GOP claims parolee committed voter fraud; lawyer calls attack political
A controversial parolee denounced last week by a local Republican leader was the victim of a "politically-motivated and baseless" attack, one of his lawyers said Sunday.
On Thursday, Monroe County Republican chairman Bill Napier called a news conference to highlight the release of Anthony L. Bottom, who spent nearly 50 years behind bars for the murder of two New York City police officers in 1971.
Bottom, who years ago changed his name to Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, was paroled from state prison earlier this month and moved into a private home in Brighton.
The lawyer, Nora Carroll, said Muntaqim was granted parole because he had "an exemplary prison record, has expressed sincere remorse for the crime he committed, and poses no threat to the community.
"Many of those who oppose Jalil's release do not know him. They believe that anyone convicted of a serious crime should never be released from prison. Whether or not one agrees with this sentiment, it is indisputable that Jalil was released pursuant to the lawful procedures of this state," Carroll said.
Napier expressed an opposing view Thursday, asserting the 69-year-old Muntaqim was "a danger to society."
The Republican leader also said Thursday that Muntaqim had registered to vote when he had no right to do so.
He called for Muntaqim to be returned to prison because of that infraction, and said the improper voter registration raised questions about how carefully local elections officials monitor new registrants to make sure they're legally entitled to vote.
"To find out that there is laxness in the New York State system so that an individual who is not entitled to vote could find their way onto the database and be eligible to vote, and could have cast a ballot, is deeply troubling — especially someone who I believe shouldn't have been released," Napier said.
Muntaqim, whose registration was under the name Bottom, was later notified by letter that he was improperly registered. His name then was stricken from the voter roll earlier last week at the direction of someone at the state Board of Elections, according to Monroe County Republican Elections Commissioner Lisa Nicolay.
Denied parole 13 times
Muntaqim and two other men were convicted in the 1971 ambush slaying of two New York City police officers and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The men reportedly were members of the Black Liberation Army, a radical group that attacked police in the early 1970's.
Muntaqim later was accused of involvement in several police-related bombings and shootings in California. In 2009, he pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter in connection with the armed invasion of a San Francisco police station in which an officer died.
One of the co-defendants in the New York City police killings, Albert Washington, died in prison in 2000. Another of the trio, Herman Bell, was paroled from prison two years ago.
Police, politicians and relatives of the slain officers fought for years to block the release of the men, and Muntaqim was denied parole 13 times.
This spring, Muntaqim asked a court to order his discharge from prison because his age, race and pre-existing health problems made him especially susceptible for the coronavirus that was sweeping through the prison system.
A judge approved the release but state corrections officials appealed that decision, saying he should remain behind bars, even after he contracted COVID-19 and he was hospitalized in late May.
In a separate legal action, however, the judge ordered the parole board to grant him a new hearing, and board members "determined that he meets the criteria for discretionary release," Carroll said.
Muntaqim, who became a great-grandfather while in prison, "is adjusting to life outside prison, and reconnecting with friends and family," she said.
While in prison, Muntaqim had become widely known for his good works there and for his advocacy for prisoners and for Black people.
"He earned multiple college degrees and helped avert prison riots; his release on parole was endorsed by hundreds of people including academics, faith leaders, and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus" of the state Legislature, Carroll said.
Muntaqim's arrival in the Rochester area to stay with a supporter was brought to light a week ago by local conservative radio commentator Bob Lonsberry, who objects to his presence here. "Get The Cop Killer The Hell Out Of Rochester," was the headline on a column he posted last Monday morning.
Napier said he saw Lonsberry's reports and thought to check a newly received list of registered voters to see where in Brighton Muntaqim was living. He said he was surprised to find the parolee's name.
"I think that people should be concerned and I think that the residents of Brighton should be aware of where he lives," Napier said last week. Muntaqim's address was included on material he gave to reporters.
Napier asked District Attorney Sandra Doorley to look into criminal charges in relation to the alleged illegal voter registration, and suggested state officials revoke Muntaqim's parole.
A Doorley spokeswoman said the DA's office was looking into Napier's allegations.
Said Muntaqim's lawyer: "It’s our hope the district attorney’s office and the (state) Department of Corrections and Community Supervision would not take any action on a charge so frivolous."
No voter fraud, attorney says
Carroll, who works for the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, called Napier's voter-fraud allegation was off base
"Bill Napier's recent calls to prosecute Jalil for voter fraud are politically-motivated and baseless, and the district attorney's office should recognize them as such," she said.
"Jalil did nothing wrong. The facts will show that there was no voter fraud or even an attempt to commit voter fraud," Carroll said.
According to available records, Muntaqim was released from state prison Oct. 7, moved to Brighton, and signed a voter registration on Oct. 8. It was presented to the Monroe County Board of Elections on Oct. 9, the last day to register in order to vote in the November election.
The form, which registrants must swear is truthful, notes that paroled felons can only register if they meet certain conditions. Napier said Bottom clearly has not met them.
Parolees in New York are allowed to vote once their parole has ended or if they receive a voting restoration pardon from the governor. Such pardons extended to parolees whose records are reviewed by Cuomo's staff and who are found to be living successfully in the community.
The pardon process, created through an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April 2018, is triggered automatically and does not require the parolee to apply.
The pardon system was part of an effort to restoring voting rights to people who had served prison sentences.
Muntaqim apparently chose to register to vote before the gubernatorial pardon process had run its course. Whether he did so unwittingly or to purposefully short-circuit the system was not known.
Carroll said only that "Jalil absolutely did not violate the law."
Contact watchdog reporter Steve Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (585) 258-2386. Follow him on Twitter at @SOrr1. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. If you don't already have a digital subscription, please sign up today.