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Charges Dismissed Against All Asian Indian Herricks Students

All charges have been dismissed against 19 Asian Indian students who were arrested more than a year and a half ago on charges of criminal trespassing for congregating on a Herricks High School ball field in Williston Park. Nassau County Judge Margaret Reilly dismissed charges against the remaining four students on grounds of lack of a speedy trial.

NYCLU cooperating attorney Marvin Zevin said, “These charges were baseless from the start. The police found no weapons, no drugs or alcohol, no injuries or evidence of a fight. The persistence of the prosecutors did not fool the judges, which should enhance our faith in the integrity of the courts.”

The case originated on October 25, 2002, when Herricks High School Superintendent John Bierwirth asked the police to arrest a group of students. The students were dispersing after being asked to leave the ball field of the Centre St. Elementary School in Williston Park. But they were taken away in handcuffs and spent several hours locked up at the police precinct where both they and their parents claimed there were mocked on racial grounds. Though white students were present on the ball field, none were arrested.

A year ago the charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass were dismissed by Judge Lea Ruskin of Nassau County District Court on grounds of insufficient evidence. When the District Attorney sought to re-present the charges to the Grand Jury, Judge Ruskin declined to grant permission. Nevertheless, both the District Attorney and the school superintendent proceeded to try a third time by bringing the same charges against four other students who had been asked to leave the high school field earlier that same day. With no new evidence, it is these charges that Judge Reilly dismissed on June 29th.

Attorneys for the Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who have been representing the students, have also brought a claim of racial profiling against the Nassau County Police Department and the school superintendent on the grounds that none of the white or light-skinned students present were arrested.

Assistant legal director E. Christopher Murray, who has filed the civil suits said, “Now we plan to go full steam ahead with our civil complaint to recover damages inflicted by this frivolous and prolonged criminal prosecution.”

NYCLU Nassau has also filed a civil suit on behalf of Dr. Balvindar Sareen, father of one of the students, who had complained to the police and the NYCLU originally. Six days after the arrests Dr. Sareen was stopped by the police, detained while he and his car were searched and then let go. According to NYCLU Nassau Chapter Director Barbara Bernstein, this was “pure intimidation in retaliation for his complaint, since the police gave him no ticket for an expired inspection ticket which indicated they had no reason to stop him in the first place.”

Viren Mehra, another parent, reacted to the news, “The parents are overjoyed but it’s a shame that the District Attorney decided to re-prosecute the four Herricks students and a shame that the superintendent did not prevent the re-prosecution of his own students.”

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