Five men wrongly convicted and imprisoned in the 1989 beating and rape of a Central Park jogger have agreed to settle with New York City for about $40 million, according to news reports.
The settlement, reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, would end a civil rights lawsuit against the city brought by five African American and Hispanic teenagers who were vilified for a crime they did not commit that became a symbol of Manhattan’s lawlessness in the 1980s.
The proposed settlement would give the five men about $1 million for each year of imprisonment. Four of the men — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana Jr. — served about seven years in prison. The fifth, Kharey Wise — who, at 16, was tried as an adult — spent 13 years in prison, which means he could get more money than the city has ever paid in a wrongful conviction case, according to the Times.
The paper reported the news Thursday evening, citing a source familiar with the deal but not party to the agreement, which still needs to be approved by the city comptroller and a federal judge.
The rape victim, a 28-year-old investment banker who ran in the park after work, did not remember the attack, but prosecutors and the media sensationalized the story of a “wolf pack” of “wilding” youths. The narrative spoke to racial tensions five years after the subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz shot four unarmed black teens on the New York subway and was acquitted of attempted murder charges.
The boys, aged 14 to 16, were convicted in 1990 of the brutal beating and rape with the help of incriminating statements they claimed were coerced by authorities.
The convictions were vacated by a judge in 2002 when DNA evidence and a confession by the real assailant, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer, cleared the men.
If approved, the settlement would make good on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to fulfill a “moral obligation to right this injustice.” Former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration adamantly denied the exonerated group’s claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution and racially motivated conspiracy, and vigorously fought them in court for more than 10 years. The Bloomberg administration argued that authorities acted in good faith and should not be held liable.
Municipal immunity that protects police and city officials is difficult to challenge. Proving sloppy prosecution or police work is not enough – it must be shown that there was an official policy or practice that violated a plaintiff’s rights. According to the Times, the city’s Law Department said in 2013 the“case is not about whether the teens were wrongly convicted … It’s about whether prosecutors and police deliberately engaged in misconduct.”
In January, DeBlasio appointed new counsel and said he was “committed to making sure we get to that settlement quickly.”