Wrongful murder convictions cost city taxpayers $43 million in lawsuit settlements in the last seven months — including a $13 million payout to a man who spent 25 years in prison, city records show.
“They went to prison, lost all of that time, lost their youth, lost the events in their lives,” said lawyer Bruce Barket, whose client Samuel Brownridge got the $13 million payout, the biggest of the six recent awards.
“And the entire time they were there it was not clear that they were ever going to be released.”
Brownridge was locked up for the 1995 execution-style killing of Darryle Adams in St. Albans, Queens.
He says in a federal lawsuit that an NYPD detective buried evidence pointing to his innocence — including that an eyewitness who fingered him had earlier identified two other men as the killers and that an intellectually disabled man who named him as a killer was coerced into claiming he witnessed the slaying.
At a court hearing before he was exonerated in 2020, Brownridge vividly described his feelings about the wrongful conviction.
“I sit down sometimes, and I say to myself, ‘Why me?’ My 20s, my 30s, and half of my 40s are gone,” he said.
“I sit in my jail cell every night waiting for this day to come,” Brownridge said. “To many of you, this may look like a victory, but as I am here before you today, I cannot help but see the loss.”
Brownridge got $5 million in a separate settlement with state government, Barket said.
Five other men who spent years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of homicide have also been compensated by the city in the last seven months.
• Huwe Burton spent 20 years in prison on charges of killing his mother in their Bronx apartment.
Burton, who was 16 at the time of the 1989 slaying, got $11 million after claiming that detectives coerced him into confessing.
He says the real killer was Emanuel Green, a downstairs neighbor with a violent criminal and psychiatric history. Green told police he helped Burton stage the crime scene to look like a rape and robbery.
A week after the killing Green was caught driving the victim’s stolen car. He was murdered before Burton went to trial.
• Eric Wildon Rodriguez, who spent 25 years behind bars, got a $7 million settlement from the city in December.
The sole witness to finger Rodriguez in a 1993 Brooklyn murder was drug-addled and also testified in two other homicide cases.
Additionally, prosecutors never told the defense that the DA’s office provided the witness with weekly food stipends, a hotel room and rent for an apartment.
• Bladimil Arroyo, who was freed in 2019 after nearly two decades behind bars, got a $5.35 million settlement in December.
Arroyo had confessed to stabbing a man to death outside a Brooklyn strip club in 2001. But an autopsy later determined the victim was shot — leading prosecutors to realize decades later that the cops fed him the detail that the victim was stabbed.
• Calvin Buari got $4 million after spending 22 years in prison for the 1992 murder of two brothers in the Bronx. In a federal lawsuit, he accused detectives of enlisting the actual killer to take the stand against him as a witness.
• Rhian Taylor spent nine years in prison for a 2007 Queens murder before he was granted a new trial and acquitted. In September he got a $3 million settlement from the city.
Taylor learned one of the witnesses against him got a better deal for his testimony than the lead prosecutor disclosed and another had a lengthier criminal record than disclosed, including an out-of-state perjury conviction.
Civil rights lawyer Joel Berger said the big-dollar payouts don’t deter prosecutors or police since the money doesn’t come out of their pockets.
“What do we do about the officers who caused this? Are they still out there on the street? You know, who’s going to stop them from doing it again?” Berger asked. “In the end who pays the poor victims? The taxpayers. The officers themselves are totally unscathed.”
Those wrongfully convicted of murder are not the only people the city can be forced to compensate for wrongful prosecution and police misconduct. Over the past five years, the city paid out $211.5 million to settle nearly 2,500 police misconduct cases — including cases where 21 plaintiff awards exceeded $1 million.
Berger called on the city’s new Corporation Counsel, Sylvia Hinds-Radix, to take a harder look at cases involving police misconduct and to disband the Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Division, which is known for its hard-edged tactics defending cops in civil rights lawsuits.
A Law Department spokesman said the city already pays close attention to wrongful conviction cases.
“There has been an uptick in the number of these civil cases in recent years because of enhanced efforts by district attorneys to investigate wrongful convictions,” the spokesman said.
“We conduct case-by-case evaluations based on the facts and circumstances of each case and settlements are made in the best interest of the City”
John Annese has covered crime and breaking news for the New York Daily News since 2015. Before that, he reported on crime, courts, and the Staten Island opioid epidemic for the Staten Island Advance. He is the recipient of several New York State Associated Press Association Awards.