NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Iona College administrators pleaded for months with New Rochelle officials to rescind a moratorium on police cooperation with the school’s Off-Campus Task Force in the months prior to the murder of Valaree Schwab, according to emails seen by Talk of the Sound.
Michele Samson, head of the task force, said it would be a “sad day” if the lack of police presence at the Task Force meetings lead to “inadequate responses” to community concerns. Among those concerns was large numbers of unsupervised New Rochelle High School students roaming the Iona College corridor on North Avenue during the school day in violation of the New Rochelle Board of Education Closed Campus policy.
Iona was first made aware of the police moratorium on February 23, 2017 when New Rochelle Police Detective Francesco Provenzale emailed the head of the Task Force to say he had been directed not to attend Task Force meetings due to the “recent litigation that is going on between the City and Iona”.
Iona sued the City of New Rochelle in February 2017, after a City ordinance was amended to require private schools to obtain a special permit to merge tax lots next to their campus and alleged that the City’s Corporation Counsel, who had previously represented Iona College, acted unethically. Eleven months later, on January 10, 2018, Valaree Schwab was dead, brutally murdered a few feet from the Iona College campus.
An investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney revealed the dispute that led to the death of Valaree Schwab began at New Rochelle High School, moved to North Avenue, first the McDonald’s, then the Subway sandwich shop, then the Dunkin’ Donuts where Z’inah Brown stabbed Schwab resulting in Schwab’s death. The McDonald’s, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts are all within the Iona College Corridor along North Avenue.
In March 2017, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson dismissed a request to end the police moratorium, offering instead a quid pro quo that Iona end its zoning dispute with the City.
“The City looks forward to resuming full participation in the ongoing dialogue once the present legal dispute between the City and College has been resolved,” wrote in an email to an Iona College official on March 30, 2017.
The lawsuit was settled in May 2018, by which time one student was dead, another stabbed repeatedly in the torso in retaliation for a melee at a pizzeria across from Iona College and six students arrested on various felony counts including one student apprehended in Alabama by the FBI.
Talk of the Sound reached out to Mayor Bramson, along with various school, city and college officials. None replied to an offer to respond to this story.
Mayor Noam Bramson replied that he was asking the City Manager to reply.
City Manager Charles B. Strome replied
“The Task Force dealt with one issue and one issue only – off campus student housing for Iona College. Representatives from the Building Department and the Police Department were involved and the Police Department’s role was to deal with the impacts of college parties in off campus housing and to work with College officials on that. The Building Department’s role dealt with the legality of the housing itself. After the College initiated a lawsuit against the City, I and I alone, after consultation with the City’s outside counsel and other City Administration officials (not elected officials), decided to withdraw from the task force while the litigation proceeded. In fact, the College did not raise concerns to me about the open/closed High School campus issue until after the violence occurred. For anyone to try to link that the Task Force with the tragedies that occurred with the High School is about as despicable as you can get.”