April 13, 2015 5:00 pm

PBA Sues to Obtain $10G From Cop-Killer’s Fund

Wants It for Victims’ Families

By Mark Toor

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Give killer’s money to cops’ families.  

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has moved to seize more than $10,000 from the prison account of Herman Bell and distribute it to the families of two police officers Mr. Bell was convicted of killing in 1971.

“We believe that we have a solemn obligation to the families of police officers who are killed in the line of duty to do all that we can to help them physically, morally and financially,” PBA President Patrick J Lynch said in a statement April 5. “The loss of these brave police officers continues to cause pain and difficulties for those left behind that never diminishes even with the long passage of time.” 

Helped Set Up Ambush

Mr. Bell, now 66, was convicted along with two other members of the Black Liberation Army of ambushing Police Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini after making a phony 911 call reporting trouble at a housing project on West 159th St. in Harlem.

Officer Jones was shot in the head. He died instantly. Officer Piagentini was shot 22 times as he begged for his life.

Mr. Bell and his two co-defendants, Anthony Bottom and Albert Washington, were sentenced in 1979 to 25 years to life. Mr. Washington died in prison. Mr. Bell and Mr. Bottom have been rejected for parole every two years since they first became eligible in 2000.

The PBA said Mr. Bell, an inmate at the Great Meadows Correctional Facility in upstate Washington County, has amassed more than $10,000 in his prison commissary account. Inmates use funds from these accounts to purchase personal items such as food and toiletries.

Inmates must keep all funds they receive in their commissary accounts. The money can come from work done inside the prison, contributions from outside entities and lawsuits filed against the prison.

Could Go to Survivors

The State Crime Victims Compensation Board notifies victims or their survivors when an inmate’s account exceeds the $10,000 mark. The Son of Sam Law allows inmates to retain $1,000; anything over that can be given to victims and survivors. The PBA has taken legal steps under the Son of Sam law to schedule a hearing at which it will argue that the money should go to the officers’ families.

Chandra Jones, 45, was only 2 when her father and Officer Piagentini were killed. She told the Daily News that receiving some of the money “would mean a lot to me. It would bring a lot of justice. He’s the only reason my father is not here with us right now. He’s the reason I never got to know my dad...There were six of us kids, and only two of us knew my father.”

“This was a calculated, premeditated act laced with hatred for the blue uniform and the men who wore it,” said Officer Piagentini’s widow, Diane, at a press conference a year ago sponsored by the PBA to encourage public opposition to the parole of Mr. Bell and Mr. Bottom. “...Our lives have been changed forever...They have not shown any remorse for what they’ve done.”

The Son of Sam Law was passed in 1977 after publishers wound up in a bidding war for the memoirs of David Berkowitz, who used that name as an alias, after he was arrested for killing six people and wounding seven others. (He was convicted and is serving six consecutive life sentences.)

Had to Revise It

The law, copied by more than 40 other states and the Federal Government, required that any proceeds from an accused or convicted criminal telling his or her story be turned over to the crime-victims board for eventual distribution to victims.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law in 1991, ruling that it violated free-speech protections in the U.S. Constitution and was too broad, applying to the accused as well as the convicted.

To meet those objections, New York State revised the law to require forfeiture of any money provided to an accused or convicted person, not just the proceeds of telling his or her story. The law covers payments made by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which oversees the prisons.