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Governor's aide released after assault charge

Gov. David Paterson aide David Johnson is highlighted in this picture.
August 13, 2010 3:12:59 AM PDT
An aide to New York Gov. David Paterson was charged Thursday after a domestic violence complaint that touched off an evidence-tampering investigation and ultimately helped the governor decide to abandon his bid for a full term.

The now-suspended aide, David Johnson, did not enter a plea at his arraignment Thursday in Bronx Criminal Court and was released but ordered to stay away from his accuser, ex-girlfriend Sherr-una Booker. He had surrendered earlier in the day on charges of assault, menacing, harassment and criminal mischief, all misdemeanors.

Johnson, wearing a suit, did not comment outside court as he got into his attorney's silver Mercedes, while Booker's attorney said his client felt a step closer to getting justice.

"She also believes that no woman should ever have to go through what happened to her," attorney Kenneth Thompson said.

Johnson was suspended in February without pay, and Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said Thursday that his status has not changed. The governor's office had no further comment.

Paterson's involvement in the case - he made a phone call to Booker before she let the case drop initially by not appearing in court - caused him serious political damage, even though investigators found no evidence of witness tampering.

Buffeted by other ethics questions about World Series tickets, the Democratic governor soon dropped plans to run for a full term this fall, while saying he intended to finish the year in office.

The attorney general's office investigated whether intervention by Paterson and state troopers in the days after the confrontation caused Booker 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.

Paterson is still being investigated on the free Yankees tickets and whether he lied about his intention to pay for them. One of the tickets went to Johnson, officials said.

The confrontation between Johnson and Booker occurred on Halloween 2009. Booker alleged that Johnson, angry over how she was dressed, choked her, lifted her into the air, threw her against a dresser and ripped her costume.

"You're not going anywhere," he said, according to the criminal complaint released Thursday, using profanity as he threatened to "kill you before I let you go anywhere."

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

Police who responded saw no visible injuries and classified the confrontation as harassment, a violation. After the officers left, she went to a hospital, where she was treated and met with a staff 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."

Johnson's attorney Oscar Michelen, referring to Booker's testimony in Kaye's investigation, said in court Thursday that Booker "had every opportunity and chose not to proceed because she no longer felt a threat."

She said 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.

Still, the system did her no favors. Kaye's report noted gaps in the legal system that made it difficult for Booker, who was without a lawyer at the time, to file a restraining order. She got no help from officers who were unclear about how it should be done. A clerical error by police later wrongly classified the incident as "unfounded."

Michelen said his client has had no contact with Booker since an appearance in Family Court earlier this year. But Bronx Judge Lynn Kotler issued a fresh order of protection against Johnson, who was told to return to court Oct. 14.


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