HARLEM — City Comptroller John Liu and other elected officials are calling on the city to settle a lawsuit brought by five men convicted of raping and beating a jogger in Central Park in 1989 whose convictions were overturned.
The five men, four of whom had served their entire sentence before the conviction was overturned, filed a lawsuit in 2003 suing the city for $50 million apiece.
"Collectively, they spent more than 30 years in prison. While no monetary award could fully repay them for this imprisonment, the city must make an effort to correct this tremendous injustice, which robbed them of their youth," the putative mayoral candidate said at a press conference Friday at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, across the street from Central Park.
Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were all teenagers when they were sentenced to prison terms of five to 15 years each. The convictions were overturned when another man, Matias Reyes, confessed that he committed the crime alone. DNA evidence linked Reyes to the crime.
Despite the overturned conviction, the city has vigorously defended the case. Last year, the city subpoenaed all video and sound recordings from a documentary about the case by filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah.
City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo criticized Liu, saying that Liu was making statements about "complex litigation...without consideration of all facts."
"This is akin to publishing a budget report while missing half the data," Cardozo said in a statement.
"It's puzzling that the official charged with safeguarding the City’s fiscal health feels we should not defend the City, especially when we believe no constitutional violations occurred," Cardozo added.
Liu said the five men and their families have suffered enough.
"Parents not only lost their sons to prison, but also had to live through the indignity of having their children compared to vicious animals, as the press labeled them with such racially charged expressions as 'wilding' and 'wolf pack,'" Liu said.
Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Public Safety Celeste Koeleveld said in a statement that the city did nothing wrong in prosecuting the case.
"The 'Central Park Jogger' was not the only victim that night; others were also brutally attacked, beaten and robbed, " Koeleveld said.
"Nothing unearthed since the trials, including Matias Reyes’s connection to the attack on the jogger — changes that fact," Koeleveld added. "Indeed, it was well known at the time of the trials that an unidentified male’s DNA was present. Under the circumstances, the City is proceeding with a vigorous defense of the detectives and prosecutors."
Liu said he is looking out for the city's financial interests while making sure those with meritorious claims receive justice.
The city stands to spend a lot more money if the case is taken to trial and the men win, Liu said. In addition to compensation for the men and their families, Liu said the city might be responsible for their legal fees, which could reach into the tens of millions of dollars after a decade of litigation.
"We ruined the lives of young people who were totally innocent," said Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, who has introduced a resolution in the City Council calling for the corporation counsel to settle the case.
Barron said his conversations with the men's lawyers have indicated that they would like to settle the case.
"They don't want to go through this long, drawn-out process," Barron said.
State Senator Bill Perkins said a settlement is important because it would show that the city is accountable for its mistakes.
"Let's end this horrible chapter," Perkins said.