ON THE ROAD TO POUGHKEEPSIE
Reprint, From August 1998 Special Edition: Tawana Brawley
“Evidence Concealed Now Revealed: Great White Hoax Exposed”
By Bernice Elizabeth Green
Minister Clemson Brown shows up on time at half-past five in the morning (July 6) to pick us up in his road-weary gray van. He and his 15-year-old granddaughter, LaToya, arrived in Brooklyn two hours ago after a 12-hour drive from a Charlotte, N.C., family reunion. Now, he’s collecting passengers for a two-hour trip to Poughkeepsie where Alton Maddox, C. Vernon Mason, and The Rev. Al Sharpton are turning the town upside down at the Dutchess County Courthouse on Market Street.
Twenty minutes later, the van pulls in front of Spoon’s house in East New York. The retired detective jumps in the car and asks to take over the wheel, but Brown’s all right. He feeling his third wind.
Next stop is Nurse Fanny Clarke’s home in Queens, near La Guardia airport. Brown beams all the way u the Jackie Robinson Parkway. “It’s Alton’s Day,” he says, and it is worth half-day’s driving to be on time for Maddox’s summation in the defamation trial.
At 6:15 am, we’re moving into the driveway of Fanny Clarke, RN. The sun splashes gold across the front of her house. Brown doesn’t have to beep his horn. Nurse Clarke — in a sweep of soft cotton with colorful Indian and African imprints — emerges, one hand shielding her face from the sun, the other clutching the ever-present big black leather bag — before the van’s motor settles into silence. Seeing Minister Brown chewing on a toothpick reminds her of something she left in the house. She returns with her bag bulging with bottles. Spoon helps her into the van, the reserved front passenger seat. “I’m the boss,” she says quietly. “Let s get organized. Let’s get going.”
We help Nurse Fanny sort five sets of vitamin orders, including one for Minister Brown; another for Camille Yarbrough. Nurse Fanny, too, cannot contain herself. It’s been a long eight months — the longest trial of its type, perhaps in U.S. history. Like Brown and Spoon, Fanny is excited about seeing her friend, “Maddox, Attorney at War”, present his closing summation in the $395 million defamation against him, Mason, and Rev. Sharpton.
It is said that the measure of a man is reflected by the kind of people with whom he surrounds himself. Brown, Spoon, Clarke, and hundreds of supporters who journeyed from Bedford Avenue and Fulton by chartered bus, everyday are ordinary people with extraordinary gifts. We had seen Maddox from a distance — he, on stage as speaker; we, in the back rows of various theaters and school auditoriums around Harlem and Brooklyn. We know the two-hour trek with these three soldiers — a crime fighter, video-archivist, and a professional nurse — would be an interesting introduction to Maddox.
Clarke, a professional nurse, is petite and soft-spoken. She has a razor-sharp memory, plus she can “read” you. From the lines in your hands, she can see if longevity defines your future. But she also deciphered the abstruse medical terminology the defendants couldn’t figure out. And she helped Maddox school Mason for Stanton’s relentless cross-examination. Mason later remarked that the only positive thing Stanton ever said about him was how he transformed himself into Dr. Kildare overnight. (Mason, Clarke notes, has a powerful memory of his own.)
Nurse Clarke offers huge doses of advice and counsel when she feels it is needed. She even put a reluctant Minister Brown in Poughkeepsie Hospital for a bum foot. They kept him for four days; he might have lost his leg if Nurse hadn’t stepped in! One day, almost every member of the team caught a cold. After a night of Nurse Clarke’s vitamin therapy, they all strode into court, ready for the Apocalypse, fit as fiddles and ready to play. This charming, gentle woman is the only woman on the inside, and she is the boss. The guards do not stop her when she sweeps past them and sits without asking in the special area close to the well of the courtroom. “She’s part of the team,” a guard says.
