Tawana Brawley Has Started Paying Down Her Debt From Defamation Damages, Twitter Loses Its Mind


It’s the sex scandal that just won’t die. (Oh, wait …) After more than two decades, the latest chapter of the Tawana Brawley case has just opened. Brawley has started paying down defamation damages to a man she accused of raping her in 1987. Stephen Pagones received his first payment of over $3,700, a payment Brawley has avoided making for over 15 years. With interest, that leaves about $430,000 to go.

When the news broke this weekend, the instinct to re-litigate one of the most contentious criminal cases in the late 20th century was mostly ignored (and Runnin’ Scared hopes it stays that way). Here are the facts of the case, for those of us who were but twinkles in someone’s eye in 1987: Fifteen-year-old Tawana Brawley from Wappingers Falls, New York, disappeared for several days before she was found in a trash bag near her parents’ house. When she was found, someone had scrawled “nigger” and “bitch” on her body using feces.

Brawley’s story was that two men abducted her and then delivered her to four other men in the woods, who raped her there repeatedly. In the story she told police, Brawley claimed to have seen a badge and a gun on one of her assailants.

The man accused of being that cop, Fishkill Police Officer Harry Crist, was found dead from an apparent suicide several days after Brawley was found. His suicide was later linked to a failed relationship, though the impression of his guilt only stoked the controversy further.

A little-known Al Sharpton became Brawley’s adviser, steering the national conversation through the swirl of racial, gender, and class tensions that the Brawley case so strongly whipped up.

Pagones, a prosecutor and friend of Crist’s, defended his friend against the accusations. Immediately, Brawley and her team claimed that Pagones was one of her attackers.

In 1988, a grand jury determined that the whole thing had been a hoax. But it was too late, the story already taken on a life of its own, a cause celebre that had become shorthand for the deep fears about the power of race in America. Spike Lee famously alluded to the case in Do The Right Thing, where you can see “Tawana told the truth” written on a wall in the background set.

Brawley continued to claim that she had been kidnapped and raped despite the lack of hard evidence. In 1998, Pagones sued Brawley, Sharpton, and the rest of the team for defamation, and won. The court ordered Brawley to pay $190,000 with 9 percent interest, adding up to roughly $435,000 today.

Sharpton has since paid off his debt with money raised by his supporters. Brawley refused to pay up for 15 years, until a Post article in December revealed that she had moved to Virginia. Pagones got the state to garnish Brawley’s wages, which, given the amount she owes, might last for the rest of her life.

As even keeled as most mainstream print media was about reporting the new developments, Twitter immediately erupted into the same he-said, she-said from 25 years ago, with a healthy dose of race-baiting rhetoric. A couple of tea party hashtags are thrown in there for good measure, just in case you forgot who hates racial stuff the most/is the best at deploying it for political advantage.

To wit: