On Thursday night New York City released several thousand documents, recordings and other materials detailing the notorious Central Park Five case.
The story of the Central Park Five should be a stranger to no one. It was only decades after their initial conviction that defendants Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam had their convictions overturned in 2002 after another inmate, Matias Reyes, confessed — supported by DNA evidence — that he raped then-28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili.
In 2014, the five reached a settlement with New York City and were awarded $41 million.
However, there are those who have long who argued that the defendants were not just randomly rounded up and arrested after Mieli’s attack, but in fact were part of a group known for attacking and harassing people in the park, whether they be joggers, walkers, or people relaxing on benches.
“These documents and videos will certainly challenge the prevailing narrative that completely omitted more than 50% of the evidence in this case,” former prosecutor Linda Fairstein told the New York Daily News. “These young men were arrested as a result of a meticulous police investigation, and there’s no doubt that they were, as charged, rioting and attacking people in the park.”
Tim Clements, the co-prosecutor for the district attorney’s office in both of the CP5 trials in 1990 and 1991 told the Daily News in a separate interview that he didn’t think that the five were “deserving” of any settlement, believing that the city could have won the civil case at trial.
“The facts are the facts. It’s unconscionable to me that anyone thinks they were not in the park that night and were not causing mayhem,” he added.
Despite Reyes’ confessions that he acted alone in Meili’s attack, Clements remained skeptical.
“We knew at the time that the two cases were tried that someone else was not apprehended,” he said. “We told the jury that the DNA that had been analyzed matched someone else. When Reyes came forward it was a relief … It’s not surprising that he [perhaps] was with this group or joined it later.”
He was shocked, however, when the district attorney’s office vacated the convictions of the five.
“I thought there were a lot of factual inaccuracies and some of the logic and the conclusions were faulty,” he said. “The facts and the law supported the convictions. I was very disappointed that they vacated the convictions without even a hearing, without even an opportunity to question and examine Reyes.”
Clements is not alone in this vein of thought, with Meili, the victim of the brutal attack also speaking out to the Daily News.
Meili actually has no memory of what happened to her that night but has continually pored over what documents and information she had access to in order to fill the gaps in her memory. The document dump by the city gives her hope at finding some more answers.
She’ll have 200,000 pages of documents to review, and some 95 depositions and other records ... with more to come.
But aside from her own curiosity, Meili wants to help the officers and prosecutors, who she believes have been wronged and painted as the bad guys in a case where they did nothing wrong.
“When that lawsuit was settled, it gave some the impression that the detectives and the prosecutors had acted improperly and I’d like to see it be acknowledged that there wasn’t a violation of [the teens’] civil rights,” Meili said.
The research she has already done led Meili to believe that the officers and prosecutors did not railroad five blameless black and Latinx teens — as they have been accused.
“I was shocked and somewhat disgusted,” she said. “And really so disappointed that the case against the city claiming the detectives and prosecutor had acted improperly ... that it was settled for what seems to me like a campaign promise from then-candidate Bill de Blasio.”
Both Meili and Clements took issue with the famous Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five, with both saying that the film painted the image of unethical cops. The documentary claimed that law enforcement coerced the teens into making confessions, which ultimately had them convicted.
“It was a piece of trash, and knowing who was behind it, and the fact that Sarah Burns had worked as paralegal for one of the lawyers in the lawsuit made me think they had set out to try to support the fictitious claims that had been floated,” Clements said.
“There was no coercion,” he added. “[Lead prosecutor] Liz [Lederer] was doing interviews in a room with an open ceiling. My job was to make sure everyone was quiet so the interviews wouldn’t be interrupted. There were parents present. In that situation, you can’t coach them, you can’t tell them what to do.”
Meili was a bit more reserved in her criticisms, noting that the film is “one perspective,” and that she hopes the released records will now bring about a more well-rounded narrative of what happened and the investigation.
Meili also took issues with Reyes being the only alleged attacker, given that the doctors who treated her also remaining skeptical due to her injuries, refusing to accept that just one person was involved in the horrific assault.
However, supporters remain firm that the five were innocent in Meili’s attack, noting that even if they were involved in criminal activity outside of the rape, they had already paid for it with their unjust incarceration for the sexual assault.
“This case was litigated for years,” lawyer Jonathan Moore, whose firm represented all but one of the defendants in the civil case, told the Daily News. “There was clearly evidence that there were kids in the park who were doing some adolescent stuff. But there’s absolutely no evidence that they had anything to do with Trisha Meili.”