Minister Clemson Brown is a man on a mission to document every political event of significance to the greater African American community. His Transatlantic Productions has the most extensive collection of video documentation of the black experience from an historical perspective. “My work is part of my quest to understand the truth relating to the African presence and contributions to world development,” he tells us. He followed such historians as Asa Hilliard, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, and Ivan Van Sertima to conferences in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean to document what was happening.
For the last eight months, he‘s played a major role in the happenings upstate — in front of and behind hi digital Hi-8 camera. He has documented everything and over the past ten years has produced more footage on the Tawana Brawley story than anyone else. He went where New York State investigators failed to go, securing key interviews with witnesses supporting Miss Brawley. His documentary Tawana Brawley — Th African American Experience in the Legal System was key in helping turn the trial around and was entered as evidence. Sundays find Minister Brown at his home church, St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church, taping all three services.
“My grandfather has a great mind,” says, LaToya. “He taught me about my African history, and he’s taken me to Africa. He’s wise and kindhearted. But most of all, thinks farther than most people.” Brown is spiritual, but he is also tough. He can pray on the spot or be called on at a moment’s notice to give pithy incisive commentary about whatever’s happening. He does this on the fly, for media, if necessary. (After church on July 19, he edited special footage for Dr. Clarke’s wake, dropped it off Monday morning at Professor James Smalls’ home, then headed upstate. After the trial, he drove down to the wake. The next morning, he was back in Dutchess County. That evening, he taped Dr. John Henrik Clarke’s funeral from beginning to end and was on the road four hours late for his work in Poughkeepsie.)
Minister Brown asked Spoon, also a member of St. Paul’s, to join him in Poughkeepsie. Since December Spoon’s been lending his formidable detective skills and extensive crime-solving acumen to the case. Spoon’s world shifts from moment to moment. He can hold court as a stone-faced Nubian sentry, shift to ace detective ferreting out “Just the facts, ma’am!” and gear us as outspoke iconoclast bashing existing media perceptions of what it means to be black, and on to showman, who breaks into a song (or soliloquy) at the slightest provocation. He’s very much at ease in electronic interviews about the case; a Mid-Hudson Valley regional station gave him 15 minutes of airtime, talking about the verdict. But when there’s trouble brewing, he puts everything aside and goes into Elliott Ness mode. Point in fact, a strange man, hanging around reporters last Spring outside the courthouse didn’t get past Spoon’s radar and instincts. Spoon nailed him. Turns out the bad guy had gunshot shells hidden in his socks. Yet, it’s getting harder for Spoon to work undercover. Even folks in Poughkeepsie recognized him for his appearances on “Geraldo.”
We’re coasting on the Ta conic Parkway. Spoon is driving. Today, he adds another 250 miles to the 40,000 Brown’s put on the car traveling from Brooklyn to Poughkeepsie and back, since the winter. “For four months, I’ve been Fanny’s chauffeur,” said Brown. “For six months, I’ve been Brown’s nurse,” remarks Clarke. “And I’ve had a chauffeur and a nurse for several months,” says Spoon.
“Steve Jackson did a good summation last week,” Minister Brown says. “He stepped up to the plate and went into Pagones’ face.”
Graham: “He told the jury, ‘You’ve got the power to stop these people. You’ve got the power to op people like this.’ He rocked with it. ‘You’ve got to hold him responsible, he said. ‘You can stop characters that misuse the system to ensure there is justice.’”
“There’s a bag of apples I brought from North Carolina in the back if you want ‘em,” says Clemson n. “Got sodas for everybody so we don’t have to stop.” It’s 6:00a “Ever gone to a family reunion?” he asks no one in particular. “They have a lot more power than what people give them credit for. They prove our strength is in our families.”
“I know you had a lot of good food down south, Brown,” says Nurse Clarke. “I’ve kept a record of what you need. But I’m giving you another plan. And I have something for your memory.” She reaches into the medicine chest and pulls out Gingko. “I’ve got for Camille Yarbrough, I’ve got for Ann. With all the vitamins, looks like I’m peddlin’ pills. They’ll arrest me up there.”
