In the interest of justice, John Robinson, the 51-year-old Bergen resident arrested on a menacing charge after pointing a shotgun at a possible intruder into his home, is a free man.
Town of Bergen Justice Donald R. Kunego issued his ruling today on a motion by defense attorney Brian DeCarolis that the charge against his client be dismissed.
In a four-page ruling that Kunego read from the bench, the judge did just that, saying that a man has a right to defend his castle.
"People expect to be able to protect 'their castle' from attack," Kunego said. "Mr. Robinson's castle was under attack by Mr. Crooks. People confronted with the same circumstances presented to Mr. Robinson on the day in question would unquestionably engage in similar behavior with the expectation that they were properly and lawfully defending themselves."
According to Kunego, Brockport resident Michael Crooks went to Robinson's home Jan. 13, 2013, to confront Robinson, whom he had never met in person before, over some sort of relationship between Robinson and Mrs. Crooks that Mr. Crooks didn't like.
In Kunego's recital of the facts of the case, Crooks banged on Robinson's door, yelled and threatened him and kicked at the door hard enough to damage it. When Robinson didn't open the door, he went to another portion of the house presumably to gain entry.
"Due to Mr. Crooks' relentless and persistent actions, aggressive demeanor and verbal threats, Mr. Robinson felted threatened in his own home," Kunego said. "He feared that Mr. Crooks was not going to leave until at the very least he had entered his home and physically confronted him and at worse he would physically harm him."
Kunego said he believed Robinson's response was entirely lawful and justified.
After the ruling, Robinson said he was relieved, but he also expected to prevail.
"I wasn't really that nervous because I thought I did everything right," Robinson said. "I called 9-1-1. I put the dogs away. I avoided contact with him and all I did was stay in the house and tried not to have the conflict. When I talked to the state troopers, when they were there, they said I did the right thing."
The day of the confrontation, Crooks heard later that a trooper wanted to talk with him. He went to the Batavia barracks, where he was arrested by Trooper Eric Daigler. He was charged with criminal mischief, 4th, for damaging the door of Robinson's home on Lake Road in Bergen.
The door was pretty heavily damaged, Robinson said today, as well as the screen, from Crooks kicking and hitting it.
Crooks, who had no prior criminal record, eventually received an ACD (adjudication in contemplation of dismissal). As soon as his six months of good behavior was up, he started lobbying for the arrest of Robinson. First he went to the State Police, but local troopers wouldn't even consider it, so he went to the Sheriff's Office.
There he found a sympathetic ear with a sergeant who turned the case over to Deputy Matthew Butler.
"When Officer Butler showed up 15 months later and told me I was under arrest, I couldn't believe it," Robinson said. "I was like, you've got to be kidding me, right? He told me right then and there that he didn't want to arrest me, but he had to. I don't know what he meant by that. I don't know if he was forced by his upper commanders, but that's what he told me. He said, 'John, I don't want to do it, but I've got to.' "
Robinson's arrest didn't sit well with the troopers familiar with the case, which was part of Daigler's testimony in a hearing on the motion to dismiss Oct. 1.
"I was dumbfounded," Daigler said. "First and foremost, it's common practice not to take on other agency's cases. We refer to it as 'cop shopping.' It happens. Usually, we are pretty good at stopping people who are just trying to get the right answer. They are looking for the answer they want. That's usually the Sheriff's Office policy."
The State Police response to Robinson's arrest is one element of the case that helped Kunego arrive at his decision to dismiss the charge.
"It cannot be overlooked that after a full and complete investigation of this incident by the New York State Police and after consultation with the Genesee County District Attorney's Office, a decision was made that there was insufficient evidence to even charge Mr. Robinson," Kunego said, referring to the initial investigation and consideration of charging Robinson in 2013.
"Significantly, the New York State Police still believe that Mr. Robinson should not have been charged and are not supportive of his prosecution."
Factors in Kunego's decisions, which are part of the findings in an "interest of justice" dismissal, are:
Menacing, 2nd, a Class A misdemeanor. The maximum sentence is one year in jail. Given Robinson's lack of criminal record, his steady employment and longtime residence in the same home, he would not have received any jail time even if convicted. The dismissal might have been harder for Robinson to obtain if any of those facts weren't true.
There was no real harm to anyone from Robinson wielding a shotgun inside his own home. More significantly, Kunego said, only Robinson contacted police in relation to the incident. Crooks didn't contact police until after he inquired with a family member and learned that Daigler was looking for him.
If the case did go to trial, Kunego said, it would be unlikely, given the facts of the case, that Robinson would be convicted by a jury, especially in New York, where a person who is protecting life and home is legally protected in taking action to advance that protection.
While nobody in the Sheriff's Office can be accused of misconduct in the case, Kunego said, the fact that his arrest came 15 months after the arrest cannot be ignored.
Sending Robinson to jail would not advance the cause of justice, Kunego said, nor would it make the community safer given the unique circumstances of the case and the lack of any prior arrests or criminal complaints against Robinson.
Dismissal, Kunego ruled, would advance public confidence in the criminal justice system, while further prosecution of Robinson would erode public confidence, since any reasonable person, according to Kunego, would do exactly what Robinson did Jan. 13, 2013, in the same circumstances.
"I'm glad he went this way, but I can't believe it took this long," Robinson said.