The City Council Passes a Resolution In the Central Park Jogger Case

The City Council Passes a Resolution In the Central Park Jogger Case

Posted By Dan Flanzig || 28-Feb-2013

lawsuit filed against New York City by the five men who were convicted, and later exonerated, in the racially charged 1989 Central Park jogger rape case is a decade old, and the city’s reluctance to settle the case has attracted widespread criticism, even from other city officials.

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The most recent instance came on Wednesday, when the City Council passed a resolution that called for the city to “acknowledge the years of suffering of all those involved in the Central Park jogger case, including both the men whose convictions were vacated and the jogger herself” by “settling this matter out of court as expeditiously as possible.”

Charles Barron, the councilman from Brooklyn who was the primary sponsor of the resolution, held a brief news conference outside City Hall, where he presented a proclamation that honored the five men to one of them, Raymond Santana. Mr. Barron led a small group of supporters, chanting, “Justice for the Central Park five; time for them to get paid.”

“These young men lost the best years of their lives, the best years of their lives, they’ll never be able to get back,” Mr. Barron said. “There’s no amount of money they can ever receive from this city to compensate those years that they lost.”

The five men were all teenagers at the time. They were held and interviewed by the police for more than 24 hours before they confessed, but they recanted almost immediately and have maintained their innocence ever since. All five were convicted in two separate trials, based largely on their confessions.

About a decade later, Matias Reyes, who had been convicted of a string of rapes on the Upper East Side that same summer, encountered one of the Central Park Five, Kharey Wise, in an upstate prison. Mr. Reyes eventually confessed to the Central Park rape, and his DNA matched evidence found on the victim.

In 2002, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney at the time, ordered a new investigation and, upon his recommendation, a Manhattan judge vacated the convictions.

The federal lawsuit against the city seeks $50 million for each of the five.

A lawyer for the city’s Law Department did not comment on the Council resolution, but reiterated past assertions that the federal suit requires proof that officials knew they were wrongly prosecuting the five. She said police and prosecutors in the case had been acting on the best available information.

“The civil lawsuit is not about guilt or innocence,” said Celeste Koeleveld, the city lawyer, in a statement. “Because it was brought in federal court, it’s about whether the police and prosecutors acted with malice and wrongdoing. They did not.”

Roger Wareham, a member of a legal team representing three of the men, said the city has made no settlement offers in the decade-old case.

In January, John C. Liu, the city comptroller, issued a statement urging the city to settle. The documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has said he hoped that the points raised in his film “The Central Park Five,” released last year, would bring a settlement.

But city lawyers have so far ignored them. Last year, they subpoenaed outtakes and notes from Mr. Burns’s production company, and were rebuked recently when a federal judge quashed the subpoena. Pretrial depositions in the case are to be scheduled this summer.

Ross Sandler, a former federal prosecutor and city official who is now a professor at New York Law School, said city lawyers must mind the public’s money and “have no choice but to go to trial” if they cannot reach an agreement with the plaintiffs on an amount.

“There really is a lot of sympathy for what these young men went through, and I think the comments by the City Council and the comptroller reflect that,” said Mr. Sandler, who served under former Mayor Edward I. Koch. “But there still is a question of what is fair compensation.”

Speaking outside City Hall, Raymond Santana said he hoped that the Council resolution begins “the process for us to finally heal.”

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