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District Attorney Hoovler Responds to Inquiries on
Minisink High School Racist Texting Incident
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler is responding to numerous inquiries concerning what actions the District Attorney’s Office can take in response to allegations that a Minisink Valley High School student sent racist and threatening messages concerning another student.
“Generally speaking I do not comment on ongoing investigations or matters involving juveniles whose identities should be protected from public dissemination,” said District Attorney Hoovler. “However, due to media and social media exposure, and legitimate community concerns, I will say that the District Attorney’s Office was initially made aware of this incident when a report was received through the District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Hotline that we had established in 2018. An Orange County District Attorney’s Office Criminal Investigator immediately followed up on the report. Our office quickly determined that because of the age of the individuals who may have been involved, this was not a matter that the District Attorney’s Office would have legal jurisdiction over. We referred the complaint to the Orange County Attorney’s Office, which has the legal authority, that the District Attorney’s Office lacks, to deal with under-age offenders. Juvenile matters, except for specifically defined offenses, fall to the jurisdiction Family Court where the focus is on offender rehabilitation.”
The District Attorney’s Office has never had jurisdiction to bring charges in criminal matters where the offender is fifteen years of age or younger, except for certain designated offenses. In October 2018, the presumptive age of juvenile accountability was raised so that an offender who is sixteen years old can be prosecuted as an adult under certain circumstances, not present in the Minisink case. In October 2019, such an offender would have to have reached his eighteenth birthday. Even as the District Attorney’s ability to intervene in cases involving younger offenders is further eroded by the changes in the law, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office remains committed to combatting and preventing Hate Crimes.
In September 2018, the District Attorney’s Office launched its Hate Crimes Awareness Initiative. As part of the initiative, the Office established a Hate Crimes Hotline, (800) 378-1411, that people can use to report hate crimes. Additionally, the District Attorney’s Office, with funding from the Jewish Federation, has developed an informational brochure, Speak Up to Stand Up Against Hate, and a related poster, both of which are available for public distribution.
In November 2018, the District Attorney’s Office conducted a training seminar for law enforcement officers and school officials, to provide them with information about how to recognize and investigate hate crimes, so that the perpetrators of those crimes may be successfully prosecuted. District Attorney Hoovler has assigned a senior prosecutor to coordinate efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
Every year since 2016, the District Attorney’s Office has work with school administrators, athletic directors, coaches, team captains, and student athletes to bring the “Uncommon Athlete” program to Orange County schools. That program is designed to instill in young athletes the values of perseverance, relationships, integrity, courage, and empathy, and is a crucial part of the District Attorney Office’s continuing efforts to reduce bullying and hazing in Orange County schools.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office remains committed to the concepts of community prosecution and crime prevention education strategies that have been adopted as best practices by both the New York State and National District Attorney associations. As a result, the District Attorney’s Office provides education on crime prevention, including Hate Crimes awareness training, and is responsive to community concerns. Through these efforts the District Attorney’s Office hopes to reduce incidents of hate-related offenses, even among younger offenders that cannot be prosecuted in an adult forum.
For further information about the Hate Crimes Awareness Initiative, or for copies of the initiative’s informational brochure or poster, please contact Counsel to the District Attorney Robert Conflitti by email to DACommunityAffairs@orangecountygov.com or by phone at (845) 291-2050.