Making the Most of a False Arrest

In this guest post, Dr. Jerome Krase reflects on an experience of false arrest in the 1990’s and the perils of navigating academic, legal, and political systems.  Dr. Krase is a public activist-scholar serving as a consultant to public and private agencies regarding urban community issues residing in Brooklyn who writes regularly on local and global social and political issues.  

The following, slightly edited, first person narrative was originally published in The Brooklyn Free Press in the Spring of 1998 as “Bill, Me and Sexual McCarthyism.” It is the kind of experience most people, not to mention, college professors would rather forget. I am grateful for the creation of a space to Write Where it Hurts to share and reflect upon very personal and emotional aspects of my own teaching and research.

Bill Clinton and I have two things in common; we both lean to the left and have been accused of sexual misconduct. The similarity ends there. Bill did “it”. I didn’t. For most of us an accusation of Sexual Harassment or Sexual Abuse would be punishment enough. In my case, the accuser, someone I choose to call Student X, understood the power of Sexual McCarthyism by which the fear of even unfounded accusations leads one to silence. He was also aided and abetted by incompetent and indifferent public authorities who assumed that their crimes of omission would be covered up by my embarrassment. I will not be silent.

For years critics have complained about “standards” at The City University of New York. Having gone through a year of personal hell I can tell you that the “standards” of officials in the Police Department, Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, PSC/CUNY Faculty Union, and Brooklyn College are much lower than those of my most unprepared students.

March 25, 1998, 10:30 A.M. I stood in Criminal Court as Bogus Charges of Sex Abuse in the Third Degree against me were dismissed. How I got to this low point in my life is a story only Kafka could appreciate.

Tuesday, December 2, 1997, 6:30 P.M. Brooklyn College. While I was addressing my class Student X entered, tossed a second rewrite of his failed mid-term onto my desk and made his way to the back of the overcrowded classroom. It had an extra page for “Comments by Professor Jerome Kraze.” When he became disruptive I indicated that he should leave. He went out, but stood in the hallway glaring at me through the open door. I closed it. He opened it. I closed it. He opened it, stepped into the classroom, kicked in the doorstop, and then retook his post outside. I closed the door again. During the next hour and a half he entered and left the class at least twice more. Finally it was time for the student evaluation. Mr. X asked what was going on. I told him to listen to the student proctors. I smelled alcohol. He wanted to speak with me, “Now!” I hurried out and down the long corridor. He stayed on my heels, muttering. “You going down the elevator?” I knew it was not a good idea.

On the escalator, I told him he was a problem in class. He said the “other colleges said the same thing”. He called me “the white professor”. I said if he didn’t leave me alone I would go to Security. He said if I reported him, he would report me. At the exit, I asked the guard to hold him while I went to my car.

Thursday morning, December 4. Brooklyn College. I spoke to Dr. Wertheim in Counseling about my problem student. Her first question was “Do you have tenure?” Then she said protect yourself and contact the Student Life Office for disciplinary action. She asked for his name and social security number. She left me a copy of “How to Identity, Assist and Refer Students with Personal Problems and/or Disruptive Behavior” in her office. I never heard from her again.

I assumed that Student X was entitled to “special” protections because of mental or emotional problems. In the past, such “persons” had been placed in my classes because I was a “sensitive” instructor. I called the Vice President for Student Life to find out his status. He was at a meeting. I was referred to his assistant, who was also not available. They sent me “forms” to fill out.

Sunday evening, December 7. There was a message to call Professor Natov at home. She informed me that Student X had accused me of Sexual Harassment. He also made a complaint to the Police that I had “grabbed his groin” on the escalator. She said the charge is unbelievable but the school is required to go through a process. I told my wife, three daughters, son-in-law, and my daughter’s police office fiancé, Juan Carlo, who all had joined us for dinner. They thought I was joking. I called my chairperson. He said, “not to worry”.

After several unanswered calls Juan Carlo and I took a ride to the 70th Precinct and found the civilian clerk eating at her desk while the phone rang off the hook. Student X had filed complaint #14135 that I had “grabbed comp in his groin area”. I filed complaint # 14307 against him. I was assured it would be treated as another “he said-he said” dispute. I called an NYPD lawyer friend of mine. He felt there was no need for me to get an attorney because the police are required to make a thorough investigation.

