Yesterday we told you about the case of Ryan Ferguson, a Missouri man who was imprisoned as a teen for a murder he did not commit, and was finally freed this week after almost 10 years in prison. Today, an even more bizarre tale of a court system out of control comes from New York.
This one involves an alleged robbery, not a murder, and a story that seems even more surreal. New York’s WABC TV broke the mind-bogglng story of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager who was let out of Rikers Island where he was jailed for three years — without ever being convicted of anything.
The Kafkaesque nightmare started in May of 2010, according to WABC, Browder (pictured) was walking home from a party, along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
He was 16 years old, in the 10th grade.
“This guy comes out of nowhere and says I robbed him,” the now-20-year-old Browder told the TV station. “And the next thing I know they are putting cuffs on me. I don’t know this dude. And I do over three years for something I didn’t do.”
Bail was set for $10,000. His family couldn’t afford to pay. He was given a legal aid attorney who did nothing to help.
There was no evidence against Browder, says his new lawyer, Paul Prestia, who represents the young man in a civil suit he’s filed. Beyond the one witness who accused Browder, a stranger whom Browder had never met, there was no physical evidence, no supposedly stolen property or money recovered, no other witnesses — nothing.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people accused of a crime the right to a speedy trial. But Bronx County prosecutors seemed to let that little provision slip their minds.
Browder was repeatedly hauled into court. Each time, he thought he was going home. Each time, he was sent back to Rikers Island, one of the toughest jails in the country.
“It’s very hard when you are dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs,” Browder recounted for WABC. “You know if you don’t give your phone call up, or you don’t give them what they want you know they are going to jump you. And it’s very scary.”
Browder saw no hope. He tried to take his own life more than once, he said.
At one point, after sitting in jail for 33 months, he went before a judge and was told that he should accept a plea deal and he would be given credit for time served. Browder refused to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, even though he was warned that he was facing a 15-year sentence.
So they sent him back to Rikers.
Then, in June of this year, the case was dismissed and all charges dropped. Browder was free, but not happy.
“I didn’t get to go to prom or graduation,” he said. “Nothing. Those are the main years. They are the main years. And I am never going to get those years back. Never. Never.”
He was released just as suddenly and mysteriously as he was arrested.
“They just dismissed the case and they think it’s all right. No apology, no nothing,” he said. “They just say ‘case dismissed, don’t worry about nothing.’ What do you mean, don’t worry about nothing? You just took 3 years of my life.”
The Bronx District Attorney’s office would not say anything to WABC, citing Browder’s lawsuit.
View WABC’s story on this bizarre and outrageous case of justice gone wild in the video below.
Correction: This story previously described Rikers Island as a prison. It is, in fact, a jail complex. Jails typically hold prisoners awaiting trial or who are serving short sentences. Prisons house convicts serving long-term sentences, usually more than one year.