By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
Callender says the training paid off on the day of the arrest. This time, he was prepared—unlike in his previous arrests.
There was the time, for example, when he'd seen a couple of men try to break up a fight between two of his female friends. Thinking that his friend was being attacked—and not realizing that the men were undercover police officers—Callender punched one of the men.
"I looked hideous after they finished with me," he says.
In other situations, Callender also reacted angrily toward police officers, screaming at them and threatening them and making the situation worse.
But this time, after his Bushwick Community training, Callender took the lead, telling the other students to stay calm and follow orders.
"Without the training, we would have acted really harshly. But from the time we seen the police, we pretty much knew we weren't doing anything wrong. We knew we weren't breaking any law. We were just walking around the block in the normal fashion. We knew it wasn't unlawful assembly. It just so happened that they still locked us up and arrested us anyway. But, you see, us having the composure and understanding not to act out, so the police couldn't give us any extra charges, that was really the basis for what we did," he says.
Within a week of the incident, Favors invited Noel Leader, a recently retired police lieutenant who founded a group called 100 Black Officers in Law Enforcement Who Care, to come and talk to the students about what happened.
In a meeting held in a classroom at the school (by this time, the students were out on summer break), Leader encouraged the students to fight the charges. He told them not to accept a plea bargain of community service, which the District Attorney's Office was encouraging them to do. "Our advice was that they should fight all the charges. We gave the reasons why. We thought some of the accusations were false, and, normally, when you lie about defendants, it means your whole story is in jeopardy," Leader tells the Voice.
He says that he and other officers had looked at the charges and were suspicious. Although Kelly and the D.A.'s office had alleged that the students stomped on cars, Leader knew of no reports of criminal mischief or destruction of private property being filed in the matter. He also looked into the gang allegations: If the clothing confiscated by police had been identified as gang regalia, it would have been identified as such in internal documents. It wasn't, Leader says.
As the summer wore on and charges for the defendants began to be dismissed, students started becoming more outspoken. Callender says they wanted an official apology.
With City Councilman Charles Barron, Favors and some of the students arranged a meeting with members of the D.A.'s office. Instead of getting an apology, however, they were stunned when they were asked for the names of their witnesses.
"Hold up. You guys already convicted us in the press, and now you want our witnesses?" Favors remembers thinking.
"I really think it was just a battle of egos, you know? Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes and Ray Kelly not wanting to admit a mistake," Callender says. "But they messed with the wrong people." (The Brooklyn D.A.'s office declined to comment on a dismissed case.)
A court hearing for most of the students who had been arrested was set for November 30, 2007. Students got permission to be out of school, and Favors and other teachers took the day off work.
An official at the courthouse, Sergeant Eugene Sullivan, ordered more than the usual number of court officers to provide security.
And that's when things turned farcical.
The following is taken from recent court testimony and interviews with those who witnessed the courtroom incident.
On the day of the November 2007 court hearing, Brian Favors got into a heated discussion with the public defender of one of his students.
The attorney, Alison Hart, had asked the student she represented to come into the hallway for a conference. Favors approached them, trying to listen in—but Hart didn't know who he was, and she asked him to step away from the attorney-client discussion. Favors, who wasn't wearing a suit, explained that he was the student's teacher, but Hart asked him to move away, and the discussion became tense. Hart decided to call her husband—who happened to be Sergeant Sullivan, the chief court officer. (Calls to Hart, who did not testify, were not returned.)
Witnesses say Sullivan then entered the courtroom moments later, grabbed a bystander who happened to be a black man with dreadlocks, and shouted, "You! Out of the courtroom!"
The man, John Meekins, was hustled into the hallway. Favors followed.
In the hallway, Sullivan demanded that Meekins explain what had happened in the confrontation with Hart.
"You've got the wrong black man with dreadlocks," Favors says he told the court officer.
Meekins says that he then turned to Sullivan and said, "I believe I am being racially profiled."