Plea Deal for Ex-N.Y. Governor's Aide in Harass Case

Plea Deal for Ex-N.Y. Governor's Aide in Harass Case

David Johnson, an aide to former Gov. David Paterson, has reached a plea deal in a domestic violence case that helped lead to the governor's political undoing.

Published March 2, 2011

An aide to former Gov. David Paterson has reached a plea deal in a domestic violence case.  (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — An aide to former Gov. David Paterson has reached a plea deal in a domestic violence case that touched off an evidence-tampering investigation and helped lead to the governor's political undoing.

David Johnson pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of harassment, admitting he shoved his former girlfriend at her apartment in 2009. He told the judge he knew his behavior was inappropriate and said he deeply regretted his actions. He was sentenced to a conditional discharge, meaning the case will be closed if he stays out of trouble for a year but he could face jail time if he doesn't.

During the time the case was working through the criminal justice system, Johnson also underwent therapy. Prosecutors considered it sufficient, and he was not ordered to undergo further therapy.

Johnson was glad the case was resolved, defense attorney Oscar Michelen said.

"He's very gratified to have this phase of his life over with," Michelen said. "He's grateful to move on."

The case became public after a series of New York Times articles questioning whether Paterson, a Democrat, had acted inappropriately by calling the woman in the days after Johnson shoved her. Court documents showed she was being pressured to drop the case, which she did.

Johnson was charged nearly a year after the woman, Sherr-Una Booker, filed the complaint about the Halloween incident, in which she claimed he threw her against a dresser, choked her and tore her costume during an argument.

Johnson initially was charged with assault, menacing, harassment and criminal mischief, all misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty to a violation, which is not considered a criminal act.

The Bronx district attorney's office said Booker was consulted before the deal and agreed with the resolution.

Booker's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said she was pleased Johnson took responsibility for his actions.

"She hopes in some way by standing up for herself she's been able to encourage other women who are victims of domestic violence to not be afraid and to stand up for themselves as well," Thompson said.

A restraining order will be in place for the next two years.

Johnson was suspended in February 2010. He was eager to return to work, possibly public service, but had been holding off on taking a job because he wasn't clear if the case would go to trial, Michelen said.

"It's been a very long process," Michelen said. "His life has been under intense scrutiny ever since. To have this burden off his back is very gratifying to him."

Paterson's involvement in the case caused him serious political damage, even though investigators found no evidence of witness tampering. Hounded by other ethics questions about World Series tickets he received, he soon dropped plans to run for a full term last fall.

Last month, Paterson paid $62,124 to settle his fine from the state ethics board over free New York Yankees tickets he obtained for the 2009 World Series. The state Public Integrity Commission found he violated ethics laws in obtaining the free tickets from the Yankees and found he falsely claimed he always intended to pay for the five tickets, including one for Johnson, who was involved in obtaining them.

The attorney general's office also investigated whether intervention by Paterson and state troopers in the days after the apartment confrontation between Johnson and Booker caused her to call off the case. But a report by retired Judge Judith Kaye, who was put in charge of the review, found no criminal activity by anyone except maybe Johnson.

Booker said Johnson tried to stop her from calling the police but eventually left the scene. She called 911 three times, once saying she was scared Johnson would come back to "finish the job."

Police officers who responded saw no visible injuries and classified the confrontation as harassment, a violation. After the officers left, Booker was treated at a hospital and met with a social worker to discuss domestic violence resources.

No arrest was made, but officers did a follow-up visit. Johnson did not return to the home.

Booker sought a court order requiring Johnson to stay away and took the case to Family Court, where she told officials that in the days after the altercation "the state troopers kept calling and harassing me to drop the charges."

Booker told Kaye that she initially decided not to pursue the matter because, among other reasons, Johnson had not contacted her since the confrontation and she no longer felt a threat.


Image:  Jemal Countess/Getty Image

Written by Colleen Long, Associated Press


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