Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tawana Brawley rape allegations

Tawana Brawley (born 1972) is an African American woman from Wappingers Falls, New York. In 1987, at the age of 15, she received national media attention in the US for accusing six white men of rape, some of whom were police officers. The accusations soon earned her notoriety, which was inflamed by Brawley's advisers Reverend Al Sharpton and attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, public officials, and intense media attention.[1] After hearing evidence, a grand jury concluded in October 1988 that Brawley had not been the victim of a forcible sexual assault and that she herself may have created the appearance of an attack.[2] The New York prosecutor whom Brawley accused as one of her alleged assailants successfully sued Brawley and her three advisers for defamation.[3]

Brawley initially received considerable support from the African-American community.[4] Some scholars suggested that Brawley was victimized by biased reporting that adhered to racial stereotypes.[5][6] The mainstream media's coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager.[7] The outcome of the grand jury decreased support for Brawley and her advisers. Brawley's family has maintained that the allegations were true.



[edit] Origins of the case

On November 28, 1987, Brawley, who had been missing for four days, was found lying conscious but unresponsive in a garbage bag several feet from an apartment where she had once lived. Her clothing was torn and burned, her body smeared with feces. She was taken to the emergency room, where various slurs and epithets were discovered written on her torso with a black substance described as charcoal.[8]

A detective from the Sheriff's Juvenile Aid Bureau, among others, was summoned to interview Brawley, but she remained unresponsive. The family requested a black officer, which the police granted. Brawley, described as having an "extremely spacey" look on her face, communicated with this officer with nods of the head, shrugs of the shoulder, and written notes. The interview lasted 20 minutes, during which she uttered only one word: "neon." Through gestures and writing, however, she indicated she had been raped repeatedly in a wooded area by three white men, at least one of them a police officer. A sexual assault kit was administered, and police began building a case.

Brawley claimed she had been repeatedly raped by a group of white men but could provide no names or descriptions of her assailants. She later told others that there had been no rape, only other kinds of sexual abuse. Forensic tests found no evidence that a sexual assault of any kind had occurred. Nor was there any evidence of exposure to elements, which would be expected in a victim held for several days in the woods at a time when the temperature dropped below freezing at night.

There were other discrepancies in Brawley's story. On the morning after the alleged abduction, she was seen entering the empty apartment at the Pavilion Apartments where she had once lived. Other witnesses claimed to have seen her at parties in a nearby town during the period when she was said to be missing. She had no bruises, contusions, scratches or other injuries except for a small bruise behind the left ear, which was determined to be several days old. One witness claimed to have seen her climb into the garbage bag in which she was found. Her mother, Glenda Brawley, was spotted at the apartment complex shortly before Brawley was seen getting into the garbage bag. The mother waited until that same afternoon to report Brawley as missing to the police. The investigation turned up evidence that indicated damage done to Brawley's clothing had occurred in the apartment. According to the grand jury report, all of "the items and instrumentalities necessary to create the condition in which Brawley appeared on Saturday, November 28, were present inside of or in the immediate vicinity of Apartment 19A." The feces had come from a neighbor's dog.

[edit] Public response

Public response to Brawley's story was at first mostly sympathetic. Bill Cosby, among others, pledged support for her and helped raise money for a legal fund. In December 1987, 1,000 people marched through the streets of Newburgh, New York in support of Brawley.[9]

Brawley's claims in the case captured headlines across the country. Public rallies were held denouncing the incident. Racial tensions also climbed. When civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, with attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, began handling Brawley's publicity, the case quickly took on an explosive edge. At the height of the controversy, public opinion was sharply divided along racial lines on the question of whether the teenager was telling the truth, and on support for her advisers. A June 1988 poll showed a gap of 34 percentage points between blacks (51%) and whites (85%) on the question of whether she was lying.[10]

Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason generated a national media sensation. The three claimed officials all the way up to the state government were trying to cover up defendants in the case because they were white. Specifically, they named Steven Pagones, an Assistant District Attorney in Dutchess County, as one of the rapists, and a racist, among other accusations.[11]

The mainstream media's coverage drew heated criticism from the African-American press and leaders for its treatment of the teenager.[12][13][14][15] They cited the leaking and publication of photos taken of her at the hospital and the revelation of her name despite her being underage.

