Sunday, December 1, 2013

3 Years In Hell

Imagine your worst nightmare becoming an endless brutal reality of unimaginable proportions. You're dropped in a bottomless pit, forgotten about, and left to rot for 1,095 days. Then imagine going through this at the tender age of 16 !

Bronx resident Kalief Browder was walking home from a party on a cool urban night, when he was abruptly arrested by New York City police officers on May 14, 2010. A complete stranger said Browder had robbed him a few weeks earlier and, consequently, changed the 16-year-old's life forever.

Browder was imprisoned for three years before the charges were dropped in June 2013, according to a News investigation.

At the time of the teen's arrest, Browder's family was unable to pay the $10,000 bail. He was placed in the infamously violent Rikers Island correctional facility, where he remained in limbo until earlier this year.

Now that he's free, the young man is speaking up about his experience.

"I spent three New Year's in there, three birthdays...," Browder, now 20, said in a recent interview, adding that he was released with "no apology."

In October, Browder filed a civil lawsuit against the Bronx District Attorney, City of New York, the New York City Police Department, the New York City Department of Corrections and a number of state-employed individuals.

The official complaint states Browder was "physically assaulted and beaten" by officers and other inmates during his time at Rikers Island. The document also maintains the accused was "placed in solitary confinement for more than 400 days" and was "deprived meals." In addition, officers allegedly prevented him from pursuing his education. Browder attempted suicide at least six times.

In an interview, Browder's current lawyer Paul Prestia summarized his client's experience as "inexplicable" and "unheard of." Based off one man's identification, Browder was charged with robbery in the second degree, he notes. It took three years to dismiss these charges, even though it was, in Prestia's words, a "straightforward case to try."

"The city needs to be held accountable for what happened," Prestia said. "[Browder] had a right to a fair and speedy trial, and he wasn't afforded any of that. He maintained his innocence the entire time, and essentially got a three year sentence for that."

Still, when Browder was offered a plea deal in January, he refused to take it, because he did not want to plead guilty to the crime. (Had Browder been tried in a timely fashion and pled guilty to the crime, Prestia said, he might have spent less time behind bars.)

Prestia adds that his client has suffered lingering mental health problems, and though he's currently going to school for his GED, he's "clearly way behind from where he would have been."

We need someone to be held accountable," Prestia said. "This can't just go unnoticed. To the extent that [Browder] can be financially compensated,  although it's not going to get those years back for him,  it may give him a chance to succeed."

 The District Attorney's office said it was unable to comment, as Browder's allegations are currently the subject of ongoing litigation.

Incidentally, Browder's claims about his experience at Rikers Island are consistent with findings from a recent report commissioned by the New York City Board of Correction. The report, notes that the use of force by staff has more than tripled from 2004 to 2013, from seven incidents of force per 100 inmates, to almost 25. Additionally, the number of self-mutilation and suicide attempts by Rikers inmates have increased by 75 percent from 2007 to 2012. According to the report, 40 percent of the city jail’s 12,200 inmates are mentally ill, and many of these inmates are placed in solitary confinement "holes" as punishment.

Browder is suing The City of New York for $20 million. But the fact of the matter is that you simply cannot put a dollar sign on his agony. Kelief Browder could have been any one of our sons. Who's humanity was disregarded because of his race or socio-economic status. With years of his life taken away by an indifferent criminal justice system playing fast and loose with his future, his life, and his sanity.


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