Disagreement Over DOJ Report Hint At Larger Battles Ahead?
It was a sensational settlement. New York City paid out $40 million in 2014 to five men convicted of brutally raping and beating a female jogger in New York City's Central Park in 1989.
The victim, Trisha Meili, remained in a coma for twelve days.
The convicted youths claimed they were innocent, despite the fact that they confessed on video shortly after the attack. When a DNA sample taken from the victim was tested years later with new technology and pointed to another man, the media declared the youths were wrongfully convicted. The convictions were overturned. A lawsuit followed.
For a long time, this lawsuit never went anywhere. Throughout his administration, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, refused to settle the case. Bloomberg stood by the police and prosecutors and the trial verdict.
The New York Times:
New York City is refusing to settle lawsuits brought by the five men whose convictions in the Central Park jogger case were overturned after they spent years in prison.
“The charges against the plaintiffs and other youths were based on abundant probable cause, including confessions that withstood intense scrutiny, in full and fair pretrial hearings and at two lengthy public trials,” Celeste Koeleveld, executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, said in a statement on Tuesday.
But just months after Democratic Mayor Bill De Blasio took power, public television published a documentary about the case, claiming the police framed the youth. The documentary included no interviews with the original investigators, prosecutors, nor a man hired by the police union to review the case and issue a report, a review that declared the five youths were, indeed, guilty. De Blasio wrote a massive check to the men.
Like so many “wrongful conviction” cases, few in the legal, media, or political establishment articulated what so many people involved in the investigation and prosecution still believed: The youths were clearly guilty. To the investigators, the DNA pointing to another offender was not significant. They had always maintained, from the very beginning of the case, there were likely other offenders not caught that night.
Here is what the original prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, now a prominent crime fiction writer, said about the case in New Yorker interview:
I don't think there is a question in the minds of anyone present during the interrogation process that these five men were participants, not only in the other attacks that night but in the attack on the jogger. I watched more than thirty detectives—black, white, Hispanic guys who'd never met each other before—conduct a brilliant investigation. Remember, I had a lot of cases with comatose victims. They wake up, more often than not. What's the likelihood that a sophisticated group of cops and prosecutors are going to make up a story that she can refute when she wakes up?” (The jogger recovered from her injuries, for the most part, but never remembered anything about the attack.)
One wealthy, outspoken New Yorker refused to join the chorus demanding a settlement: Donald Trump.
In fact, Trump, who called the detectives and listened to their account of the investigation, condemned the settlement.
"They admitted they were guilty," Trump said to CNN in a statement. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
President Trump’s response to the Central Park Five settlement suggests that he sensed long before he began his political career that the movement to free convicted criminals and garner large payments for them through lawsuits, and the media that trumpeted such stories, were corrupt. One wonders if the Central Park Five case was formative in the development of Trump’s “fake news” theory.
Imagine President Trump and Jeffrey Sessions’ outrage should they become familiar with the wrongful conviction movement in Chicago, the growing, chilling evidence that many exonerations of the city’s most heinous murderers and rapists were frauds.
The media’s failure to investigate this evidence of misconduct, beginning with the Anthony Porter exoneration in 1999, to the release of four convicted killers from death row in 2003 by Governor George Ryan, to the evidence of trumped up charges against Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans, and many others, all suggest a sinister cooperation between anti-police activists and the media, a stunning confirmation of President Trump’s “fake news” theory.
Some of the cases that bring out evidence of corruption in this movement are currently pending in the federal courts. One would be hard pressed to find one single journalist attending the hearings.
For decades, the media’s mythology about the police remained unchallenged. But now, in the unexpected victory of Trump in the election, that no longer appears to be the case. Trump and Sessions do not seem so willing to buy into the vilification of the police that the media assumes as fact.
The Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department under Obama is one sign of this conflicting view on police misconduct and the legitimacy of the accusers. On the one hand, Obama’s Attorney General called for the investigation and cited a need for federal oversight. On the other, Sessions condemned the investigation.
What could be taking shape under Trump is a test of Chicago media’s mythology about the police and wrongful convictions. It couldn’t come at a more crucial time. The chronic vilification of the police and the endless policies that emerge from it have put the handcuffs on law enforcement. The citizens of Chicago are under virtual siege from gang violence and other crime.
What could ultimately emerge from the Department of Justice is not another review of the Chicago Police, but instead a federal probe of the city’s wrongful conviction movement, for clearly the evidence of misconduct in these cases merits a deeper, larger investigation beyond the capabilities of a local prosecutor.
Certainly one issue that would emerge from such an investigation would be media misconduct.
Now that would be real reform.