Forty million dollars for five black and Hispanic men — whom the police tricked into falsely confessing they raped a white female jogger in Central Park, leading to years in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Or is it $40 million to five men who as “wolf-pack” teens beat up people in the park, lied to cops and implicated each other in the rape of the 28-year-old woman?
A deal to settle their civil rights lawsuit — the largest on record for a city case of wrongful conviction — does nothing to resolve the divergent narratives.
Reporter Jim Dwyer, a knowledgeable voice in the Ken Burns documentary that painted the five as innocent, convicted by predatory police and a stacked judicial system, told me: “After 10 years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of words of testimony, everything was done in secret. This is a bad way for us to deal with wrongful convictions. It’s a lost opportunity to learn and understand.”
The Central Park Five were wrongly convicted of the rape. Yet, it’s simplistic to paint them, as Burns does, as Little Lord Fauntleroys. They were arrested as teens in 1989 in perhaps the city’s most politically and racially charged criminal case.
They were in the park that night as part of a group that assaulted people at random. With no forensic evidence, they were convicted by their own statements.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, admitted that he raped the jogger. His DNA matched semen found on the victim. The convictions were vacated, and in 2003, the five sued the city for $250 million, claiming police elicited confessions knowing they were false.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg stalled the case. Running for mayor, Bill de Blasio pledged to settle the case as a “moral obligation to right this injustice.” Instead of going to trial, he muscled the $40-million deal. It’s unclear whether he’s cited a “moral obligation” to settle any other wrongful-conviction case.
For example, the city has no meaningful negotiations with Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison for the 1994 murder of a Brooklyn rabbi he did not commit. Collins is suing the city for $150 million.
The deal must be approved by Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has settled with David Ranta for $6.4 million after he spent 22 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.