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In Apparent Policy Shift, New York City Settling Civil-Rights and Police-Brutality Cases More

Jul 28, 2014

When the recently announced settlement of the Central Park Five case is finalized, New York City will have paid out more in civil-rights and police-brutality cases this year than it did all of last year, according to the comptroller’s office.

And many more settlements could follow, The New York Times reports, as a special unit in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office reviews 90 possible wrongful convictions. Seven men have been cleared this year and in June, three exonerated men filed suit on the same day, each one seeking $150 million.

The five men convicted in the 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger had their convictions vacated, but have been fighting for than ten years for monetary damages. The city vigorously fought the cases, but this year, six months into the de Blasio administration, the city’s Law Department agreed to a $41 million settlement, according to the Times. Mayor de Blasio spoke of the city’s “moral obligation to respond to that injustice.”

In February, the comptroller’s office agreed to pay a Brooklyn man $6.4 million for his wrongful conviction and 23-year prison term for the 1990 murder of a rabbi, although David Ranta had not even filed a lawsuit. Last week, the city agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit accusing correction officers at Rikers Island of the 2012 fatal beating of an inmate suffering from kidney disease.

The Times said that lawyers and judges are asking whether the city’s more conciliatory stance could lead to big payouts. The Bloomberg administration fought hard in civil-rights lawsuits, sometimes contesting them for years. The de Blasio administration seems more open to negotiation, though officials would not acknowledge any change in their overall legal strategy. Corporation counsel Zachary W. Carter says each case would be “evaluated on its individual merit.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, who took in office in January, quickly set up the conviction review unit. Particular attention is being given 57 cases involving the work of retired detective, Louis Scarcella, whose methods have come under intense scrutiny, the Times reports. Scarcella has been accused of fabricating confessions, abusing witnesses, and failing to turn over exculpatory evidence.

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