After 16 Years in prison, wrongly convicted man free to sue the city

February 18, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Williamsburg man was shot and killed during a robbery in 1994. Jabbar Collins was arrested and charged with the crime. Collins submitted to a lineup and was not identified by the four eyewitnesses to the murder. And despite having an alibi for the night in question, Collins was convicted of murder and sentenced to 33 1/3 years in prison.  

Collins was freed in 2010 after Brooklyn Federal Judge Dora Irizarry ruled that he was wrongly convicted. Now, 18 years after the crime, Collins’ $150 million lawsuit against the city and the New York City Police Department can proceed after a Brooklyn federal judge ruled that both parties were “deliberately indifferent” to the alleged misconduct that led to Collins’ conviction.

In his complaint, Collins asserts that upon his arrest police officers, unable to find any physical evidence connecting Collins to the crime, obtained a coerced and false statement from Edwin Oliva, a person with no apparent connection to Collins.

The false statement read in part that Oliva witnessed Collins rob “[the victim] at gunpoint and shoot him to death.”  Collins further states that the prosecuting attorney, Michael Vecchione, threatened Oliva with “prosecution, imprisonment, and bodily harm unless he agreed to stand by his prior statement accusing Collins of the robbery and shooting.”

Collins accuses Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes as implicitly condoning the misconduct of the prosecutors in his office. Alleging that “Hynes took no disciplinary action against Vecchione,” after the acts of misconduct were revealed, Collins asserts that the DA, and by virtue, the city, ratified what he called “Vecchione’s illicit tactics.”

Federal Judge Frederic Block, who is hearing the case, found it plausible that “Hynes’ response — or lack thereof — to misconduct by Vecchione…[indicates] that Hynes was so deliberately indifferent to the underhanded tactics that his subordinates employed as to effectively encourage them to do so.” He was responding to a motion by the city to dismiss the case.

Collins also brought claims against Vecchione directly, but Block “reluctantly” ruled that Vecchione — presently the bureau chief of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Rackets Division — was protected by prosecutorial immunity; a law that prevents prosecuting attorneys from civil liability with regard to their actions in initiating and prosecuting a case.

Joel Rudin, Collins’ attorney, released a statement that Block had upheld his client’s “most important claims against the City of New York, for the unlawful policies of the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office and the New York City Police Department, which brought about [Collins’] false conviction and 16 years of suffering in prison.”

Collins now works in Rudin’s office as a legal assistant.

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn DA’s office could not be reached at press time.

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