My press pass is more valuable than I thought. Until last night, I didn't realize it could also act as a "get out of jail free" card.
This, I learned from Peter H. Scrooby, who admitted last night he isn't paid for his internet writing, but he did think his credentials -- which, unfortunately, he wasn't carrying -- entitled him to avoid a night in jail on a disorderly conduct charge.
Scrooby, who said he went to the Kid Rock concert to cover it for Los Angeles-based American Chronicle, carried no ID whatsoever (his girlfriend had his wallet, he said), which presented a puzzle for Darien Town Court Justice Gary Graber.
How could Graber release a defendant on his own recognizance who couldn't even prove his identity?
As Graber and Scrooby bantered about Scrooby's suitability for a no-bail release, I checked out American Chronicle on my laptop. Sure enough, Scrooby is listed as an author (picture borrowed from Scrooby's profile page). So are 5,000 other people.
Apparently, to become a corespondent for American Chronicle, all you need to do is create an account.
At least Scrooby has written some articles for the site. A couple of them even seem to be based on some original reporting.
This budding Hunter S. Thompson was one of three people I saw marched or dragged into the Darien courtroom during my two hours observing the proceedings and chatting with Graber -- when no wayward concert-goers demanded his attention.
Graber earns a living dispatching trucks out of Buffalo, but he's also spent more than 30 years on the Darien bench. A music fan himself -- he's seen such varied acts as Elvis Presley (twice -- young and older), Jeff Beck and the Beach Boys -- he said the Darien Lake shows keep him plenty busy during the summer.
"We're happy when the snow starts to fly," Graber said, noting the signal that the Darien concert season is over.
The backlog of cases and paperwork created over the summer won't be cleared from his desk until late February or March.
A naturally jocular and affable man with a face warmed by laugh lines and framed by graying hair, Graber seems temperamentally inclined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. He clearly wishes no ill will toward any of the defendents who are brought before his bench, even when they try his patience.
Even so, let's not be fooled by that benevolent exterior: nobody is getting off easy.
Kenneth Koban of North Chili found that out after being brought in by Deputy Brian Thompson on a trespass charge.
Cobin, sporting a black leather vest with "Eagle Spirit" emblazoned on the back above a picture of an eagle's head, didn't understand why he was charged with trespass after he paid $100 for a ticket.
Koban allegedly refused to leave the concert venue after being ordered to do so by security officers. What precipitated him drawing the ire of Darien security wasn't discussed.
As he stood unsteadily before the justice, Koban repeatedly interrupted Graber either trying to explain his innocence, offering to display the $100 ticket in his pocket, or asking Graber if he could ask questions.
"I'm asking the questions," Graber said.
"I've got a couple of things to say," Koban said.
"This isn't the time for that," Graber said. "This is an arraignment. After you talk with your attorney, then you can explain about your $100 ticket."
"I would like a public defender," said Koban, who previously said he earned more than $100,000 a year and owned 10 homes.
Graber said Koban likely wouldn't qualify for a public defender.
"You do make $100,000?"
"Yes, I make $100,000," said Koban, raising his voice.
"There's no need to get agitated."
"I didn't even do nothing," Koban said. "I'm here in handcuffs right now, but I'm not agitated. I respect you and I respect the court, for what it's worth."
Koban was remanded to Genesee County Jail on $200 bail.
While Cobin stood before Graber, another defended was escorted into the courtroom, shackled at her ankles and handcuffed. She initially raised a ruckus, crying loudly and babbling. Within minutes, Sgt. Brian Frieday got her settled and calm, so Graber could proceed with Cobin's arraignment.
While Graber left the courtroom to finish up Cobin's paperwork, Cobin acted like he knew the young woman, telling her to stop crying and shut up, and saying, "Just tell the judge your boyfriend is a piece of shit."
When the woman tried to lay down on a "Darien"-engraved wooden bench, Sgt. Frieday made her sit up.
"Don't touch me," she yelled, then adding more softly. "I'm not trying to hurt you and don't want to hurt any one, so you can't touch me."
Jamie E. Otto-Trott, a 24-year-old, high-school pool supervisor from Rochester, appeared before Graber on two counts of harassment in the 2nd degree.
Otto-Trott, who made repeated requests of both Sgt. Frieday and the justice to have strands of her long, black hair swept from her face, allegedly pushed a Darien security guard and then allegedly kicked a Sheriff's deputy in the leg.
After being told about the charges by Graber, Otto-Trott said she just wanted to go home.
"My boyfriend took my car and left," she said. "I live an hour-and-half away."
Even though at one time Otto-Trott said she could afford to pay for her own attorney on her $200-a-week salary, she later said, "I don't think I can make that decision right now," so Graber said he would send her case to the Public Defender's office. He entered a not guilty plea for her and remanded her to Genesee County Jail on $300 bail.
After Graber left the room, Otto-Trott sat on a chair in the front row of the orderly, clean and well-lit courtroom and started asking Sgt. Parker questions, trying to find out his age. She thought he looked pretty young for 37.
With the age question settled, her mood changed again. The young lady, who minutes earlier told Graber she is returning to SUNY Brockport this fall to finish her degree in psychology after taking time off because her mother died last year, started sobbing again.
"I don't really like Kid Rock," she told Frieday, "but my boyfriend loves Kid Rock and wanted to go to this concert, and then I had to leave the concert. I just ruined the whole thing. We never go out. I just ruined the whole evening. Now he will want to break up with me."
Parker told her that he heard on the police radio earlier that her boyfriend was waiting for her at Genesee County Jail.
It was a tough case. While Graber can't discuss specific defendents, after Otto-Trott was escorted away, he looked out on the empty chamber with low-cast eyes, his face betraying an obvious compassion for the young lady.
As we talked about the kind of cases he's seen over the years, he said he has faced many tough decisions.
"These are never easy decisions," he said. "If you want a job with easy decisions, you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't be here. You have to take each case one at a time."
For all his his tender exterior, Graber seems completely immune to excuses.
None of last night's defendants were able to convince Graber that they deserved special treatment, either because the arrest was seemingly unfair, or because not everything was right with their lives.
Even our intrepid, aspiring gonzo journalist, Peter H. Scrooby couldn't justify avoiding a night in lock up. He was sent off to the pokey on $200 bail and ordered to reappear in two weeks.
Hopefully, he'll at least get a good story out of the experience.
Mr. Scrooby sends along the following note:
Just a couple things I would like you to clarify in your article if you could sir. It was not my girlfriend that had my ID it was a friend of my mom's that attended the event with me. I also would like to note that yes anyone can become an author and sign up for free at American Chronicle, but the articles have to be approved and can be denied by the editors. I do not want it to sound as anyone can submit anything that they would like and have it published. Well take care and thanks, I enjoyed your article and have bookmarked your site as I also enjoyed your writing style. I take the Hunter S. Thompson comment as a compliment and only hope that one day I could reach such great journalistic standards as the late Hunter S. Thompson achieved.
Peter H. Scrooby
UPDATE: In my desire to be as non-intrusive as possible with the lawmen, I relied on what I thought I was hearing in court for names. Yesterday morning I tried to confirm the names with Chief Dibble, but he had already left on vacation. Late yesterday, I spoke with the Darien Court clerk, who helped clarify the names, and the story has been changed accordingly. Sgt. Brian Frieday was with Otto-Trott. Deputy Brian Thompson was with Cobin, and though not mentioned in the story, Deputy Chris Parker was with Scrooby. Now, I hope that's all correct.