In May of 2010, Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, was walking home in his Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood after a party. Someone told the police that Browder robbed him weeks ago. Cuffs were applied, and Browder was slammed behind one of the toughest prisons on the planet. The 16-year-old would stay there for three years without ever being charged.
"It's very hard when you are dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs," Browder told WABC-TV about his time in the notorious Rikers Island correctional facility, in an investigative exclusive. "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," he said.
Browder's family couldn't pay the $10,000 bail at the time of his arrest so he sat in jail. He spent three birthdays in Rikers. He missed his sister's wedding and the birth of his nephew, he told WABC-TV.
Browder told the news station that at the time, with the stress being almost too much to bear, he tried to commit suicide.
"I mean like every time I go to court, I think I'm going home, and I go to court, and absolutely nothing happens," adds Browder. "I was feeling so much pain, and it was all balling in my head, and I just had to grab my head and I can't take it."
At one point the judge offered Browder time served if he would plead guilty to the crime. Browder refused and was sent back to prison. In June of this year he was freed with no explanation, WABC-TV reports.
"They just dismissed the case and they think it's all right. No apology, no nothing," he says. "They just say 'case dismissed, don't worry about nothing'. What do you mean, don't worry about nothing? You just took three years of my life."
The Huffington Post reports that in October, Browder filed a civil lawsuit against the Bronx district attorney, the city of New York, the New York City Police Department, the New York City Department of Corrections and a number of state-employed individuals.
Browder's attorney, Paul Prestia, told the Huffington Post that his client's experience was "inexplicable" and "unheard of."
"The city needs to be held accountable for what happened," Prestia said. "[Browder] had a right to a fair and speedy trail, and he wasn't afforded any of that. He maintained his innocence the entire time, and essentially got a three-year sentence for that."
In the official complaint obtained by the Huffington Post, it states that Browder was "physically assaulted and beaten" by officers and other inmates during his time at Rikers Island. The document also maintains that he was "placed in solitary confinement for more than 400 days" and was "deprived meals." In addition, officers allegedly prevented him from pursuing his education.
The records indicate that Browder attempted suicide at least six times.
According to his attorney, Browder has suffered lingering mental health problems, and while he is currently going to school for his GED he's "clearly way behind from where he would have been," Huffington Post reports.
"We need someone to be held accountable," Prestia said. "This can't just go unnoticed. To the extent that [Browder] can be financially compensated—although it's not going to get those years back for him—it may give him a chance to succeed."
The district attorney's office told the Huffington Post that they were unable to comment, as Browder's allegations are currently the subject of an ongoing case.
Browder is trying to make up for lost time. He tells WABC-TV that he is desperately looking for a job but can't stop thinking about the teenage milestones that won't be included in the life he is trying to create. "I didn't get to go to prom or graduation. Nothing," Browder tells the news station. "Those are the main years. They are the main years. And I am never going to get those years back. Never. Never."