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New York settles lawsuit over Central Park Five rape convictions

Date

Henry Goldman

Arrested: Yusef Salaam being escorted by police in New York in 1990.

Arrested: Yusef Salaam being escorted by police in New York in 1990. Photo: AP

New York: Five men convicted in the 1989 beating and rape of a female runner in Central Park whose verdicts were overturned have agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit against New York City.

The settlement documents have been completed and are under review, said comptroller Scott Stringer, whose office must approve any payments of claims against the city. While declining to state the agreement's precise cost, Stringer said the amount is "in the ballpark" of $40 million.

"We have begun a due diligence process and we will view that settlement as to what is in the best interest of our city," Mr Stringer told reporters on Friday.

Yusef Salaam in 2013.

Yusef Salaam in 2013. Photo: AP

The agreement also must be approved by US District Judge Deborah Batts, who in 2007 rejected a motion by the administration of former mayor Michael Bloomberg to dismiss the suit. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The five black and Hispanic men – aged 14 to 16 when they were arrested – were found to have been wrongly convicted of the beating and rape, which left the 29-year-old victim, Trisha Meili, comatose for 12 days. The crime attracted international media attention and underscored the issue of violent crime in US cities at the time, and in New York in particular. Ms Meili revealed her identity years later.

In 2002, prosecutors sought to throw out the convictions when DNA tests on semen from the victim's socks linked Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, to the attack. A state judge overturned their convictions.

In 2003, the men sued the city in Manhattan federal court, claiming wrongful arrest and imprisonment.

Police used "coercive and deceptive interrogation techniques" including sleep deprivation and isolation from their families when questioning the teenagers, their lawyers said in the complaint. Arrested near the time of the attack for minor offences, the men became the focus of "a deliberate and unjustified effort by these defendants to manufacture guilt".

Judge Batts ruled in 2007 that the men could pursue claims that the New York City Police Department and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office acted out of racial bias. She denied a bid by former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau to dismiss allegations that his office and police conspired to deprive the men of their civil rights, saying she found the claim "plausible."

In April, lawyers for the administration of mayor Bill de Blasio wrote to US magistrate judge Ronald Ellis saying the plaintiffs had submitted a settlement letter on March 7. The city asked for more time to review evidence gathered in the prosecution.

Elizabeth Daitz, a lawyer for the city, told Judge Ellis additional time would be needed to conclude the matter, including obtaining settlement authority under the New York City charter, and "particularly given the notoriety of this matter and the implications for future cases".

The case was the subject of The Central Park Five, a 2012 film directed by Ken Burns, the Emmy award-winning filmmaker; his daughter, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.

City Law Department spokeswoman Kate Ahlers declined to comment on the case, as did Phil Walzak, Mr de Blasio's press secretary.

Washington Post

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