Special Prosecutor Named in Race Attack : Black Student Says White Men, One Carrying Badge, Raped Her
On the surface, the town of Wappingers Falls near snow-covered fields in rural Dutchess County bears little similarity to Howard Beach near the busy runways of New York’s Kennedy Airport.
But on Tuesday, reacting to charges by a lawyer who represented a key prosecution witness in the Howard Beach racial assault case, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed a special state prosecutor to look into allegations that Tawana Brawley, a black high school cheerleader and resident of Wappingers Falls, was kidnaped in November and raped by a group of white men--including an assailant who displayed a police-like badge.
The governor acted after Dutchess County Dist. Atty. William Grady and a local special prosecutor said they could not handle the potentially racially explosive case because of a publicly unexplained conflict of interest.
Rare Action in State
Appointment of a special prosecutor to supersede a local district attorney is extremely rare in New York state. Since he has been governor, Cuomo has acted only three times to replace a top local law enforcement official conducting an investigation.
But there were indications Tuesday that Alton Maddox Jr., Brawley’s lawyer, was not satisfied with the governor’s choice of New York State Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams as the special prosecutor. Maddox demanded that Charles J. Hynes, who successfully prosecuted the Howard Beach case, be named.
Cuomo responded: “The same judgment I employed in selecting Joe Hynes I employed in selecting Bob Abrams.”
The governor urged Brawley to cooperate with Abrams and said he would not appoint another prosecutor.
The teen-ager was discovered dazed and lying wrapped in a garbage bag Nov. 28, a few feet from the apartment her family had vacated 10 days before. Her hair had been cut in places and words were scrawled across her torso. The letters, police said, appeared to spell “nigger” and “KKK.” She asserted that she had been raped and abducted four days earlier by at least six men, including a man with a badge wearing a jacket like those worn by law enforcement officers.
Racial Attack ‘Obvious’
“It was certainly obvious that she had been the victim of a racial attack,” Grady said.
The district attorney said in an interview with The Times that other demeaning racial epithets also were written.
Grady said police were alerted after a neighbor spotted the Wappingers Falls resident behaving strangely outside her former home. While she was waiting for the police to arrive, the neighbor observed Brawley, who was 15 at the time and is now 16, crawl into a plastic garbage bag and lie down near the building.
Grady said his office had made numerous attempts to develop rapport with Brawley but that she had refused, alleging a cover-up. He said the teen-ager and her family declined to talk with an assistant district attorney and a specially trained New York state police investigator, both of whom are black. Grady said that more than 200 people had been interviewed and that the FBI had analyzed evidence collected at the time of the alleged crime.
30 Witnesses Heard
A special grand jury was called in Dutchess County, north of New York City, and heard more than 30 witnesses. Brawley, her mother and aunt did not show up to testify because, Maddox said, they did not trust the local investigation.
After hearing witnesses, Grady said the grand jury had found evidence of a “potential conflict of interest” involving his office and last week he stepped down from the case. County Judge Judith Hillery then appointed David Sall, a local lawyer, as a special prosecutor but he resigned from the case the next day.
On Monday, Cuomo met with a number of ministers to discuss the case. Before the meeting, Brawley asked a member of the delegation, the Rev. Saul Williams of Newburgh, to tell Cuomo: “Governor, I need your help.”
In announcing the appointment of the special prosecutor, the governor said he had also asked the New York state police to make available a special unit to assist Abrams in his investigation. Cuomo said he was hopeful Brawley would now cooperate.
Similar Tactics Used
In demanding a special prosecutor, Maddox followed tactics he employed in the aftermath of the assault in Howard Beach by a gang of teen-agers on three black men whose car broke down near the predominantly white neighborhood on Dec. 19, 1986.
One of the men was killed by an auto after he was chased into traffic on a busy highway. Two key witnesses testified before a grand jury only after Hynes had been named in lieu of the local district attorney in the case.
Last Friday, a judge sentenced the first of three teen-agers found guilty in that racial attack to a maximum term of up to 30 years in prison.