Sunny Sheu's Death -- ongoing Coverup?

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 [Black Star Investigates]

Part two of a series

Many Mysteries In Death of Judicial corruption foe

On the afternoon of Saturday, June 26th 2010, my cell phone rang, and Sunny Sheu’s name flashed on the caller ID. I was relieved to get the call, having been worried about his safety since our last meeting.


Three days prior, Sunny, Dr. Sherry Brobowsky and I had visited the Office of Court administration Ethics Department to pick up Judge Golia’s amended financial disclosure form. In front of OCA officials, Sunny brazenly claimed that the amended form constituted proof of felony fraud by Judge Golia. If Sunny’s allegations were founded, Golia could be in deep trouble, and Dr. Sherry and I worried about what might be done to quash Sunny’s efforts. (Judge Golia has declined an interview request from The Black Star News).


Now, on June 26th when I lifted the phone and said “Hi Sunny”, it was not Sunny’s voice that answered; the caller identified himself as Officer Ramos of the 109th precinct in Queens.


Ramos told me that a man, tentatively identified as Sun Ming Sheu, had been found in a coma with severe head trauma and was now at the New York Hospital of Queens. My phone number, Ramos explained, was on the speed dial list, and Ramos had dialed the list sequentially, in order to alert Sheu’s colleagues of the injury, and to summon someone to definitively identify the patient. He asked if I could come to the Hospital ASAP.


I immediately suspected the worst.


I called Dr. Brobowsky, who drove into the city from Yonkers to pick me up and take me to the Hospital.  As I waited for Sherry to arrive, I hastily uploaded the video of Sunny he had made weeks prior on YouTube, praying that Sheu’s prediction of violent retribution had not come to pass.


Before entering the hospital, I activated my cell phone video and sound recording app, and positioned the phone in my breast pocket so its camera could capture whatever was to unfold.


Sherry and I arrived at the emergency room at 8:15 pm. We were greeted by Dr. Zasheen Ahmed, a 29 year old resident, and an Emergency Room nurse named Laura. The pair stood in front of a closed curtain.


 “I’m sorry” Ahmed said, “We just covered him up”


The video recorded a silence as the meaning of these words sank in, then Sherry gasped and I cried “no, no, no”.


As the initial shock subsided, Dr. Ahmed asked us if we could identify the body. With his hair slicked back and his lifeless eyes and mouth half open, it was not immediately clear that this had been Sunny, but after examining his face and hands, we acknowledged that the body was our friend’s.


At Dr. Ahmed’s direction, we wrote down our names and numbers on a blank piece of paper and verbally confirmed Sunny’s identity.


Dr. Sherry then asked the doctors what they knew about Sunny’s injuries. Because of the call from Ramos, citing head trauma, Sherry assumed that there were external wounds and fractures.


Here's how the conversation went.


Dr. Ahmed: "We’ve got a CAT scan of his head. He’s got a massive bleed throughout his brain. It’s called a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage. "

Dr. Sherry: "Did you relieve the pressure?"

Dr. Ahmed: "No."

Dr. Sherry: "Why not?"

Dr. Ahmed: "First of all, this wasn’t traumatic most likely, there’s no signs of trauma on his head, there’s no fractures."


Dr. Ahmed and Laura went on to say that “there was not a scratch on his head, not a bump, not a lump, nothing”. When asked why Officer Ramos had cited head trauma to four different people, Dr. Ahmed replied,  “sometimes they make mistakes”.


Sherry and I then asked Dr. Ahmed if he would speak to us in private.  In a nearby hallway, we told him that we suspected foul play because of the suspicious timing of the death, as well as the death threats he had reported in is video. We asked Dr. Ahmed if he would double check for any signs of trauma, and he agreed that he would, and would let us know if his opinion changed. Before we left, Nurse Laura surprised us by giving us Sunny’s cell phone, wrapped in a plastic evidence bag.


Then Sherry and I left the hospital to get some air, and assess the situation.


Outside the hospital, Sherry phoned the 109th precinct and asked to speak with the precinct Captain, Chris Austin. Sherry informed Austin of the threats against Sheu’s life and asked Austin to send a detective to take a statement about Sheu.


Austin refused and told us to come to the Precinct house to give a statement. At this suggestion we looked at each other and shook our heads. Under the circumstances, we felt it was wiser to decline the invitation. Austin told Sherry his detectives determined there was no foul play; that a witness had seen Sheu fall and that he had suffered no head trauma at all. Sheu died of an aneurism, he told us, echoing Dr. Ahmed.


I whispered to Sherry to mention the video Sunny had made, and when she did there was a silence; then Austin yelled:  “Youtube?’s on Youtube? Why didn’t he come to us?”


Of course, Sunny had gone to the 109th many times, as well as to the Queens DA, the FBI, the CCRB, the Attorney General, Internal Affairs, and the Commission on Judicial Conduct, among others. No one had done a thing to investigate his allegations of death threats against him.


