New York teen, Kalief Browder, who was imprisoned for three years without trial, even though he was ultimately found to be innocent, is suing New York City and the New York Police Department. The case highlights a callous disregard for civil liberties on the part of both the District Attorney and the judge in this case, like many others. No evidence was ever produced; the teen was arrested on the strength of a mere accusation and his 33-month nightmare ordeal was created by prosecutors who continually requested an extension of his incarceration while they attempted to build a case out of nothing.
The travesty began on May 15, 2010 when 16-year-old Browder was on his way home from a party in the Bronx. Acting on no more than an inconsistent accusation, police apprehended the teen. A man who was riding in the back of the patrol car identified Browder as the person who had robbed him earlier that night, but almost immediately changed his story; claiming that the robbery actually took place weeks before. Nevertheless, police officers took Browder into custody.
Browder was sent to the infamous Rikers Island, a prison that has been the subject of investigations into various allegations of brutality and abuse, both between inmates and inflicted by corrections officers upon the prisoners. Browder spent 800 days of his incarceration in solitary confinement, a common and controversial practice at the prison. Inmates held in solitary confinement can spend as much as 23 hours per day in their cells. Earlier this year, a 56-year-old former Marine, who had been arrested for trespassing, was found dead in his cell at the facility. He is understood to have died as a result of being confined, unattended, for hours in a cell, in which the temperature was said to have been “unusually high.”
Kalief Browder’s term in Rikers Island lasted so long for two main reasons; firstly, his bail was set at an amount too high for his family to be able to pay. Secondly, the prosecution deliberately extended his incarceration for as long as they could; in June of 2011, prosecutors requested more time to prepare their case and the teen’s confinement was extended by three months. Before the end of the three months, prosecutors again requested an extension, which lasted another three months. In November of that year, they requested a further two weeks. “Once they asked for a week or two weeks, it would turn into a matter of scheduling,” explained Jennifer Gonnerman, who reported on the story for The New Yorker.
In simple terms, Browder was detained indefinitely and without trial, on the strength of a flimsy allegation and with no conclusive evidence that he had committed the crime. Almost three years passed before the charges against Browder were dropped, when the credibility of the only witness was called into question.
According to a report in the Huffington Post, Browder has since filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and a number of its agencies, including the New York City Police Department and the New York City Department of Corrections. He is also suing the Bronx District Attorney and several individuals – presumably, state employees at Rikers Island. The complaints allege that he was starved, subjected to physical abuse and denied schooling. Browder further claims that he attempted suicide on multiple occasions. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Paul Prestia, Browder’s attorney, said “[Browder] had a right to a fair and speedy trail, and he wasn’t afforded any of that. He maintained his innocence the entire time, and essentially got a three-year sentence for that.”
When an innocent teen is imprisoned for three years without trial and without evidence or credible witnesses to his alleged crime, the system is broken beyond all measures short of a thorough investigation and complete reconstruction. New Yorkers should be truly ashamed of their city and of those who run it.
Opinion by Graham J Noble