Derrick Deacon spent 24 years in prison because city investigators coerced a witness to lie in her testimony. This dirt came out during Deacon’s retrial last fall. On November 18, a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury needed just nine minutes of deliberation before declaring Deacon innocent.
New Yorkers have become familiar with this kind of story by now. There has been a wave of exonerations in recent years, freeing men who were wrongfully convicted in the ’80s and ’90s. Brooklyn alone has had five exonerations over the past year, all involving men who spent at least 15 years locked up.
A lot of shoes are about to drop. Here is one of them: Deacon has filed a lawsuit against the state for the wrongful imprisonment, the New York Post reported on Monday.
He is suing New York for $25 million. The Post article mentioned only New York state as the lawsuit’s target, but civil suits often list as many viable defendants as possible, and New York City’s law enforcement institutions played the central role in this injustice.
If the city is involved, Deacon may find a cooperative adversary. Mayor Bill de Blasio has proclaimed his intention to acknowledge the injustices of the past by painlessly settling lawsuits with the exonerated.
In February, the comptroller’s office negotiated a $6.4 million settlement with David Ranta, who was imprisoned for 23 years because of a wrongful conviction. The comptroller handled the negotiation without consulting with the city’s Law Department, which, the New York Times reported at the time, “has no precedent in recent history.”
De Blasio also called for a “swift settlement” with the five men wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989. (Although last week lawyers for the men criticized the city for moving too slowly in the settlement process.)
Deacon’s case is no less outrageous than that of Ranta and the Central Park Five.
A woman named Colleen Campbell had seen who murdered 16-year-old Anthony Wynn in a Flatbush apartment building in April 1989. She came face to face with the shooter moments after the murder. She’d been in the hallway to pick up some baby food from her brother’s apartment when the gunman ran past.
She told police the man was definitely not Deacon. She knew Deacon’s face well. He was homeless and often walked through her building asking for work.
But soon after, investigators — from the police department and/or the D.A.’s office — came to her home and ordered that she provide “vague” testimony at the trial, she recalled at the retrial. They mentioned finding bleach at her apartment and calling child services.
When Campbell took the stand in that initial trial, she said that she couldn’t tell whether or not the man who ran past her was Deacon. Another witness identified Deacon as the shooter. Deacon was convicted based on the account of that single eye witness. The jury needed just three hours of deliberation.
Deacon’s path to freedom began with a strike of luck. As we detailed in November:
Emile Dixon, gang leader of the “Patio Crew” who was convicted of murder and drug dealing in 2003, had known Deacon from around the neighborhood.
While looking through his own case file, Dixon stumbled on a 2001 interview between FBI agents and Trevor Brown, a Patio Crew member cooperating in the federal investigation against the gang.
Brown told the agents that another gang member named Pablo told him about shooting someone “in front of 105 Lincoln Road,” which is where Wynn was killed. “Someone named ‘FIRE’ who looked just like PABLO got arrested for the shooting,” the FBI report stated. Deacon’s nickname was “Fire.”
Through a relative, Dixon sent the files to Deacon, jump starting his appeal process. In 2012, an appeals court granted him a new hearing.
“After the murder, people who later became known as the Patio Crew and other people who lived in the area openly acknowledged Fire’s mistaken arrest for the Wynn murder,” Brown wrote in an affidavit for Deacon’s case. “However, nobody dared inform the authorities for fear that Pablo’s implication would cause Pablo and people associated with him to take revenge.”
The Brooklyn D.A.’s office is currently reviewing 50 cases involving former-detective Louis Scarcella, who has faced charges of coercing confessions and coaching witnesses. Scarcella was not involved in Deacon’s case.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 14, 2014