Spoon: “That’s all right, Fanny. There’d be a demonstration on your behalf.”
* * *
A sea of press ebb and flow as lawyers, defendants, and plaintiffs walk from different directions to enter the Dutchess County Courthouse on Market Street. The courthouse is on hallowed ground, and the reporters haven’t a clue, or they don’t care. In 1788, it was the site of the New York delegation’s ratification of the Constitution of the United States. It is reported that the Market Street location was the site of long ago slave auctions.
A nearby parking lot hosts several visiting New York television station satellite trucks. “Millions of dollars! Not for the homeless, not for the truth, but for all the lies that’s fit to print or can be jammed into 60 seconds,” says Djata, a Maddox supporter, one of many who arrives daily from Brooklyn on a chartered bus, known as the Harlem Stage Coach.
Around 8:40 am, the crowd moves into the courthouse through the checkpoints and x-ray machines. Nurse Fanny heads for the stairs.
“In God We Trust” hangs on the wall in the back of the Judge’s station. Those words are safely out of Judge S. Barrett Hickman’s line of vision. Eight portraits of Dutchess County justices from other eras line the walls. There’s a small, awkward boxed-i area for the jury. There are two sections for spectators; in each, the press sits in the second row, behind special front rows for the plaintiff’s and defendant’s family, friends, and supporters. In the final days of the trial, court officers create a V.V.I.P. section with chairs placed in front of the VIP row — for New York media bigwigs: the New York Times, The New York Post, and the Daily News.
On Judge Hickman’s right (in the front row) are the Maddox/Mason/Sharpton supporters: — Nurse Fanny and sign painter from Brooklyn with Rev. Augustus William Jones of Bethany Baptist Church, former U.S. Marshall Ray Harris, and former Bronx Justice Ron Garnett. On the judge’s left are Pagones’ family and family friends: Nikki Pagones, his wife, is there for her third or fourth visit to court, along with Harry Crist’s sister and others. In each section are the dozens of Maddox/Mason/Sharpton supporters.
Clemson Brown sits at the head of a long table. Maddox, visiting attorney Clayton Jones, Mason, Steven Jackson, and Michael Hardy are there. The Maddox team can stare at the backs of Pagones, Stanton, and Pagone’s father. They sit at an equally long table. The packed court comes to order with Judge Hickman’s appearance. Maddox quietly strides to the front, in full command.
At age three, Maddox was proficient in reading, writing, and computing arithmetic problems; at age five, he was skipped to a higher grade; by age 12, he had read dozens of manuals discarded by a military school for (white) boys near his Georgia rural home. Since birth, he had absorbed the word and the storm-and-stillness style of his minister father’s great preaching. His mother, a teacher, set the standards in the Maddox home. He learned to be on time and he learned not to waste it. He learned that growing up in Georgia red clay country.
The Catskills, west of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, framed in the court’s nearly 20-foot high windows, fight for attention. Maddox, in his navy suit, Fuschia shirt, and navy and purple tie, wins every eye. He flashes a smile at the supporters on “his side.” This moment belongs to him. It’s been eight years since he’s had one quite like it. He begins his summation at exactly 9 am.
* * *
“There is a fundamental principle that is at stake — more important than one’s personal bias Regardless of how I feel about the case, I know justice won’t be served until all parties receive a fair trial…”
Maddox is alternately folksy, scholarly, the father figure, the teacher, anguished, cool; the coach, the quarterback, the commander, the general. He weaves the evidence, unravels mysteries, raises questions, and “dissects” his opponents’ complaints. He has brought along his tools: the jury is offered a chronology of events, a timeline to iron out the complexities. But it is the lethal weapon: his sharp, legal mind, his acumen, his gifts for total recall of dates and times, which astound and mesmerize. He works the moment; it is better than any work the writers of his favorite fictional crime-fighting detective — Jessica Fletcher of the popular “Murder, She Wrote” — could ever produce. Plus, this is real, with real people and real events. He clarifies his position and proceeds to ram holes into his opponent’s arguments. The first time Maddox moves over to Stanton and Pagones’s table and points a finger, you wonder if that rumble you feel is Truth, crushed to the earth, coming to the surface. It is like this all day, with Maddox wreaking havoc high on the Richter scale.
