This Sunday Rockland County marked the the 38th anniversary of the Brink’s armored car heist, which claimed the lives of a Brinks armored car guard and two Nyack policemen.
The brazen October 20, 1981 heist was conducted by a group of left wing radicals, including six members of the Black Liberation Army, Jeral Wayne Williams (Mutulu Shakur), Donald Weems (Kuwasi Balagoon), Samuel Brown (Solomon Bouines), Samuel Smith (Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata), Edward Joseph and Cecilio “Chui” Ferguson; and four former members of the Weather Underground, David Gilbert, Judith Alice Clark, Kathy Boudin and Marilyn Buck.
The robbery began at the Nanuet Mall where assailants killed Brink’s armored car guard Peter Paige and took $1.6 million in cash from the vehicle. After fleeing the scene, the radicals engaged in a shoot out with law enforcement near the entrance to the New York State Thruway in Nyack, killing Sgt. Edward O’Grady and P.O. Waverly Brown of Nyack PD. In addition to the three killed by the radicals, several others were wounded, including Brink’s guard Joseph Trombino, Brink’s truck driver guard James Kelly and Police Detective Artie Keenan.
Every year, law enforcement, families of victims and Rocklanders at large gather at the site of the shoot out, which is marked by a historical marker, to remember those lost and to reflect on the indelible imprint the shootings and subsequent national attention left on Rockland society. The Brink’s courtroom case brought a trial of the century atmosphere to Rockland County.
The first defendants were brought to trial in 1983. while the FBI continued to track down other participants in the crime for several years, finally catching up with ringleader Williams (Shakur) in 1986. District Attorney Kenneth Gribbetz gained national prominence for his prosecution of the case, while future Rockland DA Thomas Zugibe said it was one of the first case he worked on as an assistant prosecutor.
Recently, the question of whether and when Brink’s terrorists will be paroled has been an ongoing source of controversy. In April of this year, Brink’s robbery getaway driver Judith Clark was paroled from state prison in a decision supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had also commuted her sentence to 35 years.
Most public officials in Rockland County opposed parole for Clark. Despite the pushback, radicals involved in the Brink’s robbery have had an uncanny knack for receiving commuted sentences and/or landing on their feet upon their return to society.
In 2001 President Bill Clinton commuted the sentence of Susan Rosenberg, serving 58 years for weapons and explosive charges in a case related to the Brink’s robbery. In 2003, Brink’s co-conspirator Kathy Boudin was released from prison. Ten years later Rockland County was in an uproar to learn Boudin had settled comfortably as an adjunct professor at Columbia University.
The Orangetown Board passed a resolution that read in part, “[The board] hereby condemns Columbia University for its irresponsible and insensitive decision to employ Kathy Boudin as an adjunct professor (and) requests that Columbia sever all ties with Kathy Boudin and offer a written apology to the victim’s families and the Orangetown community.”
Weather Underground cofounder Bill Ayers was the son of Thomas Ayers, CEO of the largest energy utility in Illinois, perhaps explaining the group’s penchant for reintegrating into society, in spite of involvement in extreme political violence. Ayers spent much of the 1970s carrying out bombings of federal properties, yet had not issue migrating seamlessly to a career in higher education in the Chicago area, where he became friends with the likes of future President Barack Obama.
Ayers’ wife Bernadine Dohrn served 7 months for charges related to the Brink’s investigation, as she was charged for refusing to cooperate in the prosecution of Rosenberg.
Brink’s robbery ringleader Mutulu Shakur, step-father of late rap artist Tupac Shakur, is scheduled to be released from prison in 2024.