Today — at the second full day of the allegedly ‘public’ hearing to remove Joe Mascia as an elected official under New York State Housing Law — hearing officer Anne E. Evanko instructed court officers to detain and search a journalist affiliated with this publication, without a warrant or the authority to do so.
When the journalist opened a laptop computer to begin drafting a report of the hearing, Evanko made the unsubstantiated accusation that the journalist was taking pictures inside the hearing room and demanded that the journalist approach the bench so that his phone and computer could be searched.
“I was under the impression that this was a public hearing,” the journalist responded. “This is a non-criminal public hearing isn’t it?”
The journalist refused to submit to a search and left the public hearing room, held in Part 30 of the Buffalo City Court. A staffer working with the city then followed the journalist out of the courtroom to search for police officers and demanding that he be detained.
A police officer then pulled the journalist off the elevator and refused to allow him to leave the building, as Evanko hurried out of the hearing room to demand the journalist’s detention. She demanded that the officers search the journalist’s phone and computer for the alleged pictures of the hearing. The officers then detained the journalist.
He asked repeatedly, “am I being arrested?” The officers said they were not sure but that he couldn’t leave the building. He again refused to submit to a search after being swarmed by nearly a dozen officers and dogged for his phone and computer.
After being detained for 20 minutes, the ranking officer on site arrived on the 8th floor of the building to assess the situation. She then apologized for the confusion and the journalist was allowed to leave the building.
For weeks, Mascia’s lawyers had gone back and fourth to identify a public venue for the hearing. The city’s lawyers insisted that it be held at the court in order to suppress and intimidate Mascia’s witness list, comprised of minority residents of public housing. Under normal circumstances, the city court can be an intimidating setting. They also scheduled the five day hearing from December 18th to December 23rd in order to suppress media coverage.
New York State Housing Law guarantees Mascia a full and open hearing of the charges made against him by Mayor Byron Brown, who initiated the proceeding while unilaterally and inappropriately selecting Evanko as hearing officer.
Evanko is a longtime political contributor to Brown and the faction of Democrats aligned with him. Her firm, Hurwitz & Fine has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Mayor’s reelection efforts and has refused to recuse herself from the case — despite Mascia’s request for her to do so.
The basis of the charges against Masica relate to a video recording that was produced without his knowledge, at the urging of Brown and the Chairman of the Housing Authority, Mike Seaman. On the recording Mascia was prodded into using an offensive word. That tape was then held for several months before being released during a heated Common Council primary.
For years, Mascia has been the city’s highest profile critic of the Brown Administration’s effort to privatize the city’s public housing complexes by transferring them to a firm named Norstar Development. He has also criticized the endemic mismanagement that observers attribute to “egregious levels of patronage” at the municipal authority.