The lawyer representing John P. A. Greenwood ’20 argued in a court filing that the judge should dismiss hate crime and other charges against his client, claiming that Greenwood was arrested unlawfully and has already been severely punished for an assault he did not commit.
Ronald P. Fischetti, the lawyer, also made the first public acknowledgement that Greenwood was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity, said the victim barged into his client’s house before the altercation, warned that Greenwood would be deported to Canada if found guilty and contended that he cannot get a fair trial in Ithaca.
The arguments constitute a 101-page omnibus motion filed in court on Thursday that lists Greenwood’s squash accolades, quotes online comments from Jezebel.com and includes a letter of support from the director of the sophomore’s kindergarten school.
In asking Ithaca City Court Judge Richard M. Wallace to dismiss the case in the interest of justice, Fischetti said Greenwood has been “severely punished for crimes he did not commit” by being “decried in the press as a hate-crime offender” and being forced to put his studies at Cornell on hold.
Police arrested Greenwood, who is 20, on Sept. 15 of last year, and prosecutors later charged him with attempted assault in the third degree as a hate crime, aggravated harassment in the second degree and criminal mischief, all Class A misdemeanors.
Matthew Van Houten, the Tompkins County district attorney prosecuting the case, has said Greenwood, who is white, singled out Solomon Shewit ’19, who is black, and punched him in the face, bloodying his nose early in the morning in Collegetown.
A video of an argument shortly before the altercation shows a man appearing to be Greenwood telling another student — not Shewit — “come fight us, nigger,” and Greenwood later apologized for “abhorrent language”
Van Houten said the “voluminous nature” of Fischetti’s motion “speaks to the resources that the defendant is willing to throw at defending himself and going on the offensive.” He declined to discuss Fischetti’s specific arguments, saying he would answer to the claims in his responding motion, which is due in court on March 14.
Fischetti argued in the court filing that Shewit “had trespassed into Mr. Greenwood’s home in anger” before the altercation, citing a New York State Police bloodstain analysis that found traces of Shewit’s blood in the “interior entry area” of Greenwood’s apartment.
Shewit told the police that he had run after Greenwood and others who he said called him the slur. Once he got to the walkway leading to Greenwood’s house, Shewit told police, Greenwood and several other men punched him. Fischetti argues otherwise.
“If there was a physical encounter, it occurred inside the home where Mr. Greenwood and the others were permitted to defend themselves — with no duty to retreat — against an angry trespassing intruder,” Fischetti said, noting that none of the prosecutor’s witnesses report witnessing the assault.
“Shewit began bleeding inside the home, not on the pathway as he has repeatedly sworn,” Fischetti wrote.
Students have said Greenwood’s home at 306 Eddy St., aside where the entire dispute occurred, was the unofficial Psi Upsilon annex, and the most immediate effect of Greenwood’s arrest was the permanent shuttering, four days later, of the Chi Chapter of Psi Upsilon at Cornell.
Fischetti made the first public acknowledgement of Greenwood’s connection to the fraternity, saying in the motion that the incident “so inflamed the community that a wall outside the Psi Upsilon fraternity house, Mr. Greenwood’s fraternity, was defaced.”
The executive director of the international Psi Upsilon office has said that no initiated members of the fraternity, which was suspended in spring of 2016, were involved in the September altercation, but that some members were inappropriately recruiting members while Psi Upsilon was suspended.
Fischetti argued that Ithaca Police unlawfully arrested Greenwood. The lawyer cited unreleased police body camera video that he said shows Greenwood backing into his home after Shewit pointed him out to police shortly after the altercation.
At that point, Fischetti argued in the motion, police needed a warrant to enter Greenwood’s home and arrest him because the underlying offense was a misdemeanor and there was “no reason to believe he would flee, destroy evidence, or presented a danger to others.”
The arrest was a “brazen violation” of the U.S. and state constitutions, Fischetti said, and “added one more unjustified humiliation to those he has suffered.”
If the case does go to trial, Fischetti requested that the trial take place in a neighboring county, arguing that the media attention has been intense and unfair, that Tompkins County residents have “strong negative views of fraternities at Cornell,” and that Greenwood’s wealth and use of slurs are likely to bias jurors against him.
