporte.
The next Safe Surrender will be held Sept. 6, at the Church of the Open Door, on Gold Street in Brooklyn.