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Teens Accused in Brooklyn Playground Gang Rape Claim Sex Was Consensual

By  Murray Weiss Aidan Gardiner and John Santore | January 12, 2016 8:35am | Updated on January 13, 2016 8:45am

BROOKLYN — All five teens have been arrested and charged in the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman at gunpoint in a Brownsville playground, although the fifth suspect has yet to be arraigned, police said Tuesday.

Denzel Murray, 14, Shaquell Cooper, 15, Ethan Phillip, 15, and Onandi Brown, 17 — appeared in Brooklyn Criminal Court late Tuesday night and were arraigned on charges of rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, forcible touching and other charges. The teens, two of whom have told investigators that the sex was consensual, were ordered held on bail ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

Travis Beckford, 17, who was arrested at his school on Tuesday morning, did not appear in court with the other suspects.

In the young men's version of events, the young woman agreed to have oral sex with two of the teens and intercourse with a third after the group stumbled on the victim and her father having sex in Osborn Playground at 9:10 p.m. Thursday, NYPD officials said.

They claim they told the father to leave the scene, and one of them watched and the other spoke on his cellphone while their co-defendants had sex with the young woman, sources said.

The father returned briefly and threw a bottle at the suspects before they chased him off again, they told investigators.

But the victim and her dad gave a starkly different version of events.

The woman and her father told investigators that they were drinking in the park when the group confronted them and ordered the father to leave at gunpoint, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.

The dad, who tried to get someone from nearby bodegas to lend him a phone to call 911, eventually returned to the scene with two police officers he'd found in a nearby squad car and told them "his daughter was being murdered," the chief said.

The daughter was hysterical when police arrived and covered in scrapes and bruises to her elbows, back and knees, according to Boyce.

She was treated and released from Kings County Hospital.

Boyce said that no gun had been recovered, and he expressed skepticism of the incest allegation. 

"Everything she said seemed credible, and her father's narrative was exactly the same," Boyce said.

But Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said he had concerns based on what police have said about the father's behavior.

"Many people in the community are wondering why a father would initially leave his teenage daughter in imminent danger without in any way coming to her defense," Jeffries told DNAInfo Tuesday.

"The victim clearly had a very difficult life. She had apparently been abandoned by her biological father at a very young age," Jeffries said. 

The daughter spent the last 16 years of her life out West in foster care and recently sought to reconnect to her biological father, sources said.

"The more we learn, the more it appears to not have been a healthy environment for a teenage girl to grow up in," Jeffries said of the victim's life after foster care.

"Those allegations are deeply troubling and perhaps would explain a lot about the inconsistencies about what the father initially communicated to the police," Jeffries said.

Christopher McKniff, spokesman for the Administration for Children's Services, said he could not comment on family history due to privacy laws.

Police were able to track the suspects down in part through surveillance video.

Footage from a school near the park showed five men leave the park around 8:30 p.m. and return five minutes later, Boyce said. That recording led police to canvass at nearby bodegas, allowing them to find the video that helped identify the boys, he said.

The police searched for the suspects for the next few days until two of the boys, accompanied by their mothers, turned themselves in while police hunted down the two others, police said. A third boy surrendered to police late Sunday, and a fourth was found through a tip, Boyce said.

Beckford was taken into custody Tuesday morning at Samuel Tilden High School when he arrived for classes, police said.

Prosecutors requested $500,000 bail for each of the four suspects arraigned Tuesday. The judge set bail at $50,000 for Cooper, $25,000 for Brown and $10,000 each for Phillip and Murray.

Two of the boys, Murray and Cooper, live within two blocks of the park where they attacked the girl, police said. Philip lives in East Flatbush and Brown in East New York, police said. 

Investigators are still collecting DNA evidence, which can take seven to 10 days to process, police said.

Detectives have not yet tested the father's DNA, and "he's not being charged with anything at this point," Boyce said.

Some officials have been critical of how long the NYPD took to inform the public. Initially, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the way the crime was reported to the community, but later he said authorities should have reported the crime sooner.

"If NYPD tells me there’s a reason they are holding something back, because they believe it is going to help them get the person who did the crime, I always respect that and defer to that," de Blasio said.

"But in this instance, again, the process of informing the public and community should have been clearer and earlier.”

Reporting was contributed by Rachelle Blidner and Ben Fractenberg