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The Mayor's Mouth and His Money

September 8, 2014

The city’s gratuitous explanation for settling the controversial Central Park Jogger case reveals, yet again, that the words of Mayor Bill de Blasio and his subordinates belie their actions.

How else to describe Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter’s contorted explanation late last week for the whopping $41 million settlement to the five black and Hispanic teenagers, known as the Central Park Five, who were wrongly convicted of beating and raping a white female jogger in 1989?

The settlement “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions were the result of law enforcement misconduct. … On the contrary,” Carter said, “our review of the record suggests that both the investigating detectives and assistant district attorneys involved in the case acted reasonably, given the circumstances with which they were confronted.”

What Carter is saying is that neither the cops nor prosecutors did anything wrong.

“To say there was no official liability is laughable,” said Jonathan Moore, the lead attorney for the Central Park Five. “Why else would anyone in his right mind have paid $41 million to settle this case?”

So if nobody did anything wrong, how does de Blasio justify using taxpayer money to pay the largest wrongful-conviction settlement in city history?

Answer: He can’t. His explanation — that the city “had a moral obligation to right this injustice, which is why, from day one, I vowed to settle the case” — explains nothing.

Does Carter’s statement mean that detectives did not coerce the five teenagers into implicating each other, as their supporters claimed the police had done?

Does it mean, instead, that the teenagers, as their videotaped confessions appeared to show, freely implicated each other, perhaps to hide their activities in another area of the park where they had beaten up other people, as their detractors have claimed?

Or does it mean they telling the truth when they said they beat up the jogger?

Does Carter’s statement also mean that lead prosecutor Linda Fairstein did not ignore contrary evidence and properly charged the Central Park Five with the jogger’s rape?

Or, as many in the NYPD have claimed, that she was undone by her backstage rivalry with another prosecutor, Nancy Ryan? Ryan interviewed Matias Reyes, the convicted rapist and murderer who admitted years later that he alone had assaulted and raped the jogger. But Ryan refused to allow detectives to interview him or to sit in on her full interview of Reyes in prison.

Sources say Fairstein, who is now is a mystery-solving prosecutor-novelist, put a full-court press on Carter to issue his good-conduct statement, which was immediately echoed by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, of whom Fairstein is said to be a major supporter.

“After more than a decade in which numerous parties have investigated and litigated the case,” Vance chimed in, “there has been no finding of wrongdoing or unprofessional behavior by any of the prosecutors involved.”

There’s one way to settle all this: unseal the entire record so that we — the public — can learn the truth.

As Alice T. McGillion, the NYPD’s spokeswoman at the time of the case, who has been serving as an adviser to Fairstein and the case’s two other prosecutors, put it: “Every single document must be released.”

As a mayoral candidate, de Blasio championed government transparency. Here’s his opportunity to show that his words don’t belie his actions.

Broken windows is the policing philosophy of Commissioner Bill Bratton. Like unattended broken windows, the mantra goes, small crimes will result in bigger crimes.

For the past month at Police Plaza, the escalator in the lobby has been broken.

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