At the lunch break, Maddox is embraced by his colleagues and his family of supporters. As Sutton shakes his hand, Maddox tells him, “I’m going to bring it home this afternoon. Then he falls into the embrace of his supporters. “Brilliant! Brilliant! What you’re doing here today is bigger than the trial itself!”
After the break, we’re walking up the stairs behind Mr. Pagones and watch as he goes directly to the press room. It is a small cell with another door that leads directly into the courtroom. A long table takes up most of the space. On it are piles of the day’s newspapers, with stories the defendants say do not always reflect what is happening in the courtroom. It’s just enough room in the press room for the reporters to press each other for information, trade stories, compare notes, and call in stories on their cell phones to faraway newsrooms where they are fashioned to fit a certain amount of space and a certain amount of airtime. Pagones is leaning forward over the table (and the reporters seated around it) with his back to the open door. He is a businessman convening a meeting. His wife, Nikki, a lawyer who works for her father-in-law, stands by herself at the guard’s desk. She is stoic, unsmiling, and dressed in beige from head to high heels.
We move back into the courtroom. Leola Maddox — in simple, comfortable cotton pants and top outfit with African motifs; practical flat shoes; her face, unfettered by cosmetics and framed by a soft, natural hairstyle — arrives. She sits next to Mr. Tatum.
* * *
“I’m a Southerner with a Southern accent. No way shame of it. I’m proud, I grew up in a rural area o Georgia. None of us can move away from our youth nor should we. (Where I lived) a mule was your friend; it allowed you to eat. In order to plow the fields and get straight lines, straight rows, “you got to put blinders on it because the mule never does the right thing without them.” In order for you, the jury, to do what (Pagones) wants you to do, you must put blinders on them. He won’t have the crop he plants if the mule is not strapped. That’s what this is about — blinders.”
Maddox says he has an obligation to represent his client in a “zealous fashion…. and I did.”
“It is not easy fighting the FBI, Dutchess County District Attorney, the New York State Police, all at the same time, but “that’s what was asked of Mr. Maddox. … (Stanton called Mr. Maddox derogatory names on behalf of his client. Was I a crybaby? Did I run to the courthouse and say I would sue somebody?”
At 3:30, Maddox said he has so much to say and not enough time. Judge Hickman thinks this is the end of the summation. Maddox corrects him — he wants to take a short break. The court laughs … with Maddox. He has been on his feet for six hours, save for the moments when he actually sat in the witness chair to make a point.
Maddox says Pagones didn’t just bring up this suit on his own. “This is a New York conspiracy. (Maddox, Mason, and Sharpton) don’t spend much time in Dutchess County. Had Pagones not brought this lawsuit, no one would have heard from us? … It is an effort on the part of rich fat cats in New York to allow someone else to do their bidding. It is a New York problem. New York City wants to have a cosmopolitan look. When they want to get rid of someone, they let someone else do it.” And Pagones: “He’s someone trying to get to Hollywood; it’s in the record. He wants to get fame and fortune by taking out Maddox, Mason, and Sharpton.”
In the concluding moments, Maddox thanks the jury. ” I know it has not been easy. I think during the course of the days, I have given a sufficient amount of evidence for you to use common sense, exercise your own discretion, look at the evidence, and arrive at a fair and just verdict.”
Before the day ends, Mr. Maddox has raised serious questions. One of them is: why haven’t the plaintiff’s chief alibi witnesses — his father, and his wife, testified under oath on the plaintiff’s behalf as to his whereabouts on the days Miss Brawley was missing back in November 1987?
Maddox indicates to the jury that his mission is the search for truth, and the truth will rise.
