The Nassau County Police Department attempted to falsely connect a man’s tragic death to criminal justice reform and was later forced to issue a correction acknowledging that no direct link existed. After initially blaming reform for this tragedy and calling for a rollback of the law, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder later admitted that there is “no direct link between the death of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and criminal justice reform.” However, many media sources had already run with the anti-reform narrative -- once again relying only on police sources in their reporting. Social media accounts for both the Nassau County Police and State GOP officials remain uncorrected regarding this case and posts promoting disinformation are still being shared. This is yet another clear illustration of the hazards of relying on police and other pro-carceral groups for single-source reporting on criminal justice reform.
Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez was reportedly found murdered near an abandoned home in Nassau County on February 2. According to police, Mr. Maldonado Rodriguez was a complaining witness in a 2018 case alleged to involve MS-13 members. All suspects in that matter are currently incarcerated. No arrests have been made and no suspects have been named in his death. However, Nassau County Police and anti-reform officials immediately attempted to tie this case to criminal justice reform, specifically discovery laws, in an effort to undermine the law and deflect blame for Mr. Maldonado Rodriguez’s death. Despite apparent concerns for witness safety, he was not receiving any protection from police and was unhoused at the time of his murder. People without housing are victims of violent crime at a far higher rate than people with stable housing.
All judicial decisions regarding witness information in this case were rendered in 2019 -- prior to discovery implementation. Furthermore, police falsely stated that discovery law requires the unsealing of witness information before a trial. Current law allows protective orders to shield witness identities when prosecutors indicate that safety concerns exist for those witnesses, specifically including in cases involving substantiate allegations of gang membership. In fact, changes to the discovery statute include more grounds for protective orders than previously existed. The discovery reforms implemented in 2020 simply brought New York into step with nationwide discovery practices, despite repeated attempts by pro-carceral groups to paint the reforms as radical. There is also no evidence tying Mr. Maldonado Rodriguez’s death to any disclosure made to defense counsel or to the 2018 case at all, and attorneys adamantly deny sharing any information regarding Mr. Maldonado Rodriguez with their clients.
However, sources including the New York Times, the New York Post, and Newsday all immediately published articles uncritically citing NCPD’s disinformation. In response, statements from various organizations have been issued correcting this false and inflammatory coverage.