By Doug WyllieScreen grab of YouTube video showing Judge Naita Semaj-Williams holding her infant daughter during her Induction to Bronx Civil Court in January 2019. Semaj-Williams subsequently won a 14-year term on the Criminal Court bench in November 2021.
For more than a year, justice-minded citizens across the country have been—for good reason—directing much of their ire toward Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
There is, of course, the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump on 34 first-degree felony charges of falsifying business records in connection with a $130,000 “hush-money” payment by lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election.
Many see this move as a politically motivated vendetta against the frontrunner in the race to secure the Republican nomination for the 2024 election—and that opinion may mirror the facts of the matter—but Bragg has been the target of criticism well before that action garnered national attention.
Immediately upon taking office in January 2022, Bragg issued the now-infamous “day one memo” in which he directed his office to not prosecute armed robberies, resisting arrest, and other crimes. In the year since that policy directive, crime in the city has skyrocketed and residents who can afford to do so have relocated to places like Florida and Texas.
However, it’s imperative to note that Bragg isn’t the only official in the New York City criminal justice system to do—and say—things that infuriate law-abiding citizens in the Big Apple as those living well beyond its five boroughs.
Take, for example, Criminal Court Judge Naita Semaj-Williams.
Recently Released Offender Re-Offends
In early April, Semaj-Williams presided over the arraignment of 28-year-old Tyresse Minter, who faces charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. The circumstances of Minter’s arrest in January merit mention before we examine precisely what Semaj-Williams did during that April proceeding.
First and foremost, the deceased victim in this case is the teenage stepson of the accused murderer.
Police records indicate that a heated dispute occurred between 15-year-old Corde Scott and his stepfather, during which Minter allegedly put the boy in a neck/choke hold, cutting off his oxygen supply. The young man soon lost consciousness and subsequently died.
Further, records indicate that Minter did not call 911 to report the victim’s death until approximately 20 minutes later, after reportedly attempting to clean the scene and dispose of evidence.
Finally, according to court records, Minter was out on parole—freed from state prison only a month prior—at the time of the incident that resulted in the strangulation death of an innocent young man.
Murder a Teen… Walk Free
In court, prosecutors had asked for Minter to be held without bail. They had also asked that the Court delay the hearing a few moments in order to allow time for the grieving mother of the slain teen to arrive in the room so she may face the accused. That’s when things went pretty wildly off the rails.
According to reports, Semaj-Williams barked, “I understand that you might want her to be sitting here in the courtroom, but what does that have to do with the actual task at hand?”
Bronx prosecutor Christopher Conway replied, “Judge, our preference would be to wait, because this is a homicide case.”
Semaj-Williams callously fired back, “Oh, your preference? Oh, my. You know what? My bad. I completely forgot that your preference actually matters. Are you serious right now?”
Then, as if to add injury to insult, Semaj-Williams released Minter on his own recognizance.
Apparently, it is the opinion of this jurist that it’s worse to be late to court than to kill a teenager. Fortunately, even Governor Kathy Hochul—not exactly known as a “law-and-order” type—seems to disagree.
According to WABC-TV News, Hochul told the state department of corrections to issue an arrest warrant for Minter, and he was soon apprehended and taken back into custody.
If at first you don’t succeed …or something along those lines.
Anything but an Anomaly
Frequent visitors to this space will be unsurprised to discover that Semaj-Williams’ penchant for perpetrators over innocent, vulnerable people has been on display before Minter strode into her courtroom.
In February of this year, Semaj-Williams had before her two accused teenage criminals facing felony charges—including one charged with murder—
The New York Post reported at the time that prosecutors from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office had asked for both 17-year-old boys to be held on bail, but Semaj-Williams ruled they should be freed—one on supervised release and the other on his own recognizance.
In one case, 17-year-old Braulio Garcia and 16-year-old Jonathan Aponte—both now facing charges of manslaughter, murder, gang assault, and other crimes—shoved an innocent 38-year-old man onto the tracks at the Fordham Road subway station. A Good Samaritan dove to the man’s aid, saving him, but amidst his heroics was fatally struck by an oncoming train.
Then there’s the case of 16-year-old drill rapper Camrin Williams—known in rap music circles as “C Blu” and reportedly a member of the Reywey Crew, a subset of the Crips.
Williams was arrested after a gun was discharged during a physical confrontation with a NYPD officer. Importantly, the officer suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound.
Semaj-Williams said during early proceedings in the case that it was unclear who actually squeezed the trigger of the gun—an absurd argument when a gun goes “bang” while a cop is in a fight for their live with a gangbanger.
She then ordered 17-year-old released from custody despite being involved in a serious assault case involving a firearm and even had the temerity to add that the case should be handled in family court.
Charges against “C Blu” were eventually dropped, but the was arrested after fleeing from a traffic stop. At the time of that arrest he was in possession of an illegal firearm loaded with 11 in the magazine and one in the chamber.
Nothing about that particular case makes any rational sense, but those are the known facts of the matter.
Gotham Denizens Strike Back
Like many elected members of the court in places like New York—a city which has not been carried by a Republican presidential candidate since 1924—Semaj-Williams’ legal pedigree is steeped in left-leaning practices and policies.
She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in social work at Lehman College in 2000 and spent five years toiling for a handful of foster care agencies in New York while she worked on her law degree at St. Johns University. Upon passing the bar, she worked in family court on behalf of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, focusing primarily on abuse and neglect cases.
Semaj-Williams won a 14-year term on the Criminal Court bench in November 2021 and took office in the following January. Consequently, the good people of New York City are stuck with her until at least December 31, 2035.
Some believe that this just won’t do—they want her to be done with her “work” far sooner than that.
An online petition has been launched to impeach Semaj-Williams, stating—in part—that she has “a history of being too soft on criminals” and that “the community would be much safer without her misguided and foolish decisions.”
There’s done, and then there’s done, and there is presently a pretty wide chasm between the former and the latter. The effort to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin in San Francisco was successful—a similar attempt to unseat District Attorney George Gascón in Los Angeles failed.
It remains to be seen what comes of the endeavor to undo what the voters in New York seem to have done to themselves. We’ll be watching—and waiting—to see.