Sherry and I reentered the hospital and encountered Dr. Ahmed in the lobby. Spontaneously, he told us that he had been thinking about the earlier conversation, and wanted to reassure us that there was no head trauma.


Sherry drove me home and we went over every word, gesture and nuance of the evening. In addition to our grief and disbelief, several things did not sit comfortably with us, particularly the assessment of no head trauma. Why would Officer Ramos make that up?


I had strangely conflicting emotions that night. Of course, I was devastated by the loss of my friend, but was there any solace in the notion that he had died “naturally”? If Sunny had died of natural causes- albeit brought on by 10 years of excruciating stress- there could be some relief in the idea that his time had simply come, without a grisly murder or terrifying conspiracy behind his death.


On the other hand, it seemed tragically ironic that after years of abuse by the authorities, Sunny should die from "natural causes", while his tormentors carried on without consequence.


The next day, Sherry received a call from the ER “Head Nurse” at the Hospital. Sherry was told that she needed to come back to the hospital to officially identify the body again, as the proper identification forms had not been signed.


Sherry was also told that she must return Sheu’s cell phone to the hospital at once for “family members”. This was peculiar, as Sunny had no family in the United States that we knew of, and clearly we were the only ones who had identified the body, and were effectively “next of kin”. As Sherry couldn’t get to the Hospital on Monday and I couldn’t get there on Tuesday, Sherry asked if Wednesday would be alright. She was told that the body would certainly be there on Wednesday.


On the afternoon of Wednesday June 30, we returned to the Hospital.


We were directed to the Admitting office, where we spoke to Ernesto Macaesett, the Supervisor of the Admissions for New York Hospital Queens. Again, I had my iPhone recording the exchange. To our shock, Macasaett told us the body was no longer at the Hospital.


“What I can tell you is that [Sheu was] identified by the [109th] precinct” he told us, “and the medical examiner has taken the body…We had the police officer identify the patient, gave us the name, and it was a medical examiner case”.


Sherry objected: “There is no officer that knew him…” and Macasaet cut her off, saying, “not that they knew him, I don’t know how [they identified him]… the police officer identified him, I don’t know what documentation he had, but we were given information from the police officer that he was identified.”


Macasaet would not divulge the names of the 109th precinct police or the time of day that they had requested the transfer of the body. He only said “Sunday morning”. Information gained later through FOIL requests by The Black Star News showed that the police had arrived at 5:00 on Sunday morning to remove the body, only nine hours after his death.


We were stunned. The implications of this development were staggering:


Why would police take Sheu’s body from the Hospital at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, or have any interest in Sheu’s body when there was no “indication of criminality”?


Under what circumstance, if any, can a body, not yet officially identified by next of kin, be legally removed from a Hospital by people who have no relationship to the decedent and no means of identifying him?.


How did this “police officer” know what Sunny Sheu looked like in order to “identify” him and what documentation did he provide to prove he could identify him?


Macasaet, the Supervisor of Admissions admitted the truth on the recording: “I don’t know what documentation he had”. Not only were the police not allowed to take the body, the hospital had no legal right to release it to them.


So where was the body now? Macasaet first told us that the body had been taken to the Manhattan morgue, but a colleague interrupted and told us that it was in fact at the Queens morgue, which made more sense to us.


We drove to the Queen’s County Morgue.


There we were referred by the receptionist to Deputy ME Corrine Ambrosi, who was from the outset helpful, courteous and forthcoming. She seemed appropriately sympathetic for our loss and eager to help. Ambrosi had been told which case we were concerned about and she held the folder documenting Sheu’s case.


My first question was: “Excuse me Doctor, but how did you know that this was Sunny Sheu’s body?”


Dr. Ambrosi replied that the file contained the name of the person who identified the body and his relationship to the deceased. She leafed through the folder and  when she reached the pertinent page I noticed her eyes widen. “That’s strange”, she exclaimed “there’s no record of anyone having identified the body”.


I am over six feet tall, and standing beside Dr. Ambrosi I could see the pages of the folder as she went through them. At one point I saw a page with the schematic figure of a male body from the rear. At the back of the skull, just above the neck was a dark, vigorously drawn circle in blue ball-point ink, with a line leading from it to the description “4cm”.


I cautiously broached the question: “I don’t know if you can tell me but was there any head trauma?"


Ambrosi: “I’m not keeping anything from you”. She paused. “Yes there certainly was.”


This was the moment I realized we were swimming in very deep water. Why had Captain Austin and Dr. Ahmed denied that there had been head trauma?

Officer Ramos, who had clearly reported to Austin, and Dr. Ahmed, had provided the incorrect information.


I felt a jolt of adrenaline and discreetly kicked Sherry’s leg as Dr. Ambrosi continued to flip through the pages of the autopsy report, suddenly appearing a bit more subdued. 


