Color Of Injustice: Businessman Claims Six Year Campaign To Chase Family From Howard Beach Continues
Gounden captured part of the heated exchange with Statland on his cell phone video camera. "This neighbor has threatened to have me arrested several times," he says.
Part One of a Series
A Queens businessman who made New York headlines six years ago when he faced hostility from some neighbors after his family moved into a Howard Beach home says he's again facing a concerted harassment campaign to drive him away and he fears that this time police officers are involved.
Kris Gounden, 44, claims one of his neighbors has made life for him and his family a "nightmare" in recent months and that their disputes have escalated because officers side with the neighbor.
When the Goundens first moved into the two-house property on six adjoining lots in 2006, they endured racist taunts and an incident involving a threat of attack with a baseball bat from a neighbor, according to Gounden and newspaper accounts. "The ultimate goal is still the same, which is to drive us from Howard Beach," Gounden says, of the recent incidents of alleged harassment. Gounden and his wife Cheryl, are dark-skinned Guyanese immigrants of East Indian ancestry. They have a teenage daughter, a son who just turned six, and a three-year-old daughter. The Goundens live on the Hamilton Beach section of Howard Beach. They were the only non-White family there when they moved into the neighborhood. He says they now have some friends and supporters but that some people still see them as unwelcome. "People lost their lives to have the right to live anywhere in this country during the Civil Rights struggle," Gounden says. "I'm not about to dishonor their legacy by running away." One incident this past summer has landed him, unfairly Gounden says, in legal hotwater.
Gounden says he was arrested June 12 after a verbal confrontation with the neighbor, Scott Statland. He claims Statland, who is White, launched a verbal attack against him, using expletives, even though his son also named Kris, then five years old, was in the car with him. Gounden captured part of the heated exchange with Statland on his cell phone video camera. "This neighbor has threatened to have me arrested several times," he says. "He has even called ACS on my family, claiming, completely falsely, that we abuse our children. I have documented all these incidents, including the June 12 incident, and plan to introduce it in court should the phony charges proceed to trial." The reference to ACS is to the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) a New York City agency.
Scott Statland did not return an email message from The Black Star News seeking comment and his version of the incident of June 12. A phone number for Statland wasn't available.
Gounden says the June incident started at around 2PM when he was driving to pick up his son from school. He said he discovered a truck belonging to Statland partially blocking the driveway leading out of his property. When he tried to maneuver his car pass, Statland, who was driving another SUV, cut him off, he says. "The cutting off with the SUV happens on a regular basis," Gounden says.
He says when he reached for his cell phone to try and call the police, Statland pulled out a camera, took his picture and drove off. On his way to his son's school, Gounden says he again encountered Statland, who was inside his SUV, now parked outside the office of Assemblyman Joseph Addabbo.
When Gounden first moved to Howard Beach, Addabbo, who was then a New York City Council member, told media outlets that Gounden had exaggerated the level of racism he claims to have encountered from the community, according to accounts at the time. "Statland is frequently at Addabbo's office," Gounden says.
As he drove on towards his son's school, Statland yelled insults at him, Gounden says. On his way back home, with his son inside the car, Statland came running towards his car, he says. "I don't know what he wants to do so I took his picture," Gounden says. "He comes over to the car and starts saying he's gonna have me arrested. 'You fucking this' he says. I said 'excuse me, I have a five-year-old in the car.' And he leans into my car at my son and yells, 'Hello, five year old mail thief."
Statland claimed letters had been disappearing from his mailbox and accused the boy of stealing the mail, Gounden says: "I thought that was crazy. This is a guy in his late 40s. I get out of he car and he pushes me. He pushed me back. He starts yelling and curses at me."
"I tell him 'you should stop coming to my property.' He says 'it's not your property it belongs to the City.' As I enter the car, he pushes me again and I push him back," Gounden says, adding that in addition to the video he has a witness.
Gounden says when he got home he called the police and two officers showed up but did not take a report or arrest Statland, he says. Then on June 18, he got a call from the 106 precinct, he says. "I get a call from a detective Brown who says I should go in because there is an ongoing investigation and they need my help," he recalls.
Gounden was accompanied by a friend of his, Posr Posr, a paralegal he's worked with on several of his real property related cases unrelated to the incident with Statland. At the precinct, Gounden says, he was told to empty his pockets. "Officer Brown was yelling at me, saying 'You have to learn to get along with your neighbor. Why are you blocking the street?' I said 'are you investigating or have you already made up your mind?' He said 'we have a neighbor of yours who said you assaulted him.'"
Gounden says the police refused to review his video recording of the incident. "So, based on the neighbor's words, just as he had warned me several times that he would have me arrested, I was locked up," he says.
At a court appearance the next day he was warned to stay away from Statland who was also granted a restraining order. "So the victim now becomes the culprit," he says.
More than one month after the June incident, on July 17, Gounden was arrested by officers who came to his home from the 106 precinct and whisked him away in handcuffs. This time, Statland had called police and claimed that he had violated the order of protection. "He told the police that I had screamed at him from my property," Gounden says.
The properties are separated by a fence. After another overnight stay as a guest of the 106 precinct, a court date was set for July 30.
