NEW YORK -- For the first time in the decade since a New York court overturned the convictions of five teenagers in the 1989 rape and beating of a woman known as the Central Park Jogger, a New York City elected official has called on the city to settle a $250 million federal civil rights suit brought by the now-grown men.
On Friday, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu said the city's legal department and lawyers representing the men, known collectively as the Central Park Five, should sit down immediately for settlement talks. Liu cited concerns about mounting and likely multimillion-dollar legal costs in the now 10-year-old case. Similar cases of alleged police misconduct that were settled by the city after far shorter periods of litigation left New York to pay large legal bills and millions of dollars in damages to those harmed.
"As the financial steward of the City, my goal is to ensure that we strike a delicate balance between making those with meritorious claims whole while minimizing taxpayer costs," Liu said in a statement released after his Harlem press conference. "In the case of the 'Central Park Five,' I am extremely concerned that the longer we wait, the more the legal bills mount."
When queried by a reporter, Liu added that a settlement would also bring a long and notorious period in city history to a close.
"This troubling case has spanned the administrations of four Mayors -- Edward Koch, David Dinkins, Rudolph Giuliani, and now Michael Bloomberg," Liu said in his statement. "In the last year of his third term, Mayor Bloomberg has an historic opportunity to provide closure to all those involved. Let's hope that 2013 is the year when all parties help close this terrible chapter in our City's history, so that New Yorkers can finally put an end to the tragic 'Central Park Five' saga."
In a statement from the city's legal department, also released on Friday, officials denied that police or prosecutors had done anything wrong in the 1989 case.
"As we've said before, the City stands by the decisions made by the detectives and prosecutors," said Celeste Koeleveld, a city lawyer who defends New York in public safety matters. She added, "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, with all of the decisions being affirmed by the appellate courts."
The Central Park Five have argued repeatedly that they were coerced into offering false confessions after 20 to 30 hours of interrogation during which police officers screamed at them, denied them anything to eat or drink, and fed them information about the crime. No physical evidence was ever found to conclusively link any of the five young men to the crime.
CENTRAL PARK FIVE FILM NOW TOURING!!
In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and later convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. They spent between six and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed that he alone had committed the crime, resulting in their convictions being overturned.
Set against a backdrop of a decaying city beset by violence and racial tension, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE tells the story of that horrific crime, the rush to judgment by the police, a media clamoring for sensational stories, an outraged public, and the five lives upended by this miscarriage of justice.