New York mayor, judge trade blame over police officer's murder

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and a Manhattan judge sparred on Thursday over who is to blame for the October killing of a police officer, allegedly shot by a man the judge had released to drug treatment rather than prison for selling crack cocaine.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Patricia Nunez on Thursday sentenced the suspect, Tyrone Howard, 31, to the maximum 12 years in prison for failing to comply with that court-mandated treatment program.

At the hearing, Nunez sharply criticized de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton for suggesting she had erred in allowing Howard in May to go to drug rehabilitation as part of a plea deal, six months before he allegedly shot dead officer Randolph Holder.

"I would suggest that the mayor look into a mirror and ask himself whether it's his own policies ... that make someone think he can go out and shoot a cop," the judge said. She did not specify the policies to which she was referring.

A spokeswoman for de Blasio called Nunez's remarks "entirely irresponsible."

"Judge Nunez owes Commissioner Bratton an apology," spokeswoman Karen Hinton said. "The mayor has proposed common-sense reforms to arm judges with the tools they need to help make sure dangerous people are off the street and low-level offenders are not unfairly detained."

Howard is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 24 for killing 33-year-old officer Randolph Holder.

At the time of the shooting, Howard was wanted for questioning in an unrelated shooting as well as for skipping a September court appearance before Nunez.

In May, Nunez approved a deal under which Howard pleaded guilty to a 2014 charge of selling crack cocaine, in exchange for two years of drug treatment. The judge oversees one of several "drug courts" in New York that allow nonviolent drug offenders to undergo treatment rather than face prison.

Following Holder's death, de Blasio and Bratton questioned the decisions by Nunez and another judge who had transferred Howard's case to the drug court, saying Howard should have been behind bars.

Nunez said on Thursday those comments created a "false narrative," pointing out that Howard was already free on bail.

"Shame on those politicians who now point fingers and blame the judges for policies they themselves wanted," Nunez said.

Howard, she said, had no prior violent felony convictions and was similar to many defendants who have succeeded in the diversion program. But Howard had "thrown away with both hands" the second chance she had given him, Nunez said.

"Yesterday, you received mercy," Nunez told Howard. "Today, you receive justice."

Robert Levy, the defense lawyer for Howard on the drug case, asked Nunez to postpone the sentencing, saying the "madness" surrounding his murder charge had created an unfair atmosphere. Nunez denied his request.

Holder was the fourth New York City police officer killed in the line of duty in the past year.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)