Monday morning, December 8. I called Student Life VP Hillary A. Gold. He had already seen the student’s accusation. I asked him to bar the student from the college and protect me. He couldn’t do anything until he “had paper” on the student. I made an appointment with his assistant, Dr. Williams. He said he would call back. He never did. Later that day, Public Safety Director Donald A. Wenz, called. Mr. Wenz said he had assigned me a guard. There were, however, no notes in the Security Log about the incident.

Mid-day, Tuesday, December 9. Dr. Williams said she had worked in the Brooklyn DAs Office and “it seems like an ex-con thing”. Student X didn’t have the course pre-requisites and she was not surprised he was floundering. I asked if she heard from Dr. Wertheim from Counseling. She said the offices don’t communicate with each other.

I went to my class. The students were worried because they heard him muttering threats, saw Student X follow me out of class, and also had smelled “liquor” on his breath. They tried to call me but something was wrong with the phones. When two female students were bringing the student evaluations back to the office Student X verbally abused and threatened them. A Security Guard intervened. Later that night Student X, confronted and threatened one of them on the subway. I asked them to tell the security guard what had happened. He told them to go to Security to fill out forms.

After class, I was told to call Detective Belgrave at the Seven O. I told my story, and what I learned that night. He had already spoken to Brooklyn College. He reassured me that he thought the charge was false, but had to proceed. I informed him that I had filed a counter complaint against Student X. He said he would interview him, and that I should call him on Thursday.

Wednesday morning, December 10. I called a NYC official, for help and advice. He said he didn’t think there would be a problem. Then I called Dr. Williams’s office about what I learned from the students on Tuesday night and about the guards not taking notes or filing reports. She said they were “not required” to.

Later that day my friend-the-official called to say that the best he could do was that I not be put “through the system” (held overnight for arraignment). I told him that my son-in-law-the-dentist thinks I should get a criminal attorney. He agreed it was a good idea. I called Detective Belgrave and asked him to complete the processing in time for me to meet my Thursday classes. I left a message for my lawyer about my impending arrest.

Early Thursday morning, December 11. My wife and my first-year-law-student-daughter accompanied me to the 70th Precinct where we met Belgrave who said he was sympathetic but must arrest me. He asked me how I spelled my name. I told him. He smiled. Student X had said my name was spelled Kraze.

Belgrave left the room several times. During one trip another detective called out that there was a lawyer (mine) on the phone looking for him. When he returned they said nothing to him. I told him that my lawyer had called. He said it was “too late”.

The detectives were comedians. The Columbian Association representative was trying to recruit them. One said: “Where’s the headquarters of the Columbians, the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club?” When I was taken for my mug shot another called out “Get the Brooklyn College ID in the shot!”

As a Black police officer, Belgrave didn’t seem to have much rapport with the Caucasian wise guys. But his own ironic racism had more subtle expressions. He explained that Student X was “credible” because he wore “clean” pants, and “spoke well,” as if this was unusual for Black complainants. I asked Belgrave if he contacted any of my other students. He hadn’t. I asked him if he would act on my complaint. He said “No.”, because it was only a Class E. Misdemeanor. I said as a “Bias Crime”, it was a felony. He said he would check with his Lieutenant. I never heard from him again. He handed me a Desk Appearance Ticket for January 12, 1998 to answer to a charge of Sex Abuse 3.

Friday, December, Court Street. 8:30 A.M. My attorney informed me that District Attorney, Charles Joseph Hynes, had implemented a Mandatory Arrest Policy in cases of domestic violence and sex abuse. By his fiat the IV, V and XIV Amendments to the United States Constitution no longer applied in Kings County. Hynes allegedly told defense attorneys; “I don’t care if they can prove they were in bed with a judge at the time.” I became a victim because the NYPD and the DA had been burned too often for not arresting really dangerous people. And, perhaps because Hynes needed Black support in the gubernatorial primary, justice for a white man who was brought to the Abner Louima Precinct for sexually abusing a black man was impolitic.

I asked my attorney how much this was going to cost. He said although I can’t be convicted, it could cost a lot. He told me to forget about “justice”. It is merely a “process”. He said the DA’s Office would contact him. They never did. He advised me against participating in the Sexual Harassment hearings.