My Call to the Medical Examiner


I now realized that I possessed information that could implicate some individuals in foul play in connection with Sunny Sheu's death.


After about a week, I called Dr. Michael Greenberg, the Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy. At the time I called, Dr. Greenberg had already officially determined the “manner of death” as “natural”. As opposed to the “cause of death” which describes the physical means of a death --eg: stabbing, shooting, trauma, heart attack etc.-- the “manner of death” describes the legal status of the death. The categories of “Manner of Death” include natural, accidental, homicidal, suicidal and “undetermined”, if none of the above could be immediately established.


The significance of the “manner of death” determination is that under New York law An “Undetermined death” has to be investigated, whereas a “natural death” is not.


Here's how my conversation with Greenberg went:


Me: “What happened to [Sunny Sheu]?””


Dr. Greenberg: “From what I understand, he collapsed and struck his head on the ground, which resulted in bleeding around the brain."


Me: “Is it possible that he was struck on the head before he fell to the ground?”


Dr. Greenberg: “According to the police report that I got, he was witnessed and just collapsed… but from the autopsy itself it was impossible to tell how the injuries were sustained. It was consistent with him collapsing on the ground, but if I didn’t have this witness story, I probably would have left it undetermined for now."


Me: "So if there hadn’t been a witness, it would be an open question as to what happened?"


Dr. Greenberg: Right, Yeah, Right.


The “police report” or ”witness story” that convinced Greenberg to initially determine that the death was “natural”, was later acquired by The Black Star News through a FOIL request to the Medical Examiner --the same document was denied to The Black Star by the NYPD. The “report” was actually a note, written by the NYPD liason to the Medical Examiner’s office, Detective Grant, attributing the information to Chris Austin, Detective and then Captain of the 109th precinct. It read:




So the 109th precinct had concluded that there had been "no criminality."


Yet, as Dr. Greenberg himself admits, it was precisely the memo from Austin that led to his initial determination of “natural death”.  Perhaps my questions made Greenberg reassess his conclusion, because days after the conversation Greenberg changed his determination of the manner of death; from “natural”, which requires no investigation, to “undetermined”, which under New York law requires an investigation.


The report from Austin to the ME raises a host of difficult questions not yet answered by Captain Austin and the NYPD:


Who is this witness that called 911 and was interviewed by EMS and police officers? Why won't police supply this witness' name to The Black Star after the newspaper requested it through FOIL? Even the intensely personal 911 calls made by the victims of 9/11 are available to public, because that is what the law requires.


It surely can't be on account of an ongoing criminal investigation, because the Grant note, attributing the information to Austin, specifically states that there is “no criminality”. Why is the NYPD refusing to release the identity or interview of this witness?


If a witness had been there, how would the police know that the witness didn’t see Sheu collapse moments after being struck on the head? What's more, how was the witness cleared by the police of a possible role in Sheu's death?

Furthermore, how could Austin say that “the squad is holding the case as an accident with no criminality” when no investigation had been conducted?


There are other glaring inconsistencies.


“Time of the injury” was recorded at “18.15”, which is 6:15 pm. But the first call Officer Ramos made from Sunny’s phone was at 4:29 PM, reporting that Sheu had suffered “head trauma”.  A typographical error, or did Ramos know about Sheu’s injuries nearly two hours before the 911 call?


When I spoke by telephone to a Detective Ardisano at the 109th precinct over two weeks after Sheu’s death, he said was unaware of the incident I was referring to. Clearly, Austin had never consulted Detective Ardisano, who is on the homicide squad, so he cannot truthfully claim that "the Squad is holding this as an accident with no criminality.” When Ardisano looked up the case, he said the records showed that Sheu died “naturally” of an “aneurism”, with no head trauma, and that no witness was mentioned.


I asked Ardisano: “If the M.E. had discovered that something had happened to him, like trauma, would they have reported that back to you.”

Ardisano: “They would have to”

Me: “right away?”

Ardisano: “Yeah”


It was clear to me that Ardisano was “out of the loop”. Had he been involved with  a cover up he would not have  contradicted his Captain’s account of Sheu’s death.


Later, when The Black Star News’ Milton Allimadi reached Dr. Ahmed by phone, he made a stunning revelation, as Allimadi recounts.

Allimadi: “Do you believe there was foul play involved?”

Dr. Ahmed: “Yes.”

Dr. Ahmed also confirmed to Allimadi that there had been head trauma. He declined to elaborate, citing patient’s privacy, and referred Allimadi to a hospital spokesperson who wouldn’t respond to a question about why the body was released to the police.

This is the time for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to become involved in this matter.


The Black Star News sent a letter via certified mail receipt to Commissioner Kelly raising questions about the Sheu case and also copied the mayor.

The newspaper has yet to receive a response.


Part three to come: Who authorized the hasty cremation of Sheu's body?  Who now owns the house wrongfully taken from Sheu -- a house that may have cost him his life in the end?


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