NEW YORK CITY — Brooklyn's District Attorney Charles Hynes operated a CIA-like rendition program in which prosecutors regularly forged signatures on arrest warrants and held uncooperative witnesses in city hotel rooms against their will, according to federal court papers.
"If they were not happening in Brooklyn, we would associate such practices with a police state," wrote Joel Rudin, the lawyer for Jabbar Collins who is suing the city for $150 million after being wrongly convicted for the 1994 murder of Williamsburg rabbi Abraham Pollack.
Collins served 15 years on a 34 year sentence.
Hynes, whose office is now the subject of a CBS reality show called Brooklyn DA, has balked against testifying in the case, claiming he had little first-hand knowledge of how the case was handled.
"Hynes' office was running a private jail system where witnesses were illegally interrogated and forcibly detained indefinitely," Rudin wrote.
The 24-year DA, who is currently running for reelection, personally assigned assistant district attorney Michael Vecchione to Collins' case after the 1994 murder became a huge media firestorm and inflamed Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, an important voter block for Hynes, Collins' lawyer claims in court papers.
Vecchione features prominently in the CBS reality show.
Liza Fitzpatrick, an underling of Vecchione, testified that she and others routinely forged the ADA's signature on arrest warrants for material witnesses that were then signed by judges.
DA investigators would bring the witnesses to hotel rooms for interrogation, Rudin claims.
"There are circumstances where the person will say, you know, I am not coming. No way. And then you — to be safe, we would immediately handcuff them and take them away," said Christopher Salsarulo, a former investigator for Hynes, in a deposition.
Sometimes, uncooperative witnesses were denied clothing until they complied with investigators, the lawsuit claims.
"You know, there's been instances where, you know, once they're handcuffed they're in their underwear and you speak to them a little bit more, are you going to fight us? You like pants? You know, if that's the case, if they're compliant, we dress them and give them water, whatever they need so they would be comfortable," Salsarulo, who is now a federal drug agent, testified.
Later in Salsarulo's deposition, he said that the door of the hotel suite where the witnesses were kept would be held closed with handcuffs.
The interrogations were heavy-handed as well, the lawsuit claims.
In Collins' civil rights suit that won his freedom in 2010, a witness testified that Vecchione threatened to hit him over the head with a coffee table unless he testified for the prosecution.
The Brooklyn DA's office declined to comment.