Fischetti’s law firm, Fischetti & Malgieri LLP, hired several polling companies to conduct an internet and telephone survey of 433 jury-eligible citizens in Tompkins County. A jury in the city court trial would be comprised of City of Ithaca residents, who make up about 30 percent of the county population.
The survey found that more than a third of county residents had heard or read about a white Cornell student accused of calling a black student a slur and physically assaulting him and, of those, that about 46 percent felt the charged student was “most likely guilty of a crime.”
About 77.5 percent of those surveyed had a negative opinion of Cornell fraternities and about 78 percent said they agreed that “wealthy people seem to be treated more favorably than others by the criminal justice system.”
The motion to transfer the trial also notes that the case “has been covered in more than 135 news stories published and televised by national and local media outlets, with a concentration in Tompkins County, especially from The Cornell Daily Sun and Ithaca Voice.”
“Apart from the taint caused by media coverage, Mr. Greenwood’s race and/or his alleged use of racial slurs are likely to bias the residents of Tompkins County against him,” Fischetti wrote.
Fischetti also said comments from Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 in The Sun in September — in which Myrick said, before the hate crime charge was added, that he believed the assault was a hate crime — are “especially damaging.”
Greenwood, who has been studying business at the European School of Economics in Italy while on leave from Cornell, would likely be expelled from the University if he is convicted, his lawyer said. The lawyer also said Greenwood, a Canadian citizen, would be deported and “exiled” from the U.S. if he is convicted.
Fischetti had previously confirmed that Greenwood is on leave and that the University’s case against Greenwood, handled by the Office of the Judicial Administrator, is on hold until the criminal case concludes. Greenwood “loves Cornell” and plans to stay at the University, Fischetti said at the time.
The criminal mischief charge against Greenwood stems from the prosecutor’s claim that Greenwood knocked an iPhone out of a witness’s hand and stomped on it.
Fischetti responded to that charge in the motion, arguing that Greenwood “could reasonably have believed he had a right to take reasonable self-help measure to eject complainant from the property, as well as stop her from making a video recording while on private property.”
Fischetti also revealed a few more details about Greenwood, a 2016 graduate of Deerfield Academy who was studying in the SC Johnson College of Business until his arrest and was, according to his lawyer, a captain of the men’s varsity squash club at Cornell during his freshman year. The Cornell squash club’s coach said earlier this year that Greenwood would have been a “top player” had he not been removed from the team.
Fischetti claimed that Greenwood co-founded Busta Sports in the summer of 2014 — a sports blog that Fischetti said received a buyout offer from Grantland — but the site stopped posting in December of 2013. Fischetti did not respond to an email requesting an interview over the weekend.
The motion also includes glowing letters of support from family friends, a soccer coach, a squash coach and the director of his kindergarten, Michelle Gradish, who said Greenwood “was a high achiever (even at this early stage of development).”
Fischetti attached a copy of a polygraph examination — the likes of which are not allowed to be presented to a jury in New York courts — to the motion that reports Greenwood was being truthful when he told the proctor of the exam that Shewit was inside his house when he was assaulted. The polygraphist, Fred R. Meÿer, said Greenwood was being truthful when he said he had not caused injuries to Shewit’s nose or face.
Fischetti is an elite New York lawyer probably most widely known for defending Charles Schwarz, a police officer implicated in covering up the 1997 sexual assault of Abner Louima by other officers, an episode of police brutality that commanded national attention.
Represented by Fischetti, Schwarz’s conviction of civil rights violations was reversed on appeal and he ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to protect the other officers.
Fischetti also represented Gene Gotti in a racketeering case, and The New York Times said in 2002 that Fischetti prospers “by helping white-collar defendants, errant politicians and affluent thugs.” His firm has also represented actor James Barbour, former U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia of New York, singer Courtney Love and several other high-profile clients.
Fischetti grew up in Brooklyn and is the son of a mailman and a telephone operator, according to the 2002 interview with The Times. Ithaca attorney John A. Stevens is also working with Fischetti to represent Greenwood.