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Writer Phil Reisman sounds off on Anthony Blanks’ parole following a fatal shooting in Larchmont in October 1976.
In cop slang, they are “roaders” — drifters with no purchase in life who walk the train tracks to get to God-Knows-Where.
Anthony Curtis Blanks was a roader.
On October 12, 1976, a conductor on the 5:16 p.m. Conrail train out of Grand Central notified the police that Blanks, 24, was wandering on the New Haven line in Larchmont — an act classified as trespassing and interfering with the safe operation of a train. Dispatched was Patrolman Arthur Dematte, a 20-year veteran of the Larchmont Police Department whose primary aim was to get Blanks off the tracks and out of harm’s way.
Within minutes, the lives of Dematte and Blanks fatefully intersected at rush hour on a rubble-strewn railroad bed behind a Daitch Shopwell supermarket. A second police call came in: “Officer in trouble. Shots fired.”
What happened next has been detailed in voluminous newspaper accounts, reams of witness testimony, and various legal documents, yet probably nothing captured the brutality of that day better than Det. Ralph Santoliquido’s July 16, 2001 letter to state officials.
Santoliquido found Dematte pale, bleeding, and slumped against a steel girder behind the supermarket. His gun was missing. “The bastard shot me,” Dematte said. “I’m going to die, ain’t I?”
From the evidence, it was clear that Blanks, fearing arrest, had jumped Dematte when he turned his back and snatched the revolver out of his holster. Dematte ran behind an electrical control box, where Blanks caught up to him and shot him in the right arm, splintering a bone and cutting an artery. Dematte stumbled off, and Blanks fired the gun again, this time missing his target. The wounded officer attempted again to overpower Blanks but was too weak from loss of blood. “Anthony Blanks stepped back, took aim, and fired [a] final round into the chest of Officer Dematte, shattering the officer’s heart,” Santoliquido wrote. “Anthony Blanks executed Officer Arthur Dematte.”
Blanks initially tried to get away in Dematte’s patrol car but ended up ditching it in a shallow ravine and making a run for it. He was shot in the leg by police and captured. Dematte was pronounced dead at New Rochelle Hospital, leaving behind a widow, four children, and a shaken community where tragedies of this magnitude are not supposed to happen.
At least nine Larchmont mayors have served since Dematte’s murder. But the psychic scars, having never fully healed, were ripped open a couple of months ago when Anthony Blanks, who was serving 25 years to life, was freed from prison after his 13th appeal to the state parole board.
Within minutes, the lives of Dematte and Blanks fatefully intersected at rush hour on a rubble-strewn railroad bed.
It was the usual thing: He paid his debt to society; he is remorseful and so on. You could see the tide turning in Blanks’ favor a couple of years ago, when a supportive parole board member reportedly told him that he should move on and be proud of his accomplishments in prison, adding, “We are all more than the worst thing that’s happened in our lives, right?”
This comes across as a glib and callous remark, considering the context — one in which Blanks’ own defense lawyer once called him a “borderline psychopath” and a judge said he hunted down a defenseless Dematte as if he were “quarry.”
In a secular society, parole boards are the closest thing to playing God. They have the power to grant dispensation — and sometimes they get it dead wrong.
Anyway, tell Dematte’s family that. Tell them that Blanks, regardless of his supposed current state of docility, is not the sum of his most heinous act.
In recent years, an alarmingly high number of cop killers have been paroled in New York — a hard and bitter fact that, in this highly politicized age of defunding and demoralization, has further weakened the brittle pact between citizens and the people in blue who risk their lives to protect them.
Last October, on the anniversary of Arthur Dematte’s death, a vigil was held in Larchmont at his permanent memorial. A lone bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” — the dirge for fallen heroes. Later that night, two cops were gunned down in Bristol, CT.
Meanwhile, miles away, a 69-year-old Sing Sing inmate was counting down his last few days to freedom.
What will become of Anthony Blanks is difficult to know. But we say goodbye with this bit of irony: When he was a young man, Blanks wanted to join the St. Louis Police Department and was rejected.
They said he was too short.