A proposed settlement of the civil rights suit brought by five men falsely imprisoned in the Central Park jogger case has gone to the New York comptroller’s office, a key step on the route to final approval.
The proposed settlement of the racially sensitive case needs approval from the federal court and from city agencies including the office of Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.
“The Comptroller’s Office has received the proposed settlement between the City and the Central Park Five,” Eric Sumberg, the comptroller’s press secretary, said in an email. “As with all proposed settlements, under our Charter-mandated authority, we will do our due diligence and provide feedback to ensure that any settlement we approve is in the best interests of the City.”
Sumberg and other city officials would not discuss details of the proposed settlement, but a variety of media reports put the cost at $40 million. The New York Times first reported on the case on Thursday.
The proposed settlement averages roughly $1 million for each year of imprisonment for the five black and Latino men convicted in 1990 of raping and brutally beating a white woman jogging in Manhattan’s Central Park a year earlier. One defendant, Kharey Wise, served 13 years in prison and his share would be the largest such payout in the city’s history. The defendants became known as the Central Park Five.
The sensational case came at a time when New York was back on its heels at the tail-end of the Mayor Edward I. Koch years. Crime was a major issue and city services, including police, were still reeling from lack of funding caused by the city’s financial problems.
Middle-class whites were feeling besieged and dispossessed. They were angry at minorities who were being blamed even as blacks and Latinos were pushing for a piece of the political pie. The city’s first black mayor, David Dinkins, would be elected and take office in 1990 after a bitter Democratic primary and a tough polarizing race against Republican Rudy Giuliani, who would take the office four years later.
It was with race, crime and politics heavy in the air that a white woman who worked at a Wall Street investment bank went for her nighttime run on April 19, 1989, a practice that she had done before. She was found, badly beaten and raped, at 1:30 a.m. the next day and officials said they feared she would die. She eventually recovered.
Throughout the night, police said there had been roving bands of some two dozen black and Latino youths rampaging through the park, looking for victims in an earlier version of the so-called Knockout game that became infamous years earlier. In the modern version youths, usually minorities, were accused of attacking innocent victims, usually white, with a punch, trying to score points by knocking them out. In 1989, the youths, police said, were wolf packs and in a word that became part of the urban lexicon, said the blacks and Latinos had gone “wilding.”
The case was like a spark inflaming passions and fears -- and was fed by the tabloid press, mired in a fierce newspaper war. The mainstream media printed names and addresses of many of the suspects, which civil rights leaders said they did only because the defendants were minorities. In retaliation, the press that served the black community printed the name of the woman, whose identity was protected by the mainstream press.
Eventually, authorities narrowed the field to five suspects who were charged in the crime. From the beginning there were questions about the arrests and the police investigation.
“The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that's what happened here,” the Rev. Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem told the New York Times at the time.
Authorities charged Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Wise. All were teenagers when convicted, largely because of statements they made to police. They served from 6 3/4 to 13 years in prison.
Their convictions were overturned in 2002, when Matias Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer serving a prison sentence of 33 years to life, told authorities he alone attacked the jogger. DNA tests confirmed the confession. Reyes has not been prosecuted in the case because the statute of limitations had passed.
The five men filed a civil lawsuit against the city in 2003, saying their confessions were coerced. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration fought the lawsuit for 10 years and police insisted they acted properly in their investigation.
The Bloomberg years turned into the new government of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran against many of his predecessors’ positions including on race and police stop-and-frisk rules. Taking office in January, De Blasio said he wanted to settle the case.
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12:06: p.m.: This post has been updated with a new headline and comments from the New York comptroller's office. This post originally published at 9:46 a.m. PDT.