"On July 18, I went back to the 106 precinct. I was determined to make a statement about the incident in June with Statland," Gounden says. "I wanted them to record my version which they refused when I was first arrested." He says he spent about 20 minutes recording his complaint with an officer named Cangelosi, who also gave him a receipt.
Between July 18 and the July 30 court date, Gounden says he called several times for the official police complaint number but was never provided one. On July 30, he stopped by the 106 precinct and was told no record of the complaint he filed with Officer Cangelosi, existed.
On July 30 at court a legal aid attorney who was unfamiliar with his case told him the attorney who was supposed to handle his case, Erica Holder, was on another trial, Gounden says. "She also said the DA was willing to offer me community work and two years restraining order to stay away from Statland if I take a guilty plea. I refused. Why should I plead guilty when I'm not?" he says.
Gounden said Holder wouldn't return his phone calls. After The Black Star News called Holder and left her a voicemail mesage, she called Gounden back on the same day and scheduled an appointment. The two met and after she reviewed the phone video recording Holder told him she would ask the Queens County DA to drop the case, he says.
But at the next court appearance instead of asking for the case to be dismissed, Holder informed Gounden and the judge that she was withdrawing from his defense since he was a property owner, which she was aware of all along, he says. "Instead of asking that the case be dropped she later berated me and said 'What kind of person goes around videotaping incidents'? I told her she would do the same if she faced the kind of harassment I did," he says.
When The Black Star News called Holder she denied that she had ever seen the video recording of the encounter. "If you publish anything with my name I'll sue you," she threatened. The Black Star News determined that Holder reviewed the recording.
Gounden says it was after the July 30 court appearance that the 106 precinct finally gave him a complaint number, 4492,
to acknowledge that he had filed his own version of the encounter with Statland. "This is just an abuse of police power," he says.
The case was again adjourned this week to give Gounden time to find an attorney. Even though he's a property owner, Gounden says he faces bankruptcy because the city hasn't paid him tens of thousands of dollars in rent owed for housing tenants under section 8 and other programs. "This isn't a coincidence either. The withholding of rent all started when I moved to Howard Beach," Gounden claims. (Gounden's struggles with HPD will be explored in a subsequent article in The Black Star News).
Paul Browne, the New York Police Department's top spokesperson did not respond to written inquiries seeking comment about Gounden's case.
Similarly, Deputy Inspector Thomas M. Pascale, the 106 precinct commander, did not respond to a written inquiry seeking comment.
Community Affairs Officer Kenny Zorn at the 106 precinct initially returned a call. He didn't return another message specifically seeking information about Gounden's encounter with Statland.
"Mr. Gounden presently has two cases pending in criminal court -- one for assault and the other for criminal contempt. As such, it would be inappropriate to comment on either case," says Kevin R. Ryan, the top spokesperson for Richard Brown the Queens County DA when contacted for comment.
"Any information or evidence that Mr. Gounden may have regarding his criminal cases should be given to his attorney. In addition, Mr. Gounden should contact the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau regarding any difficulties he may have experienced with NYPD officers."
Gounden did speak with an investigator with the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau this week.
He believes there are only a handful of officers at the 106 precinct who may have marked him out for retaliation. On February 21, nearly four months before the encounter with Statland, a female officer from the 106, who at one point identified herself as Officer Peralta came to his residence, he believes responding to a call from Statland.
Gounden has installed security devices in his home and Officer Peralta can be heard speaking to Gounden in an audio
"What are you doing to your home? Remodeling?"
Gounden responds that he was working on his floor.
When Gounden asked the officer if she herself had heard any loud noise while approaching his home, she doesn't respond.
"I really don't care," Officer Peralta then snaps, when Gounden asks her who had called the police with a complaint. "If you wanna play detective and find out who it was, I really don't care," she adds.
The officer also offers an interesting remark, regarding the identity of the caller: "I don't care who it was. That's not really my concern. I didn't even get his name. I'm just here to tell you that you're too loud."
Then, as the officer is walking away, Gounden can be heard on the tape asking: "Excuse me, did you just curse me?"
At that point, the officer raises her voice even higher, according to the audio recording: "Did I curse at you? Did I curse at you? You fucking ass hole," the voice on the tape can be heard. She also adds: "Jesus fucking Christ. If you don't fucking mind."
Gounden says that was just one of several such incidents in which officers routinely come to his home from the 106 precinct on what he claims are frivolous complaints. "I'm not sure if Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are aware this is the way Police resources are being deployed," he says.
"I wish the people who hate us know how hard I worked and how many years I saved to buy a home," says Gounden, who in the past worked for several airlines as a mechanic.
Family photographs show the toll from the stress since Gounden moved into the neighborhood. He lost considerable weight and has gone almost bald over the six year period, he says.
There is not much laughter in the Gounden home. The ordeal has also taken a toll on his wife, Cheryl, and their children.
Cheryl suffered a miscarriage shortly after Gounden was arrested for the Statland incident.
Note To Readers: Part Two will focus on what Gounden believes is a campaign to destroy his residential rental business. If you've also faced serious challenges and have a compelling story with documentation and evidence please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 481-7745.
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