* * *
Maddox emerges from the courthouse to the applause of his supporters. “Keep the pressure on,” someone yells. “It will take an army to fight that.” After monitoring press conferences and interviews, we head down Route 9 to Wappinger’s Falls for dinner at the Home Buffet All-You-Can-Eat diner. Everyone’s buoyant, riding the wave. Some folks recognize Brown, and when Maddox walks in there is a lot of handshaking and smiles.
In the van returning to Brooklyn, Nurse Fanny says, ‘This is major surgery, a major dissection.”
Brown: “Harry Crist’s sister and the female supporters seemed quite interested in what Maddox had to say today. They listened, and they even laughed with Maddox. I caught Pagones’ wife, more than one time, smiling.”
Spoon: “Piece by piece, he obliterated Pagones’ complaints. He should never have been suspended!
Spoon is driving. I notice he doesn’t turn on the news. Fanny picks up Brown’s family reunion booklet, “Something good to read.” Brown and his granddaughter, LaToya, have finally drifted into long, comforting sleep.
Max, the sign man, who has joined us for the trip back to Brooklyn, says I doubt if Stanton will take more than a couple of hours for his summation.
* * *
The next day, Stanton spends less than two hours talking to the jurors, and much of it is a mumbled presentation, barely above a whisper. No one hears him. There is a break. But the problem persists, so the court artist asks, “Can you turn your volume up?” Lawyer Jackson suggests he use a microphone. It enhances his voice, but according to reporters present it hardly enhances his presentation.
A radio reporter whose stories favor Stanton, reveals, “Stanton’s summation was an insult horrible, flat, weak, inconsistent.” Another observer says, “It was made up on the fly, rambling, disjointed, disorganized.”
A reporter jokes, “Hickman should be on trial. A cow or horse crosses the road; he cancels the court session. A car dealership opens, court’s canceled.”
Outside, the reporters do not ask Stanton about his brief summation of a case that took 10 years to come to trial and lasted eight months. Nurse Fanny demands to know why reporters aren’t asking “real questions” and suggests they need more training. One reporter near Fanny shouts, “Why did your client refuse to cooperate with the FBI?” It’s too late. Stanton has already walked away, heading in the direction of the Market Street building where Pagones’ headquarters are housed.
There’s applause as Maso n, Hardy, and Maddox emerge. Mason says Stanton’s summation is “simpleminded.” Maddox: “He insulted the jurors. Everything should have been disclosed.” Jackson: “He didn’t address any of the issues.”
At the corner, as usual, reporters ask Hardy for explanations of legal procedure and legal terms. The most they get from Stanton are side comments about Sharpton’s suits and private life. “Did you see that suit? I hear he may have a brownstone in Brooklyn.” That kind of thing.
Spoon asks Hardy, “Would you like to take a group shot?” A New York print reporter walking with a network radio reporter sneers, “Camp Tawana.”
Kwame, the group’s photographer, takes a picture of Maddox, Mason, Sharpton, and their supporters in front of the courthouse. The mainstream press has already packed up and left.
Back in Brooklyn, driving down Washington Avenue, I ask Brown to turn on the news. Yesterday, there were no hurrahs from the press for Maddox’s powerful summation. We’re expecting o hear a tepid review of Stanton’s. Instead, the reporter talks about “Stanton’s folksy, home-style in contrast to Maddox’s.
We are stunned. Brown and Spoon smile, “We’re used to it. That’s the way it’s been for the past months.”
We recall something that happened the day before. A reporter for a daily paper remarking on Maddox’s summation to a fellow scribe says, “It’s so much!” He responded to her, “The trick is to leave most of it out!” I tell Spoon and Brown this story.
“One of the best-kept secrets of all time is this: Alton H. Maddox is one of the country’s greatest lawyers,” said Clemson. “Michael Hardy, C. Vernon Mason, Steven Jackson are learned and good on their feet, too. They may not be getting their stories in the mainstream media, but look what they’ve put on a public record, 30,000 pages of evidence and testimony supporting Tawana Brawley and themselves.”
We want to know what time Brown will pick us up for the ride upstate in the morning.