MANHATTAN (CN) — Nearly three years after collecting $41 million in the Central Park jogger case, the five men falsely convicted of rape as teenagers scored a partial victory Monday against fake news surrounding their troubled case.
Since settling the civil rights suit in 2014, New York City has been slowly working on an online database opening up case’s docket, set to launch before the end of the year.
The Central Park Five, as they became known, want to expose the disciplinary records of the NYPD officers who interrogated them. U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis meanwhile held a hearing this morning on New York City’s push to disclose information that would apparently put the men in a negative light.
Confidentiality surrounding the case makes the details of these allegations unclear, but the city’s lawyer Genevieve Nelson alluded to an interrogation about a carnival.
In shooting down the effort today, Ellis invoked a phrase made famous by White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway.
“I note that, these days, we are talking a lot about ‘alternative facts,’” Ellis said.
The dig at President Donald Trump is hardly incidental. Shortly after jogger Trisha Meili’s rape in April 1989, the New York real estate tycoon went on a personal crusade against her suspected perpetrators, fanning the flames of public outrage with full-page ads in local tabloids.
“BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY,” one 1989 ad in the New York Daily News said. “BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
Antron McRay, Raymond Santana Jr., Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam had already served seven-year prison stints by the time Meili’s true attacker stepped forward, exonerating the Central Park Five of the crime.
For many now, their prosecution — and the media-fueled panic about “wilding” crime sprees committed by black and Latino “wolf packs” — represents a racially motivated rush to judgment.
Still others have been reluctant to concede the Central Park Five’s innocence. Trump, who used his personal fortune to help lead the charge against the boys, even doubled down on his revisionist history of the Central Park Five case last year.
“They admitted they were guilty,” Trump told CNN on the campaign trail. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Though DNA testing corroborated the jailhouse confession of Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer, New York City did not admit wrongdoing in the 2014 settlement of the Central Park Five’s civil rights case.
During a brief status conference today, Ellis emphasized the goal is to clarify “a significant event in our nation’s history.”
“What we’re trying to do is make public information related to this case and the circumstances leading up to it,” he said.
Ellis indicated that the city had no evidence backing up the allegation about the supposed carnival interrogation question, which the teenagers denied.
“I don’t think it even rises to the level of unsubstantiated,” he added.
Ellis described the loaded interrogation as a Catch-22 for the teenagers.
“That’s the classic ‘Do you still beat your wife?’ kind of question,” the judge said.
The Central Park Five have long argued that they buckled under manipulative interrogation by more than a dozen detectives, officers and prosecutors at the District Attorney’s Office, who took advantage of scared and vulnerable teens.
Their lawyers had hoped to put the employment disciplinary records on the case’s public database, but Ellis refused Monday to expose anything beside records related to the case.
Ellis, who also serves as an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, said his conversations with students show that the historical memory of the case is fading quickly.
“If this is really important, it’s something that should be done more quickly rather than less quickly,” Ellis said of the database.
The judge scheduled another conference on the matter for June 6 at 2:30 p.m.
McRay’s attorney Roger Wareham told reporters outside the court that he would not clarify or dignify the city’s carnival allegation.
“It’s just some slander, so we don’t want to comment on that,” he said.
Karen Dippold, another attorney for the five, remained skeptical that any amount of information exonerating her clients would satisfy arch skeptics like Trump.
“True believers are true believers,” said Dippold, who is with the firm Beldock Levine & Hoffman.
Trump sparked more allegations of circulating racially charged alternative facts just this morning. In an interview about the Civil War with the Washington Examiner, Trump tried to paint Andrew Jackson as a peacemaking force who had been “really angry” about the failure to reach a lifesaving compromise.
“Why could [the war] not have been worked out?” Trump asked.
Jackson, a slaveowner who ran a plantation, died 15 years before the Civil War.