NY Daily News
June 30, 2012
Almost exactly a year ago, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced he had secured the indictments of four Brooklyn men on charges of subjecting a young woman to nine years of sexual servitude, starting when she was 13 years old.
"If you are a pimp, we will catch you, and when we do, we will aggressively prosecute you and seek the maximum sentences," Hynes said in naming the accused , Damien Crooks, Darrell Dula, Jawara Brockett and Jamali Brockett.
In April, Hynes ordered the case reviewed based on the discovery that his office had failed to disclose a recantation by the accuser. His spokesman insisted the DA had sufficient evidence to convict the four defendants. On Tuesday, Hynes said he had "no ethical choice other than to dismiss" all charges because it "was clear that we no longer have a case that we can call viable."
While the best-conducted prosecutions can founder, the trajectory of Hynes' case against Crooks, Dula and the Brocketts suggests serious law enforcement lapses that harmed both the defendants and their accuser.
Most troubling: This was no small case. It was one over which Hynes assumed personal responsibility by, in effect, certifying the truth of the victim's account at his opening press conference.
In retrospect, his outspokenness in bringing the law to bear for the woman now fits into a larger controversy dogging his tenure. That has to do with a long failure to effectively move against sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, a key voting bloc, or even name ultra-Orthodox defendants after he began to make cases.
Here, Hynes had no such reluctance about identifying the alleged predators, who belong to the black population that shares the Crown Heights neighborhood with Jews. The accuser was ultra-Orthodox. The double standard is obvious.
As for what went wrong in the case, the errors start with withholding the recantation from defense lawyers and appear to move on to a failure to fully investigate the alleged victim's background and credibility as a witness until the accused had spent almost a year in jail.
Partial accounts indicate she was mentally troubled and had developed relationships with four neighborhood men with unsavory histories.
Sex-trafficking activists have criticized Hynes for dropping the prosecution, convinced the men had engaged in criminal victimization. Believing that and going to court with it are two very different matters, particularly when the woman said of one of the accused in a recorded conversation: "I care for him and I have feelings for him, and I feel closer to him than anybody out there. I wish I could just like, I don't know, just say forget it."
None of the parties was well served by Hynes, who owes a much fuller public accounting of how things went so wrong.