NEW YORK, FEB. 25 -- Two attorneys representing the 16-year-old victim of a racial attack in upstate Dutchess County have blocked a state investigation of the three-month-old incident by refusing to let her cooperate.
After weeks of negotiations, Alton H. Maddox Jr. and C. Vernon Mason, who played key roles in the recent Howard Beach manslaughter case, have reached a deadlock with state Attorney General Robert Abrams, named by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) as a special prosecutor in the case.
Tawana Brawley, a cheerleader from the town of Wappingers Falls found Nov. 28 with "KKK" and "Nigger" written on her body, has said six white men -- including one with a badge whom she believes is a policeman -- abducted and raped her over a four-day period.
Maddox and Mason urged Cuomo last December to name a special prosecutor, charging a possible cover-up by Dutchess County authorities.
When Cuomo named Abrams, Maddox and Mason complained that Abrams lacked a track record in civil rights cases and was delegating the probe to a deputy.
After a three-hour meeting with Cuomo, the two tentatively agreed to work with Abrams but then issued demands, including one that Abrams, who has little trial experience, present the opening and closing arguments at any trial.
The lawyers presented the demands in two days of meetings with Abrams, but Abrams thought it premature to devise trial strategy, said his spokesman, Timothy Gilles. "He refused to bargain away his decision-making in exchange for the victim's cooperation," Gilles said.
Questioning Abrams' impartiality, Maddox and Mason have accused him of "aligning himself with the culprits" and called for a new special prosecutor. But Cuomo is backing Abrams' refusal to allow the lawyers to dictate conduct of the probe.
In a radio interview today, Cuomo said he is willing to meet with Brawley, if her family approves, to try persuading her to testify before the grand jury because he is "eager to see who did it and to punish them."
On Wednesday, he had said in a statement that Brawley should be forced to testify and that her lawyers' refusal to allow her to discuss the case with investigators fosters "disrespect for the law."
The lawyers' tactics have drawn widespread criticism elsewhere, including some from black leaders.
Laura Blackburne, counsel to the state chapter of the NAACP, said Maddox and Mason "have not demonstrated why the state attorney general's office is not equipped to do the job. I appeal to Mr. Maddox to let people know what he's doing, and why, so we can help him."
Although the two used the same tactic of noncooperation to win appointment of a special prosecutor in the Howard Beach case, the imbroglio has raised questions about their motives. "Lots of people are concerned that Tawana is not getting the attention," Blackburne said.
In an editorial Wednesday, the Daily News here questioned whether Maddox and Mason are primarily "interested in casting themselves in the roles of new, militant black leaders by creating the appearance of injustice."
The Brawley case received little public attention until the county district attorney and a local special prosecutor resigned from the case in rapid succession, citing unspecified conflicts of interest.
In the last two weeks, media attention has escalated. Bill Cosby and Essence magazine offered a $25,000 reward for information about the assault, and heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson has promised to pay Brawley's college tuition.