New York City has settled a lawsuit with a group of wrongly accused citizens, known popularly as the Soundview Five, to the enormous tune of $40 million.
The 4 men and one woman served nearly two decades behind bars after being imprisoned unjustly for the death of 2 people in 1995. It is alleged that at least one of the individuals had ties to a gang called “Sex Money Murder” which operated in the Soundview section of the Bronx.
The name Soundview Five came from both the details of their crime and as a reference to the infamous Central Park Five, who were paid $41 million in 2014 after they were wrongly convicted of violently raping a jogger in Central Park on 1989.
Three of the plaintiffs – Devon Ayer, Michael Cosme, and Carlos Perez – were convicted in the 1995 murder of Baithe Diop and Denise Raymond. The two additional plaintiffs – Eric Glisson and Cathy Watkins – were convicted in only Mr. Diop’s killing.
All five spent over decade of their lives behind bars for crimes they ultimately did not commit.
Speaking on behalf of their clients in an official statement, Attorneys Earl S. Ward and Julia P. Kuan said the Soundview 5 “lost the prime of their lives and are forever damaged,” adding further that it is their “hope that this settlement will shed light on the flawed police practices which resulted in their wrongful convictions and the wrongful convictions of so many others.”
Over time, it was demonstrated that the legal proceedings leading to their arrest demonstrated a shocking lack of thoroughness, and its negligent inaccuracy at times appeared to be an intentional manipulation by NYPD personnel working the case.
Security video was deliberately withheld as evidence because it conflicted with a key witness’s testimony. Witnesses were coached in what to say by police, who additionally violated the legal practices for photo lineups and undue influence.
The behavior showed a flagrant disregard to the truth and the presumption of innocence all defendants are constitutionally afforded.
Yet, it could have been worse.
Every member of the Soundview Five was sentenced to life in prison, and the wrongfully-convicted defendants spent the better part of ten years writing letters and reaching out to anybody who would listen as to their innocence.
According to Perez’s lawyer Earl Ward it was only once Glisson wrote to investigator John O’Malley in 2012 that progress was finally made.
“He told us that when he read the letter, it sent shivers up his spine because he realized two people he had spoken to years earlier had confessed to the crime,” said Ward.
While their cries of innocence has been vindicated the victory is extremely bittersweet for those involved. According to Carlos Perez, “I’m just trying to spend as much time as I can with my family. It’s not easy to adapt after 18 years in a cage.” Perez was arrested when his oldest son was only 12 and tragically was deprived from seeing his 4 kids grow up.
“My children were my life. One day, police officers grabbed me and took me to prison. No one can replace what I lost. The criminal justice system is broken. My faith kept me going,” Perez said.
A sixth person named Israel Vasquez was also wrongly arrested in the case and received a settlement of $6.89 million, but sadly died before the current settlement. The previous settlement the Soundview Five won in the Court of Claims was for a separate $19.45 million. Overall, the monetary burden placed on the taxpayer from this shameful case is $66.34 million. It is alleged, but unconfirmed, that this figure may possibly the highest ever spent on a wrongful conviction case.
Ultimately, the time and freedom lost due to over-policing and heinous misconduct is incalculable.
The NYPD has refused to admit any wrongdoing in the case or comment publicly.