A federal judge has ruled that a man who was incarcerated for 16 years for a now-vacated murder conviction can press his arguments that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and the NYPD were "deliberately indifferent" to the misconduct that secured his conviction.
Eastern District Judge Frederic Block (See Profile) declined on Feb. 15 to dismiss civil rights claims against the city by Jabbar Collins because he said Collins had adequately pleaded allegations against the municipality in Collins v. The City of New York, 11-CV-766.
However, the judge "reluctantly" dismissed claims against the prosecutor who tried Collins, Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, saying that he was shielded by absolute prosecutorial immunity.
Collins alleged in his $150 million suit that Vecchionenow the bureau chief of the Brooklyn District Attorney's Rackets Divisionfabricated evidence and did not reveal a witness' recantation, among other things. Hynes is not a defendant in the suit but has praised Vecchione and defended his conduct in the Collins case.
Block observed that, at this stage of the litigation, Collins was entitled to argue that Hynes' support of Vecchione reflected a "tacit" policy to condone any actions his subordinates thought necessary to achieve a conviction.
"The Court concludes that Collins's allegations regarding Hynes's responseor lack thereofto misconduct by Vecchione and other assistants make plausible his theory that Hynes was so deliberately indifferent to the underhanded tactics that his subordinates employed as to effectively encourage them to do so," Block said.
Collins, represented by Joel Rudin, also alleges that two police detectives, who remain defendants in the case, "coerced" a man into signing a written statement that falsely accused Collins of planning to commit the robbery during which a member of Brooklyn's Hasidic community was murdered. Their actions reflected the police department's lack of proper training on interrogation tactics and the obligation to reveal exculpatory evidence to prosecutors, Collins argues.
Collins cited the 1994 Mollen Commission Report disclosing police corruption, which devoted an entire section to instances of police perjury and fabrication of documents.
"Of course, the Report's findings are not conclusive," Block said. "But they at least make it plausible that the type of misconduct that led to Collins' arrest and prosecution was endemic within the NYPD. A jury could reasonably infer from that circumstance, if proven, that the department's policymakers were aware of a serious risk of constitutional violations, and that the failure to take any action in response to the problemwhether through training or otherwisewas the result of deliberate indifference."
Collins was arrested in March 1994. The Mollen Report was issued in July.