Inwood Chess Players Opt for Trial
By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD — Two of the men ticketed for playing chess in Inwood Hill Park refused a plea deal from a Manhattan Criminal Court judge Tuesday morning, opting to take their case to trial.
Yacahudah "Y.A." Harrison and Chris Peralta were part of the group ticketed on Oct. 20 for playing chess at tables inside of Emerson Playground, a children's play area off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors.
They arrived at a court hearing Tuesday, accompanied by civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, where they refused a judge's offer of an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD, which would keep the incident off of their criminal record if they have no other criminal activity in the next six months.
Harrison said he didn't take the offer because he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, and because as a homeless man, he could get any number of minor tickets in the next six months that would nix the deal.
"I have no intention of breaking any rules. But if I have any infractions in the next six months, the burden is on me to prove my innocence, no one else," Harrison said after the hearing, which was closed to reporters.
If Harrison and Peralta are found guilty they could be sentenced up to 90 days in prison, according to the judge who heard the case.
The other five men, including an MTA worker eating his lunch in the park when he was caught up in the police raid, accepted the judge's offer.
Now Harrison and Peralta will return to Manhattan Supreme Court Jan. 4 represented by by Siegel and co-counsel Earl Ward.
Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York's chief civil rights organization who has a formidable history of championing cases against the city and the NYPD and is currently representing parents trying to fight Cathie Black's appointment as city schools chancellor, declined to discuss the specifics of the case.
News of the tickets created an uproar in the neighborhood and worldwide, with some residents defending the NYPD's actions and others expressing outrage.
"Crime is on the rise in the Inwood area according to the news and in addition to what we see and hear about in the neighborhood, is chess really something that should be considered a threat to the neighborhood?" Joanna Johnston wrote in a letter to the mayor and other elected officials in November.
"It's not my job to sort out the pure of heart from the malevolent amongst the unaccompanied grownups within the boundaries of a NYC playground. ... It's simple, unless you have a kid with you (if you are over 18), you are not welcome in the playground,” wrote one parent on a local parenting email list.
Police defended their decision to ticket the men.
Captain Jose Navarro, of the 34th Precinct, told DNAinfo he had reviewed the tickets and stood by his officers' actions.
"Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community," he wrote in an e-mail. "The NYPD allows for officers to issue summonses in lieu of effecting an arrest for appropriate offenses."
Later, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne, also defended the actions, writing in an e-mail that "Police acted appropriately in issuing criminal summonses last month to men in a section of Inwood Hill Park restricted to children with their parents or other minders.”