“I paid my debt to society”: dad frustrated at still being behind bars for NyQuil theft

NEW YORK (WPIX) – His story prompted a demand for justice and now, from inside a New York prison, a 58-year-old inmate has said he has been punished enough for his crimes.

Reggie Randolph, a near-blind man who spent more than 850 days in a Rikers Island prison after stealing NyQuil cold medicine was transferred to the Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill in late November. He is currently serving a sentence of two to four years in the state maximum security prison.

“My inmate number is 21A-2448,” Randolph told WPIX. “I am no longer being sued for my case, it seems. I understand. I am human. I made mistakes.

His sentence stems from the theft of around 40 boxes of NyQuil cold medicine in 2018 from two separate Duane Reade pharmacies in Manhattan.

“I stole for $ 198 from NyQuil,” Randolph said. “I would steal the NyQuil, sell it and buy my medicine. I was on heroin and crack.

He said he has been sober for almost a year now. Randolph was previously diagnosed with a schizoaffective mental health disorder and is currently struggling with a myriad of medical issues.

“I am blind in my right eye and legally blind in my left eye,” he said.

In the wake of the NyQuil thefts, prosecutors working under the direction of outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance escalated criminal charges against Randolph.

His case history implies that he was disqualified from two pre-trial diversion programs – approved by prosecutors and the court – that allegedly prevented him from getting out of jail.

His comprehensive record includes five felony convictions between the mid-1980s and 2005, as well as more than 53 convictions for non-violent theft and misdemeanor drug possession.

Still, Randolph has a rooting family on the outside. Tunisa McClan, the mother of her two daughters who lives in Florida, spoke to WPIX last month.

“He deserves the opportunity to show his children that he is capable of much more than the state has called him”, she said.

Randolph believes he is being unfairly punished for stealing the NyQuil in addition to all the other crimes from his troubled past.

“It’s like a triple jeopardy. Do you understand what I’m saying? I paid my debt to society for the crime, ”he said.

His lawyers argue that these crimes – committed while he was high or trying to get high – were used repeatedly to justify giving him a harsher sentence after each new conviction.

Criminal justice advocates argue that the process has become an institutionalized cog in the criminal justice system, meaning that instead of placing defendants like Randolph in a supportive environment to deal with their mental health and drug issues, the system ends up putting them behind bars.

Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she has seen this scenario before.

“It doesn’t work for anyone except for political pimps who think it’s a good idea to just lock them up and throw away the key whenever there’s a problem. And here we have an aging man, with a serious, chronic history of serious problems, and we failed it – miserably, ”Lieberman said. “And it’s no coincidence that it was a black man living in New York who was driven by bicycle. We need to change our laws – the last vestiges of the Rockefeller drug laws. We need to get rid of the system that allows mandatory minimum sentences for people because they have a long record. It is the antithesis of treating people in a rehabilitative way.

On its online data dashboard, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is touting a 57.7% drop in court cases between 2013 and 2019.

Additionally, it has been five years since the prosecutor’s office began refusing to prosecute several low-intensity non-violent offenses, including subway fare fraud, possession of marijuana, and unlicensed street vending.

But it’s important to note that while newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has pledged to continue to avoid the practice of non-violent misdemeanors, these decisions will be made at the discretion of his office.

This includes deciding which non-violent criminal offenses will not be prosecuted.

WPIX has repeatedly contacted Vance and Bragg to request an interview or even comment for this report. Bragg did not respond to the request and a spokesperson for Vance declined to comment.

But this spokesperson previously sent a statement which read: “The judge decided it was not a simple shoplifting case because Mr. Randolph removed more than 40 boxes from several stores in order to resell them. Regardless, our office has supported Mr. Randolph through several stages of this case, from agreeing to deal with his case in a specialized drug treatment court, to supporting his participation in several programs. substance abuse treatment in an institution instead of incarceration, to the leniency application process currently underway. . “

Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie plans to introduce a potentially historic bill as early as next week.

He would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, the same policy that in August gave a judge no choice but to sentence Randolph to two to four years in state prison after his robbery from NyQuil.

“Sir. Randolph has issues that don’t have to cope with incarceration and that have been proven,” Myrie said. “Force the court to say, ‘Is this the right choice for this person? “Is incarceration really going to help them rehabilitate? Is it really going to help keep our community safe?” That is the purpose of this bill, and it is to allow the court to make this decision without having its hands tied. “

Every time Randolph gets out of jail, he has a room ready and waits for him at the Redemption Center, a supportive housing center in Queens, New York – with employment, health and social services.

Adrian Griffen moved in last year after spending 20 years in prison.

“It was all at my disposal. Like, right now. It wasn’t a line, it wasn’t… going 10 times a day to different shelters trying to find help, ”Griffen said. “He was available immediately.

Randolph said he was ready for another chance to take charge of his life and reconnect with his family.

“I felt like I was dealing with my drug addiction, I was selfish – depriving them of their father, which wasn’t fair,” he said.

Following the PIX11 News interview, Randolph learned that there would be no chance to spend the holidays with his family.

Corrections officials have postponed his parole hearing, which was scheduled for Wednesday, due to an internal administrative incident.

As a result, the 58-year-old inmate will remain in prison and may have to wait up to three months before he can get another parole hearing.

Until then, only New York Governor Kathy Hochul can help Randolph.

A few months ago, his lawyers at the Legal Aid Society filed a petition with his administration to commute Randolph’s prison sentence.

WPIX has learned that Hochul has yet to make a decision.

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