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Charges scrubbed in career-ending injury to jail guard

LOCKPORT – Ramone D. Walker of Lockport will not be prosecuted further in connection with an incident that inflicted career-ending injuries on a Niagara County corrections officer.

Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno said he learned that a county grand jury earlier this month refused to indict Walker, 37, after two previous indictments had been dismissed by County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III.

Walker had been charged with second-degree assault on a police officer in the wake of the Aug. 26, 2011, altercation in the County Jail visitor area that injured Corrections Officer Mark A. Crawley, 46.

According to grand jury testimony Murphy quoted in his Nov. 13 decision to dismiss the second indictment, Crawley, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in June 1996, suffered a broken back.

He underwent surgery in March in Erie County Medical Center to insert eight screws and two rods in his spinal column, remove part of his vertebrae and perform various grafts.

The case hit close to home for Sheriff James R. Voutour, who said he has known Crawley since kindergarten in Wilson.

“Corrections Officer Crawley was informed a few days ago that he can no longer work. His career is over,” Voutour said last week. “I’m deeply disappointed there will be no justice.”

The tall, heavyset Walker and another officer, John R. Golaszewski, fell on Crawley as the two officers were trying to get what appeared to be an item of prison contraband away from Walker.

The contraband, which turned out to be tobacco, was allegedly passed to Walker by Jessica R. Broughton, 22, of Crosby Avenue, Lockport.

Several officers testified to the grand jury that Walker had placed the tobacco in his mouth and spit it out during the struggle.

There is a videotape of the fracas, which was shown to the grand jury, but Murphy didn’t find it conclusive.

“That recording is not susceptible of a definitive interpretation one way or the other on the issue of who used what degree of force, but rather depends on the perspective of the viewer,” the judge wrote.

Saraceno said the first assault indictment against Walker, handed up by the grand jury in February, was dismissed by Murphy because one of the members of the grand jury knew one of the officers involved in the incident. Saraceno said the matter was not explored sufficiently to make sure there was no bias.

The case was presented to another grand jury June 22, and Walker exercised his right to testify. He said that he thought he was being attacked from behind either by a fellow inmate or by the officers.

Golaszewski said he and Crawley each grabbed one of Walker’s wrists and tried to pin his arms to the table, while Walker tried to get up from his chair. All three ended up falling to the floor, with Walker and Golaszewski landing on Crawley.

Crawley testified that Officer Kimberly A. Niethe told him that she saw Broughton pass something to Walker. Crawley said that he asked Walker to show him what was in his hands, and Walker instead put his hands under the table. When Crawley grabbed Walker’s left wrist, Walker jumped up and knocked him down, landing on top of him, the injured officer told the grand jury.

“Ramone’s a pretty big guy, so with his weight falling on [Crawley], I could see him getting hurt,” Saraceno said.

“I didn’t know who was behind me attacking me like that. I was in fear for my life at the time,” Walker told the grand jury in June. “I fell on the ground by the table, and a person jumped on me again and was attacking me again.”

Murphy ruled that such claims by Walker indicated to him that the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Scalzo, should have read the grand jury information about the law on self-defense, or justification, as lawyers call it. Because he didn’t do that, Murphy threw out the second indictment.

Anticipating a possible dismissal, Scalzo set up a third grand jury presentation for Nov. 13. Saraceno said he was there to hear Walker testify, but he was required to leave before Scalzo and Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma instructed the grand jury.

Saraceno said he assumes that the justification instructions were given, but he doesn’t know for sure. Scalzo said he was not allowed to discuss grand jury matters, which are supposed to be secret.

Statements made in open court by the attorneys at the Nov. 13 conference indicated that the June grand jury was contentious.

Looking ahead to the third presentation later that day, Murphy warned Saraceno not to interrupt Scalzo while he was questioning Walker. Saraceno complained to the judge that in June, Scalzo at one point laughed at one of Walker’s answers and interrupted another.

In his ruling, Murphy wrote, “It is probably also better if the prosecutor does not employ heavy sarcasm or other obvious innuendo seeking to communicate his disbelief in the defendant’s story.” But the judge said cautionary instructions were given to the June grand jury and thus the contentious exchanges were not grounds for dismissing the indictment.

Walker isn’t a free man, as he was sentenced Jan. 4 to four years in state prison for fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He had 1.65 grams of cocaine in Lockport on June 6, 2010. He was in jail awaiting action on that charge when he had his struggle with the officers.

At the time of the sentencing, then-Assistant District Attorney David A. Hoffman said Walker had turned down a combination plea to the drug charge and the alleged assault on Crawley that would have limited his total prison time for both to seven years.

This is Walker’s third stint in state prison. He served two years for a 1993 drug-possession conviction in Manhattan, and 13 years for an Erie County armed robbery in 1997.

With Walker in the clear on the assault case, the weight of the situation may fall on Broughton, who allegedly passed him the tobacco, triggering the guards’ struggle with Walker that resulted in Crawley’s disabling injury.

Broughton’s misdemeanor charge of promoting prison contraband is still open in Lockport Town Court, where her next court date is Dec. 27.

But Broughton also faces a felony indictment charging her with third-, fourth- and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, as well as fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana. Police allegedly found cocaine when they raided her Lockport apartment May 4.

That case is being heard by State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. Broughton applied for the judicial diversion program of court-supervised drug treatment and was declared eligible by state screeners.

However, last Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh told Kloch he objects to Broughton receiving diversion. Kloch scheduled a hearing for Dec. 12.

If she were admitted to judicial diversion, Broughton would have to plead guilty to a felony, usually the most serious count in the indictment, and enter treatment for up to two years.

If she were to successfully complete the program, her charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor and she would be sentenced to three years’ probation. If she were to fail in the program, she would face as long as nine years in prison.

The diversion program is supposed to be for people whose drug use contributes to their criminal record. Kloch said the report he received from the screeners indicated Broughton has been smoking marijuana since age 9 and using cocaine since age 15.

“We believe her to be a dealer, not a user,” Wydysh said when asked by a reporter why he was objecting to Broughton’s bid to enter diversion. But he said another reason was “the whole Ramone Walker thing. She was a contributing factor.”