NY state police chief abruptly quits amid scandal

Harry Corbitt announces early retirement without stating a reason

Published March 3, 2010 12:48AM (EST)

New York State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt is abruptly retiring effective Wednesday amid a domestic violence scandal threatening Gov. David Paterson.

Corbitt announced his retirement late Tuesday on Capital News 9 and didn't give a reason. He is the second law enforcment official claimed by the scandal.

Corbitt has acknowledged that a police official had contact with a woman who had accused a top Paterson aide of roughing her up last fall in the Bronx. Soon after, the woman dropped her case against the aide, David Johnson.

Corbitt's boss, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O'Donnell, resigned a week ago. She said direct contact by the governor and troopers with the woman was "unacceptable" regardless of their intent.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Hours after the most damaging press reports yet surfaced in a scandal that threatens his administration, Gov. David Paterson struck back with a schedule of high-level budget negotiations to underscore his authority and a steady parade of supporters in front of reporters -- while hinting he will soon tell his side of the story.

State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs drove from Long Island on Tuesday to meet in the governor's mansion with Paterson and later said Paterson's account of his supposed intervention, along with the state police and staff members, in a domestic violence case involving a top aide "explains an awful lot." He declined to divulge details.

"I did not get the sense that the governor is considering resignation, that resignation is pending," said Jacobs, a longtime friend of Paterson's, hand-picked for the Democratic Party post. "There shouldn't be any more shoes to drop. The sense I got from him is there won't be."

Paterson left a closed-door meeting with staff late Tuesday afternoon and declined to comment except to say he doesn't plan to quit and didn't even feel pressure to resign, despite widespread speculation in the Capitol. A driver passing by the mansion honked and shouted to reporters, "Get him out of there!"

Minutes before Jacobs spoke, powerful Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver left a lunch meeting with Paterson at the mansion and told reporters: "I don't feel he should resign."

The support for the Democratic governor came the same day The New York Times reported that Paterson and two employees he directed talked to a woman who had accused a top Paterson aide of roughing her up on Halloween, choking her and throwing her against a mirror. The woman ultimately dropped the case against the aide, David Johnson, shortly after speaking to the governor, his two employees and members of Paterson's state police security detail.

The report outraged the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, which called for his resignation early Tuesday despite his "excellent" policy record on women's issues.

"It is inappropriate for the governor to have any contact or to direct anyone to contact an alleged victim of violence," said Marcia Pappas, president of NOW New York State. "This latest news is very disappointing for those of us who believed the governor was a strong advocate for women's equality and for ending violence against women."

"It is now time for the governor to step down," she said in the written statement.

Even Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Paterson appointed to the seat last year, said Tuesday that he would have to resign if allegations that he abused his power are proven true.

But as the day progressed, Paterson started collecting rare support, too, unseen in more than three weeks of scandal that forced him to end his campaign for a full term on Friday.

Five Latino legislators, all Democrats, met with Paterson about budget appropriations and the needs of their communities, then approached reporters waiting outside the mansion.

"No one has criticized the governor more than I have," said Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx. "Right now, we are supporting the governor to stay until the investigation is resolved."

Paterson said he would soon speak publicly.

"Clearly the governor, the image that he wants to project is that he's engaged and he's working, he's working with the Legislature and he's doing the people's business," said politics professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. "There's some sense from these folks that there is another side of the story and at least for the time being those of us that thought that resignation might be imminent, clearly we were wrong."

But, Muzzio cautioned: "We don't know how much of this is public relations and how much of it is real. We're in 'Alice in Wonderland,' and I don't know what's real. But clearly it seems as if the governor's had a better day than he's had recently."

Some leading Democrats, however, have said he should resign to avoid further damage to the party in the 2010 elections.

The scandal began on Halloween. Sherruna Booker told police she was roughed up in the Bronx by Paterson aide David Johnson, her boyfriend at the time, but she decided not to press charges. At issue is whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced her decision.

Paterson has acknowledged that he spoke with Booker but said she initiated the call and that he did not try to get her to change her story or not pursue a charge.

The New York Times on Tuesday provided new details on Paterson's involvement in the matter, reporting that the governor had personally directed two state employees to contact the woman.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate by the very critics dogging Paterson -- is investigating those contacts. Any criminal case will hinge on whether Paterson, staff members or state bodyguards tried to get Booker to change her story, making charges of witness tampering or obstructing justice possible.

Arriving at Irish American fundraiser in Manhattan, Cuomo said that he hadn't spoken to Paterson yet but that the governor's office had cooperated. He gave no timetable for completing the investigation.

"We will do the investigation as fast as we can, as fast as practical," Cuomo said. "We also want to do it right, we want to be thorough, we want to be fair, and we want to have all the facts."

When asked whether the turmoil would damage the Democratic Party, he said: "This is not about the party, this is about the people of the state." He did not say whether he thought the governor should resign.

Paul DerOhannesian, a former Albany County prosecutor, said the new revelations alone don't seal a case against Paterson or his administration.

"We don't know what was said, and that's very important," he said Tuesday. It's highly unusual for a victim to be contacted by state police when they have no jurisdiction in a Bronx case, or for Paterson and his employees to contact her, he said.

"The next question is, 'What was said?'" he said. "We don't know."


Associated Press Writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report from New York.

By Associated Press

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