In what appears to be a policy shift on fighting wrongful conviction and police-brutality cases, New York City is settling cases more quickly, without the protracted fighting seen during the Bloomberg administration.
The city’s Law Department recently announced a $41 million settlement in the Central Park Five case. The five men convicted in the 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger had their convictions vacated but have fought for more than ten years for monetary damages, The New York Times reports. Under Bloomberg, the city had vigorously fought the case, but now, six months into de Blasio’s term, the settlement was reached. Mayor de Blasio spoke of the city’s “moral obligation to respond to that injustice.”
According to the Times, when the Central Park case is settled, the city will have paid out more in civil-rights and police-brutality cases this year than it did all of last year. Observers expect more settlements to follow. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office is conducting a review of 90 possible wrongful convictions and seven men have been released. In June, three exonerated men filed suit on the same day, each one seeking $150 million, the Times reports.
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. 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, according to the Times.
The Times notes that lawyers and judges are asking whether the more conciliatory approach from the city could lead to big payouts. The Bloomberg administration fought hard on civil-rights lawsuits, sometimes continuing the fight for years, but the de Blasio administration seems more open to negotiation, though city officials deny there has been a change in overall legal strategy. Corporation counsel, Zachary W. Carter, says, “each case continues to be evaluated on its individual merit.”
When he took office in January, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson set up a special convictions review unit to look at past convictions, in particular, 57 cases based on the police work of retired detective Louis Scarcella. Scarcella has been accused wrongdoing including fabricating confessions, abusing witnesses, and failing to turn over exculpatory evidence, the Times reports.