Year in review: crime and justice in 2020

WWNY Year in review: crime and justice in 2020

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - 2020 was a very different year for crime and justice as New York’s bail reform laws took effect January 1, greatly restricting when cash bail could be imposed on accused criminals.

It was not well-received by some law enforcement officials or lawmakers.

“People that should be incarcerated are no longer incarcerated. Sometimes it was for their own benefit, most times, many many times, it was to protect a victim,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neill.

“The changes to the law are giving more rights to the criminals than they are to the victims of the crime,” said Assemblyman Mark Walczyk (R. - 116th District).

However, advocates say it levels the playing field for those who can and can’t afford bail.

“Let’s say the son of a doctor gets arrested with the son of a farmer with bail set at $25,000 dollars. The doctor can post bail for the son quickly, while the son of the farmer sits in jail,” said John Hallett, defense attorney.

Perhaps the most shocking crime of the year was one that rocked Gouverneur: the murder of 18 year old Treyanna Summerville.

In June, Treyanna was found dead in her home. Court papers revealed she had been starved and assaulted for days before someone called 911.

Her mother, Lashanna Charlton, and a 13 year old girl are facing charges.

Community members say not enough was done to protect Treyanna before it was too late.

“It was physically visible she was being mistreated. Nothing was done,” said Riley Storrin, classmate.

Earlier this month, Massena Mayor Timmy Currier was arrested at gunpoint and charged with misdemeanor possession of crack cocaine.

The arrest rattled community members as Currier was not only the mayor, but also the former police chief and a known advocate for helping youth addicted to drugs.

“It’s not in line with the man I know at all,” said Matt LeBire, deputy mayor.

Currier has taken a leave of absence from his mayoral duties. In a statement, he said he’s seeking professional treatment.

Also this month, military officials and police in New Jersey are investigating the killing of a 20 year old Fort Drum soldier.

Corporal Hayden Harris was found dead in New Jersey on December 19 after going missing two days before.

It is believed that he met with fellow soldier Jamaal Mellish to do a vehicle exchange and Mellish allegedly abducted Harris, drove him to New Jersey and shot him dead.

On Sunday, December 27th, prosecutors charged Mellish, 23, with first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, and related charges. In addition, they charged a 16 year old male juvenile with first degree kidnapping and felony murder.

Charges were filed in Andover Township Municipal Court.

But with crime, there was justice in 2020.

In Jefferson County, Operation Heat Wave busted 54 drug dealers; 46 of them residing in the county.

“This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest drug investigation and detail, that I’ve been involved in and I’ve been in law enforcement for 34 years,” said O’Neill.

The bust helped shut down the sale of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl in the area. It was a huge win for addiction recovery agencies.

“It was a fantastic day for the community; it was a fantastic day for law enforcement,” said Anita Seefried-Brown, Alliance for Better Communities.

Heroism wasn’t limited to police officers; even former criminals can turn a new leaf.

Robert Freeman, who admits he’s usually the kind of guy in trouble with police, handed over a meth lab that he says he was supposed to deliver to drug dealers.

“I said, ‘Bingo, that’s going to the cop shop,’” he said.

Freeman said he was happy to be the good guy and hand over the three batches of meth.

Overall, the Associated Press reports the year 2020 saw less crime than usual as folks spent more time pent up at home during the COVID-19 shutdown.

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