NY Authorities Value Kalief Browder's Life at $3 Million: After Unlawful NYPD Stop & Arrest, Lawless System Held Black Teen Pre-Trial in Solitary for 3 Yrs, Causing Suicide after Release

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YOU Have “The Right” to a Speedy Trial So Long as You Believe You Do & the Judge, Prosecutor Share the Illusion. In the early hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, ten days before his seventeenth birthday, Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. They walked along Arthur Avenue, the main street of Little Italy, past bakeries and cafés with their metal shutters pulled down for the night. As they passed East 186th Street, Browder saw a police car driving toward them. More squad cars arrived, and soon Browder and his friend found themselves squinting in the glare of a police spotlight. An officer said that a man had just reported that they had robbed him. “I didn’t rob anybody,” Browder replied. “You can check my pockets.”

The officers searched him and his friend but found nothing. As Browder recalls, one of the officers walked back to his car, where the alleged victim was, and returned with a new story: the man said that they had robbed him not that night but two weeks earlier. The police handcuffed the teens and pressed them into the back of a squad car. “What am I being charged for?” Browder asked. “I didn’t do anything!” He remembers an officer telling them, “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely you can go home.” Browder whispered to his friend, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?” His friend insisted that he hadn’t.

At the Forty-eighth Precinct, the pair were fingerprinted and locked in a holding cell. A few hours later, when an officer opened the door, Browder jumped up: “I can leave now?” Instead, the teens were taken to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.

Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island. [MORE]


From [WNYC] On Thursday, New York City's Law Department announced it had reached a $3.3 million settlement with Kalief Browder's family. The young man from the Bronx, who spent three years detained on Rikers Island without being tried or convicted, was accused of stealing a backpack.

Nearly two of Browder's three years in jail were spent in solitary confinement. He He was released in 2013 when the prosecutor's case was found to be lacking any evidence against Browder. And in 2015, plagued by what he said was the mental anguish and trauma from his time in jail, hanging himself from an air conditioning unit outside of his mother's home.

"Kalief Browder's story helped inspire numerous reforms to the justice system to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, including an end to punitive segregation for young people on Rikers Island," Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city law department told NPR in an emailed statement.

"We hope that this settlement and our continuing reforms help bring some measure of closure to the Browder family," he added.

According to The New York Times, "the civil rights and wrongful death action is before a judge in State Supreme Court in the Bronx."

Browder's family was satisfied with the settlement, Scott Rynecki, one of the family's attorneys, told NPR.

"The family is pleased that they can bring closure to this part of the matter but hopes that the national recognition that the case gave to the need of prison reform and dealing with younger individuals continues," Rynecki said.

Browder’s family could not afford to hire an attorney, so the judge appointed a lawyer named Brendan O’Meara to represent him [court appointed atty are known locally as “18-B attorneys” they make seventy-five dollars an hour for a felony case, sixty dollars for a misdemeanor.] Browder told O’Meara that he was innocent and assumed that his case would conclude quickly. Even the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution later acknowledged in court papers that it was a “relatively straightforward case.” There weren’t hours of wiretaps or piles of complicated evidence to sift through; there was just the memory of one alleged victim. But Browder had entered the legal system through the Bronx criminal courts, which are chronically overwhelmed. Last year, the Times, in an extended exposé, described them as “crippled” and among the most backlogged in the country. One reason is budgetary. There are not nearly enough judges and court staff to handle the workload; in 2010, Browder’s case was one of five thousand six hundred and ninety-five felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. The problem is compounded by defense attorneys who drag out cases to improve their odds of winning, judges who permit endless adjournments, prosecutors who are perpetually unprepared. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial,” in the Bronx the concept of speedy justice barely exists.

A grand jury had voted to indict Browder. The criminal complaint alleged that he and his friend had robbed a Mexican immigrant named Roberto Bautista—pursuing him, pushing him against a fence, and taking his backpack. Bautista told the police that his backpack contained a credit card, a debit card, a digital camera, an iPod Touch, and seven hundred dollars. Browder was also accused of punching Bautista in the face.

But the accusation had been made a week or two after the alleged robbery, and the victim had later changed his mind about when it occurred. (The original police report said “on or about May 2,” but Bautista later told a detective that it happened on May 8th.) [MORE]

Browder adamantly maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration, which he served because his family couldn't afford to pay his $3,000 bail. Over the years, he rejected numerous guilty plea deals that would have allowed him to escape what he said were savage conditions at the prison. He described instances of violent beatings and torment at the hands of other inmates and guards. He said he was starved and kept in filthy surroundings. And he spoke of intolerable mental anguish suffered at the hands of prosecutors who repeatedly delayed his trial in the Bronx's infamously overburdened court system.

Even after being out in the free world for some time, cleared of any wrongdoing and suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a symbol of New York City's pernicious and crippled criminal justice system, Kalief Browder feared he'd been changed forever. That he had been damaged at the core of his innermost self after nearly three years of being caged, mostly in solitary confinement, as an adolescent on Rikers Island after he was arrested.

"People tell me because I have this case against the city I'm all right. But I'm not all right," Browder told The New Yorker in 2014.

The case against the young African-American man, who was jailed in 2010 at 16, was eventually dismissed without ever being tried. After 31 court appearances before eight different judges, the charges against Browder were dropped. His accuser had left the country and the prosecution could not move forward with the case. Meanwhile, Browder had gone from teenager to adult, missing his high school graduation and enduring a brutal existence within the prison's confines, at least half of which was spent alone in a 12- by 7-foot cell.

When he spoke to the magazine he had filed a lawsuit against the city, the New York Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney and the Department of Corrections. Still, he worried that no amount of money would make him whole again.


"I'm messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that's not going to help me mentally. I'm mentally scarred right now. That's how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back," Browder said.

In the end it proved too much. In 2015, he took his own life. He was 22.

The New Yorker story catapulted Browder to the fore of a national debate about the criminal justice system, especially as it applies to minors. Two months after the story ran, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put an end to the city's use of solitary confinement for 16- to 17-year-olds.

Upon learning of Browder's death, de Blasio said, "Kalief's story helped inspire our efforts on Rikers Island, where we are working to ensure no New Yorkers spend years in jail waiting for their day in court."

Later, when plans to permanently shutter the prison were set in motion, de Blasio pointed to Browder's suicide as a "wake-up call" to the city, adding that "his death shook the whole city and opened everyone's eyes and made people think twice."

The city plans to permanently close Rikers Island and has proposed establishing smaller, neighborhood-based facilities.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama similarly noted Browder's experience when he enacted a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles detained in federal prisons.

Browder struggled to find his place outside of Rikers Island after he was released, "Before I went to jail, I didn't know about a lot of stuff, and now that I'm aware, I'm paranoid," he told The New Yorker. It was a feeling he couldn't shake, even as he was championed as the catalyst for much-needed change.

"I feel like I was robbed of my happiness," he said