A Bronx parolee planning to protest the Republican convention was floored this week when he was ordered to avoid not only the march but Manhattan entirely.
The parolee, who declined to be named, said his trouble began Wednesday, at a scheduled meeting with his parole officer in the Bronx. When he asked about protesting, the officer pulled out a notice, typed on New York State Division of Parole letterhead, and told him to sign.
The document advises parolees not to enter Manhattan from August 30 to September 3, unless they have a verified job there. Those employed in the borough are barred from the “Red Zone” of 26th to 35th Streets, 6th to 9th Avenues during the same dates. “Failure to abide by the above Special Condition will result in a violation of your parole without exception,” it states.
The New York Civil Liberties Union was quick to blast the Division of Parole. “The arrival of the Republican National Convention should not be used as a pretext to strip parolees of their rights,” said executive director Donna Lieberman.
But the precise origin of the memo remains unclear. A Brooklyn parole officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told City Limits he received three emails this month from Robert Dennison, chair of the New York State Parole Board. The first, sent roughly three weeks ago, advised officers to bar their parolees from Manhattan and from all protest activity during the convention. A second email soon followed, he said, pointing out that parolees are legally allowed to protest, but officers should discourage it if possible. A third email attempted to further clarify the policy.
“I was concerned because I knew their constitutional rights were being denied,” said the officer. “I know they have the right to assemble.”
The officer suspects the Bronx office may have drafted a directive based on these emails. Angela Jimenez, director of the Manhattan/Bronx office, declined to comment. She referred our call to Albany, where parole division spokesperson Scott Steinhardt angrily disowned the letter. “This is not and was not division policy,’ he said.
Late Friday, however, the Division of Parole acknowledged the mistake. “A limited number of special conditions that were worded as such were distributed to cases under supervision in the Bronx,” wrote Thomas Herzog, deputy executive director. “The Division’s director of New York City operations has directed staff to rescind these conditions and…notify the affected releasees.”
Still, the parolee at the center of this controversy hadn’t heard from his parole officer by press time and didn’t want to take any chances. “I’m on parole and I have certain rules I have to live by,” he said. “I’m not trying to get locked up again.”