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Bill allowing Watertown suspects to be held at PSB clears Assembly

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WATERTOWN — Legislation allowing city suspects awaiting arraignment to be held at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building needs just the approval of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after clearing the state Assembly on Thursday, according to Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who sponsored the measure.

Ever since the PSB’s 1992 construction, suspects arrested by city police were held there to await arraignment. That changed April 16 after the state Commission of Correction directed that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department not house prearraignment suspects in contradiction to state law.

The proposed legislation will provide the county an exemption to the law shared by 13 other counties that allows suspects from all jurisdictions within the county to be held at the county lockup before arraignment.

“This legislation is one piece of the puzzle for resolving this issue and bringing the city and county into compliance with statewide standards,” Mrs. Russell said in a prepared statement. “Enabling the continued use of the facility for short amounts of time, coupled with recent measures that provide for regular night arraignments of suspects, will enable the city and county to move forward as efficiently as possible.”

Since learning of the legal ban on holding prearraignment city suspects at the PSB, the city has used two holding cells on City Hall’s first floor, where City Court is situated, to keep detainees pending arraignment. The state’s Fifth Judicial District approved the arrangement and authorized three town justices to assist the city’s two judges — Eugene R. Renzi and Catherine J. Palermo — with arraignments while the court is closed.

The bill passed the state Senate, where it was sponsored by Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, on May 21. It now awaits the governor’s final approval.

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