In addition, critics were concerned that Brawley had been left in the custody of her mother, stepfather and advisers, rather than being given protection by the state, that she was used as a pawn by adults who should have protected her.[16]

[edit] Grand jury hearings

Under the authority of New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, a grand jury was called to hear evidence. On October 6, 1988, the Abrams Grand Jury released its 170-page report concluding Brawley had not been abducted, assaulted, raped and sodomized, as had been claimed by Brawley and her advisers. The report further concluded that the "unsworn public allegations against Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones" were false and had no basis in fact. To issue the report, the Grand Jury heard from 180 witnesses, saw 250 exhibits and recorded more than 6,000 pages of testimony.[17]

In the decision, the grand jury noted many problems with Brawley's story. Among these were that the rape kit results did not indicate sexual assault. Also, despite her claim of having been held captive for days, Brawley was not suffering from exposure, was well nourished, and appeared to have brushed her teeth recently. Despite her clothing being charred, there were no burns on her body. Although a shoe she was wearing was cut through, Brawley had no injuries to her foot. The racial epithets written on her were upside down, which led to suspicion that Brawley wrote the words. Testimony from her schoolmates indicated she had attended a local party during the time of her supposed abduction. One witness claimed to have observed Brawley climbing into the garbage bag.[18] Brawley herself never testified.[19]

[edit] Possible motives

Much of the Grand Jury evidence pointed to a possible motive for Brawley's falsifying the incident: trying to avoid violent punishment from her mother and her mother's live-in partner, Ralph King. Witnesses testified that Glenda Brawley had beaten her daughter for running away and for spending nights with boys. King had a history of violence that included stabbing his first wife 14 times, later shooting and killing her. There was considerable evidence that King could and would violently attack Brawley; when Brawley had been arrested on a shoplifting charge the previous May, King attempted to beat her for the offense—at the police station. Witnesses have also described King as having talked about his stepdaughter in a sexualized manner.[20] On the day of her alleged disappearance, Brawley had skipped school to visit boyfriend Todd Buxton, who was serving a six-month jail sentence. When Buxton's mother (with whom she had visited Buxton in jail) urged her to get home before she got in trouble, Brawley told her, "I'm already in trouble." She described how angry Ralph King was over a previous incident of her staying out late.[21]

There was evidence that Brawley's mother and King participated knowingly in the hoax. Neighbors told the Grand Jury that in February they overheard Glenda Brawley saying to Mr. King, "You shouldn't have took the money because after it all comes out, they're going to find out the truth." Another neighbor heard Mrs. Brawley say, "They know we're lying, and they're going to find out and come and get us."[20]

In April 1989, New York Newsday published claims by a boyfriend of Brawley's, Daryl Rodriguez, that she had told him the story was fabricated, with help from her mother, in order to avert the wrath of her stepfather.[22]

Writing about the case in a 2004 book on perceptions of racial violence, sociologist Jonathan Markovitz concluded "it is reasonable to suggest that Brawley's fear and the kinds of suffering that she must have gone through must have been truly staggering if they were enough to force her to resort to cutting her hair, covering herself in feces, and crawling into a garbage bag."[5]

[edit] Aftermath

The case exposed deep distrust in the black community about winning justice from white institutions, and it also showed how some attempted to manipulate the justice system before a full investigation could take place.[16] Some opinions remained fixed. Columbia University law professor Patricia J. Williams wrote in 1991 that the teenager "has been the victim of some unspeakable crime. No matter how she got there. No matter who did it to her— and even if she did it to herself."[23] These comments aroused controversy as well.[24]

Alton H. Maddox, Jr. was indefinitely suspended by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on May 21, 1990, after failing to appear before a disciplinary hearing to answer allegations regarding his conduct in the Brawley case.[25]

In 1998, Pagones was awarded $345,000 (he sought $395 million) through a lawsuit for defamation of character that he had brought against Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason. The jury found Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for two, and Mason for one. The jury deadlocked on four of the 22 statements over which Pagones had sued, and eight statements were found non-defamatory.[26] In a later interview, Pagones said the turmoil by the accusations of Brawley and her advisers had cost him his first marriage and much personal grief.[citation needed]

Pagones had also sued Brawley. She defaulted by not appearing at the trial, and the judge ordered her to pay him damages of $185,000. As of 2003, none of the award had been paid.[27] The $65,000 portion of the judgment assigned to Al Sharpton was paid for him in 2001 by supporters, including renowned attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and former businessman Earl G. Graves, Jr.[28][29]

Brawley has maintained she did not invent the story and in a 1997 appearance, she still had supporters.[30] In November 2007, Brawley's mother and stepfather, in a 20th anniversary feature for the New York Daily News contended the attack happened. "How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We're just regular people," Glenda Brawley said, adding, "We should be millionaires." They said they had asked New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Governor Eliot Spitzer to reopen the case. They also said that Brawley, who has converted to Islam, would speak at any legal proceedings.[31]

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