N.Y. State Police chief retires amid scandal

By Michael Gormley
Associated Press / March 3, 2010

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ALBANY, N.Y. - New York State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt is abruptly retiring effective today amid a domestic violence scandal threatening Governor David Paterson.

Corbitt announced his retirement late yesterday on Capital News 9 and didn’t give a reason. He is the second law enforcement official claimed by the scandal.

Corbitt has acknowledged that a police official had contact with a woman who had accused a top Paterson aide of roughing her up last fall in the Bronx. Soon after, the woman dropped her case against the aide, David Johnson.

Corbitt’s boss, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O’Donnell, resigned a week ago. She said direct contact by the governor and troopers with the woman was “unacceptable’’ regardless of their intent.

Meanwhile, Paterson discussed his political future with the head of the state’s Democratic Party yesterday, hours after the National Organization for Women joined the voices urging him to resign because of a report that he had staff members contact a woman about her allegation of abuse by a top aide.

Paterson still has his side of the story to tell, and it “explains an awful lot,’’ said Jay Jacobs, State Democratic chairman, who met with him at the governor’s mansion.

“I did not get the sense that the governor is considering resignation, that resignation is pending,’’ said Jacobs, whom Paterson, a longtime friend, picked for the job.

“There shouldn’t be any more shoes to drop,’’ he said, referring to The New York Times articles that have reported on the case. “The sense I got from him is there won’t be.’’

NOW is highly influential in Democratic politics and called for the governor’s resignation despite what it considers Paterson’s “excellent’’ record of strong support for women’s issues and in combating domestic violence.

“It is inappropriate for the governor to have any contact or to direct anyone to contact an alleged victim of violence,’’ said Marcia Pappas, president of NOW New York State.

“This latest news is very disappointing for those of us who believed the governor was a strong advocate for women’s equality and for ending violence against women.’’

“It is now time for the governor to step down,’’ she said in the written statement.

There was no immediate comment from Paterson’s office. Some leading Democrats have said he should resign to avoid further damage to the party in the 2010 elections. Paterson has said he did nothing wrong and won’t resign.

Sherruna Booker told police she was roughed up on Halloween last year by Paterson aide David Johnson, her boyfriend at the time, but she decided not to press charges. At issue is whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced her decision.

Paterson has acknowledged that he spoke with Booker but said she initiated the call and that he did not try to get her to change her story or not pursue a charge.

The New York Times yesterday provided new details on Paterson’s involvement in the matter, reporting that the governor had personally directed two state employees to contact the woman.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo - often mentioned as a potential governor by the very critics dogging Paterson - is investigating the contacts, at Paterson’s request. Any criminal case will hinge on whether Paterson, staff members, or state bodyguards tried to get Booker to change her story, making charges of witness tampering or obstructing justice possible.

On Monday, the governor said he would serve out his term, which has less than a year left.