‘I paid my debt to society’: Dad frustrated he’s still behind bars for NyQuil theft

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NEW YORK (WPIX) — His story incited calls for justice and now, from inside a New York prison, a 58-year-old inmate said he’s been punished enough for his crimes.

Reggie Randolph, a nearly blind man who spent more than 850 days in a Rikers Island jail facility after stealing NyQuil cold medication was transferred to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill in late November. He’s now serving a two- to four-year sentence at the maximum-security state prison facility. 

“My inmate number is 21A-2448,” Randolph told WPIX. “I’m being over prosecuted for my case it feels like. I understand. I’m human. I’ve made some mistakes.”

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

“I stole $198 worth of NyQuil,” Randolph said. “I would sell the NyQuil, sell it, and buy my drugs. I was on heroin and crack cocaine.”

He said he’s been clean for almost a year now. Randolph was previously diagnosed with schizoaffective mental health disorder and currently struggles with myriad medical issues.

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

Following the NyQuil thefts, prosecutors working under outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance upgraded the criminal charges against Randolph.

His case history involves him being disqualified from two pretrial diversion programs – approved by prosecutors and the court – which would have kept him out of jail.

His entire record includes five felony convictions between the mid-1980s and 2005, along with more than 53 misdemeanor nonviolent theft and drug possession convictions.

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

“He deserves the opportunity to show his children that he’s capable of so much more than what the state has labeled him as,” she said.

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

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

His attorneys argue those crimes — committed while he was high or trying to get high — were repeatedly used to justify giving him a stiffer sentence after each new conviction.

Criminal justice advocates argue that the process has become an institutionalized cog of the criminal justice system, which means instead of putting defendants like Randolph into a supportive environment to treat 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’s seen this scenario before.

“It doesn’t work for anybody except for the political panderers who think it’s a good idea to just lock ’em up and throw away the key whenever there’s a problem. And here we have an aging gentleman, with serious, a chronic history of serious problems, and we have failed him – miserably,” Lieberman said. “And it’s no accident this is a Black man living in New York City who has been cycled in and out. We need to change our laws – the last vestiges of the Rockefeller drug laws. We need to eliminate the system that allows for mandatory minimums for people because they have a long record. That is the antithesis of dealing with people in a rehabilitative way.” 

On its online data dashboard, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office touts a 57.7% drop in the number of cases arraigned between 2013 and 2019.

Additionally, it’s been five years since the DA’s office began declining to prosecute several low-level, nonviolent offenses, including subway fare evasion, marijuana possession and unlicensed street vending.

But it’s important to note that even though newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg pledged to continue avoiding the practice of felony up-charging nonviolent misdemeanors, those decisions will be made at his office’s discretion.

That includes deciding which nonviolent criminal offenses will not face prosecution.

WPIX reached out multiple times to both Vance and Bragg requesting an interview or even a comment for this report. Bragg did not respond to the request, and a spokesperson for Vance declined to comment.

But that spokesperson previously sent a statement that reads, “The Judge ruled that this was not a simple shoplifting case because Mr. Randolph removed more than 40 boxes from multiple stores in order to resell them. Regardless, our office supported Mr. Randolph throughout several stages of this case, from agreeing to handle his case in a specialized drug treatment court, to supporting his participation in multiple residential drug treatment programs in lieu of incarceration, to the clemency petition process currently underway.”

Brooklyn-based State Sen. Zellnor Myrie is planning to introduce a potentially landmark bill as soon as next week.

It would eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, the same policy that in August gave a judge no choice but to sentence Randolph to two to four years in state prison following his theft of NyQuil.

“Mr. Randolph has issues that don’t have to deal with incarceration and that have been proven to fail,” Myrie said. “Forcing the court to say, ‘Is this the right choice for this person? Is incarcerating really gonna help them rehabilitate? Is that really gonna help keep our community safe?’ That’s what this bill is about. And it’s about allowing the court to make that decision without having their hands tied.”

Whenever Randolph does get out of prison, he has a room ready and waiting for him at The Redemption Center, a supportive housing facility in Queens, New York – complete with employment, health and social services.

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

“All of that was available to me. Like, immediately. It wasn’t no waiting line, it wasn’t … moving around 10 times a day to different shelters to try to find help,” Griffen said. “It was available immediately.”

Randolph said he’s ready for another chance to get his life on track and reconnect with his family.

“I feel like me dealing with my drug addiction, I was being selfish — depriving them of they father, which was not right,” he said. 

Following PIX11 News’ interview, Randolph learned there would be no chance of spending the holidays with his family.

Corrections officials postponed his parole hearing, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, due to an internal paperwork mishap.

As a result, this 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 Gov. Kathy Hochul can help Randolph.

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

WPIX was told Hochul has yet to make a decision.

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