A few days later I asked my union for help. They didn’t believe that what the college had done to me was a “grievance”. The PSC/CUNY Union attorney advised that although the union is sympathetic it can’t help, but for my $600 a year dues he did wish me “Good luck.”

December 16. I learned that Student X was a transfer student from an upstate Community College, that he failed the CUNY Quantitative and Writing Entrance Exams, and that he should not have been in my advanced Sociology class.

Monday, January 12, 1998. My wife and daughter came with me for my first court appearance at 9:30 A.M. at 120 Schermerhorn Street. My lawyer told us to get there early. It was good advice. The ground floor lobby was a huge cattle pen, and the line of innocents-until-proven-guilty flowed outside and snaked around the corner. We took off our jewelry, and emptied our pockets. I took off my belt. We put our things in a basket, handed it to a court officer, and went through a metal detector. Then we crammed ourselves onto an elevator. We waited in the hallway outside the courtroom for an hour. When my attorney arrived they told him my files were not there. He asked for a new date. I asked what was going on. He said it was normal – “It’s part of the process.”

The next day, I received a Certified Registered letter from Brooklyn College dated January 12, 1998. It read in part: “…I concur with the “findings that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation of sexual harassment.” Sincerely, President Vernon E. Lattin, Brooklyn College. I faxed my attorney a copy.

Thursday morning, February 19. My wife and I made our second Court appearance. Although some of the paper work was still not presented charges were filed against me. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK V. JEROME KRASE…THE DEFENDANT DID GRAB INFORMANT’S GROIN AREA WHILE TRAVELLING ON AN EXCALATOR OF THE BROOKLYN COLLEGE. I pleaded “Not guilty”. Student X was granted an Order of Protection against me. My attorney asked for another court date.

Wednesday morning, March 25. We made our third court appearance. The prosecution was still not ready to proceed so my attorney moved to dismiss because the case had not met some requirement. After a discussion with the ADA his motion to dismiss was approved without opposition. I was not elated. I had to pay $5 for each copy of my Certificate of Disposition #502235. I sent one to President Lattin of Brooklyn College.

My attorney explained that although my record would be officially sealed, my name was now “in the system”. I got to hope that another 40 year old black male doesn’t walk into a station house and say he was grabbed by a middle-aged blue eyed white male with a Ph.D.

I have since learned that at one of the Sexual Harassment hearings Student X appeared drunk. He denied he disrupted the class during the night in question as described by other student witnesses. He also refused to account for several years of his life history. Student X took four or five classes in the Fall 1997 Semester. Two or three were remedial. He received only one grade – an “S” for Remedial Writing (Probably for my mid-term essay rewrite). In the Spring he registered for two classes but never attended them.

I asked Brooklyn College to bar Student X from campus for my own protection, and that of the other faculty, staff, and students. The College sees no need to bar him from campus. If he comes they will refer him to the Office of Student Life where “He will be advised that he is neither to contact you nor to retaliate against you…” And, appropriate security measures will be taken.

I asked the College to pay for a criminal attorney if Student X makes another false charge, and also reimburse me for my first attorney. Pamela Pollack, the college attorney, said she’d get back to me on that. She never did.

Finally, I asked why after learning all they had about Student X, even before my first court appearance, the college never contacted my attorney, the Police Department, or the District Attorney. Counselor Pollock said they never called. My attorney was right, it is just a process, and, I might add, one that never seems to end.

As I have reflected on this experience over the years, I have increasingly thought about what might have happened to me had I not been so privileged. I was, as he said, a “white professor.” I also had political connections enough not to suffer the immediate consequences of arrest. What would have happened had the alleged victim been a white woman and I a black professor or fellow student? There was also some implication on the part of police that I was Jewish and gay, and was hitting on black students so anti-Semitism and homophobia may have also played a role in their lack of interest in investigating the accusation. There are so many ways in which this could have been played out, but the most important factor in broadcasting my troubles was my wife’s insistence that I write and publish the story as soon as the charges were dropped. It should be noted that only the student in this story remains unnamed. Given the suggestion that he had been incarcerated, as an African-American male he was more of victim than I. I was just a more or less convenient target for his rage.