By Nayaba Arinde , Special to The Key Newsjournal from the New York Amsterdam News
The Central Park Jogger case has hit the headlines again.
Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, two of the five young men falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned in the notorious case, last week, gathered on the steps of New York City Hall to demand that the city address the issue of their compensation.
“We call on Mayor Bloomberg to authorize the immediate settlement of this case,” said Roger Wareham, one of the lawyers in the case. “We call on the City Council to hold hearings on the city’s refusal to settle this matter. And, as our history demonstrates, we will be in the streets to mobilize our community to create whatever pressure is necessary to bring long overdue justice to the Central Park 5 and their families. Almost 10 years ago next April, Councilman Charles Barron introduced a resolution in the chambers at City Hall to that end.”
While jogging in Central Park on April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was raped and beaten. Five Harlem teens—Raymond Santana, Khary Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Yusef Salaam—were charged and tried for the crime, first in the media and eventually in court, where they were convicted of the assault. The case had current so-called potential presidential candidate Donald Trump taking out full-page ads in New York City papers demanding the death penalty for the young men.
In 2002, the convictions were overturned when DNA evidence and a confession proved that Matias Reyes committed the crime alone.
The evidence proved what the the teens—now men—had always maintained: they were not guilty of the assault. In the wake of the subsequent civil suit, supporters, families, and attorneys for the exonerated men demanded that the city not put them through another trial, but rather step up and compensate them for their unlawful imprisonment.
Santana said, “Today marks 22 years since Kharey, Yusef, Kevin, Antron and myself were taken from our homes, robbed of our youth, and given labels of ‘rapists,’ ‘monsters,’ ‘animals’ and ’wolf pack.’
“We come here every year. We stand on these steps. We demand justice,” he continued. “The media does a small article and puts it in the back of the paper. TV doesn’t even acknowledge us. Where is our justice? Twenty-two years is a very long time. We have lost family members. We have lost time. We have lost our foundations.
“We have difficulties when it comes to functioning on a higher level as productive individuals because we never had the opportunity to grow naturally, make mistakes, live life. We didn’t have the chances to become lawyers, doctors, police officers, firefighters or Duke lacrosse players.
“I was charged, convicted and sent to prison in 17 months…I think that’s a record!” said Santana. “I wasn’t given any type of chances. I was sent to the worst prisons. I had to sit in meetings listening to the stories of real sexual predators. Even to my friends I was ‘Raymond Santana from the Central Park case.’ I was a child abandoned by everyone, even my family.
“Now in order to receive some type of civil justice I have to wait. Wait for justice? It’s been 8 years! Lead detective Humberto Arroyo said ‘The system works.’ For real criminals, I guess it does! Trump wanted to give us the death penalty, now he wants to be president.”
He continued, “It saddens me when a city can brag and call itself ‘The Greatest City in the World,’ and talk of the American Dream, but when it comes to justice for the Central Park 5, justice for 5 innocent boys who lost their lives because the people who ran the justice system decided to take matters into their own hands—decided to ignore the scales of justice and make us scapegoats and sacrifice our lives so that they could go on to profit and live a wealthy life—it is there that lies the truth, there lie the facts on how far as a people we have truly come.
“Anniversaries are supposed to be joyous occasions, special events, celebrations. Instead my anniversary consists of struggle, hardship, pain, and suffering. You gave me all of this in exchange for my childhood, my progress, my life…Wow! Thank you, NYPD, thank you, New York City,” Santana said.
“This was an horrific miscarriage of justice which robbed these young brothers of their youth,” said Councilman Charles Barron. “In 2002, after having served between 6 and 16 years in jail for this attack, the Central Park 6 [sic] were exonerated when the actual rapist came forward. While April 19 marks the 22nd anniversary of the rape of the Central Park Jogger and this unfortunate crime, the city of New York must do the right thing and compensate these six innocent, now adult, men and their families for being falsely accused and convicted.”
Last year, Barron sponsored Resolution 81, which called for compensation for the young men. Several members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus and other council members have co-sponsored this bill. Barron added, “I encourage the entire city council and Speaker Christine Quinn to join in this effort to have the city make arrangements to settle this lawsuit. If the city of New York can settle out of court with a known drug dealer, surely it can compensate six men who lost much of their youth to a false accusation.”
The mayor’s office told the New York Amsterdam News that, “since this is ongoing litigation,” we would have to speak with the Law Department for a comment. Kate O’Brien Ahlers, Media & Communications Director said, “The lawsuit was brought by 15 people (not just five) and includes family members. Their current demand is for a quarter of a billion dollars. Also, while their convictions were vacated, the plaintiffs were not ‘cleared’ of any of the charges against the Central Park Jogger or the other victims. Having a conviction vacated does not mean they are innocent. It just means they were entitled to a new trial. But, because they had already served prison terms, the DA chose not to retry them.”
“The City stands by the decisions made by the detectives and prosecutors in bringing this case,” added Celeste Koeleveld, Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Public Safety, NYC Law Department. “The ‘Central Park Jogger’ was not the only victim that night; others were also brutally attacked, beaten and robbed. The charges against the plaintiffs and other youths were based on abundant probable cause, including confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials.
“Nothing unearthed since the trials, including Matias Reyes’s connection to the attack on the jogger – changes that fact. Indeed, it was well known at the time of the trials that an unidentified male’s DNA was present. Under the circumstances, the City is proceeding with a vigorous defense of the detectives and prosecutors, and the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that each of the five plaintiffs and their family members are seeking.
“The parties are actively engaged in lengthy and complex discovery, which was recently extended upon joint request by both sides. The plaintiffs themselves have already taken 20 depositions, and have recently noticed the depositions of several other NYPD personnel. The City has also turned over more than 60,000 pages of documents, plus videotapes and other evidence, in response to plaintiffs’ demands.”
“From April 19, 1989, through today, the December 12th Movement has maintained that the arrests, mistreatment, prosecution and incarceration of the Central Park 5 were motivated by racism, not reality,” said Wareham. “That in the wake of a cowardly, near fatal attack on a White female jogger in Central Park, any Black or Latino suspect would do as a sacrifice to a White community’s calls for revenge. And, that is precisely what happened.
“To understand why, some nine years after their exoneration and eight years after filing a suit for compensation, this case is still not settled, one must acknowledge the lynch mob mentality that led to their unjust convictions and still persists today. Mayor Bloomberg could very simply resolve this matter with the stroke of a pen, authorizing the city to settle this case. Instead, these men and their families are faced with the New York City Law Department using its immense resources to employ every pre-trial maneuver procedure possible to stretch this case out as far as they can,” Wareham continued.
“The five are now rapidly approaching age 40. They have been incarcerated, had their teen years stolen from them, vilified as “wild animals” that should be put to death by Donald Trump, branded as sex offenders, had tremendous problems finding employment and experienced heart-breaking family disruptions. And, still apology and repair are in the distant future.”