About 1:30 a.m. on May 28, 1997, Jeremy Gavin came to the Geneva, New York police station and said that he had been walking on Main Street when he was robbed of $60 by a black man wielding a razor knife. Gavin said the robber had dropped a Social Security card and turned it over to police.
An hour later, police arrested Jeremiah Brinson, 28, who provided his Social Security number—which was matched to the card provided by Gavin.
Brinson, who was black, contended that Gavin, who was white, had flagged down his car and attempted to purchase a “dime bag” of marijuana.
He said that when Gavin got in his car, Gavin saw the razor knife, which he used in his job as a carpet cutter at a local motel, because he took it out of his pocket. Brinson said that when Gavin said he didn’t have enough money for a “dime bag,” but would buy a “nickel bag,” Brinson suspected he was a “narc” and they parted ways. At that point, Brinson said, Gavin used a racial epithet.
Brinson contended that he had lost his Social Security card sometime earlier and had it replaced.
Brinson was charged with first degree robbery and third degree criminal possession of a weapon.
At trial, Brinson’s attorney attempted to cross-examine Gavin about incidents that showed he was a racist: the epithet Brinson said Gavin used during their confrontation, and a claim that after the arrest, Gavin was fired from a restaurant for refusing to serve black customers. The trial court excluded that evidence, and Brinson was convicted based on Gavin’s testimony as well as the knife—which Brinson had in his pocket when arrested—and the Social Security card.
Brinson was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York affirmed Brinson’s conviction on October 1, 1999. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court and on January 5, 2006, the petition was granted and his conviction was vacated. The court ruled that Brinson’s attorney should have been allowed to cross-examine Gavin on his racial views.
The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision on November 13, 2008 and he was released from prison on bond in December, 2008.
On May 15, 2009, Ontario County Judge Frederick Reed dismissed the case “in the interest of justice” after Brinson’s attorney argued that the original trial file was missing and many witnesses to Gavin’s racist conduct could not remember key facts.
Brinson, who was certified as a minister while in prison, took a position as minister at the Genesee Park church in Geneva.
– Maurice Possley